December 10th, 2017 - Review by Mark Schwab
Back in June of this year, we reviewed the first four episodes of BLUE COLLAR HUSTLE - the labor of love web series created by writer and star Alonge Hawes and director Geoffrey Henderson. "BCH" mostly centers on four 20-something African Americans negotiating life, careers, fatherhood and the joys and heartbreak of the Atlanta indie music landscape.
Looking over my old review (and glancing at them again here and there in preparation for this update), episodes 1 - 4 showed promise but also inconsistencies in its sound design and performances. Looking at episodes 5 and 6 (the season 1 finale), there are still some similar issues that I think need to be worked before it can really take off beyond a free YouTube series. For an independently made series it's very good but I'd like to see it compete with the big guns on Netflix and Amazon. The potential is there for BLUE COLLAR HUSTLE to be worthy of a paying audience if it can make just a few adjustments.
One thing that still holds for sure is that the main cast is still incredibly engaging. Writer/star Alonge Hawes as lead character Ajani Garvey continues to have a strong and confident screen presence while building a character who is easily relatable. Hawes anchors his fellow cast mates by improving the dramatic timing and creates firm chemistry between them. Where the first four episodes established the basic ground rules (four guys hate their "regular" jobs so they decide to control their own destinies by being successful hip-hop/rap musicians), episodes 5 and 6 start to see their dream come just a little bit closer to true as their album gets recorded and prepared for release into the digital platform sky of iTunes and GooglePlay. All while real world pressures of bills, relationships and careers come to the fore.
The similar issues Episodes 5 and 6 have with the previous four are the overly talky exposition and spotty supporting performances. Too many times, characters feel the need to explain everything going on in their heads and the plot which drains the inherent tension that Hawes has set up. These lead actors are good enough to convey thoughts and emotions without so much dialogue - let them breathe and RE-act a bit. A sharp or withering look can be much more powerful than someone speaking out loud (and in detail) about how angry or depressed they are.
The second issue is the occasional lapses in the supporting cast. When your main cast is strong, it can bring a huge unwanted spotlight to the weaker actors because of the contrast in talent. In episode 6 there is a the character of Ms. Jensen who is Ajani's boss at his "regular" job. It's a key role because it is a main source of conflict in the series for Ajani - try and keep his regular paycheck coming until he can make it in the music industry. When Ms. Jensen comes onscreen she's reduced to a snarling cliche that's overplayed - it doesn't fit with the rest of the naturalism embodied by the main cast and takes you out of the whole scene. It hurts even more that the scene is critical since it raises the stakes on his about-to-be-released album's success.
The conclusion of Season 1 ends with a solid cliffhanger that admittedly made me feel a slight twinge of anticipation for Season 2 (which is being written as I type this). Even with its flaws, Season 1 of BLUE COLLAR HUSTLE is an engaging series with likable lead characters and important themes to ponder (when is it appropriate to take a career risk in following one's dreams?). I'm going to remain optimistic that they've worked out the kinks in Season 1 (like a lot of series) and will hit the ground running with Season 2.
Seeing as I am not the target audience for material like this, it is impressive that I was able to watch Season 1 as easily as I did. I was never bored and easily followed the multiple storylines. So, Mr. Hawes and Mr. Henderson...bring on Season 2. You did enough to legitimately earn a second season and that deserves a lot of praise.