By: DaVette See
Tonight, Queen Sugar, OWN’s critically-acclaimed dramatic series, returns for its second season, much to the delight of its large and devoted fanbase. Set on a once-thriving Louisiana sugar plantation owned by the Bordelon family, the series tells the story of the tense-yet-loving relationships among siblings Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner, Unforgettable), Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe, Awkward), and Nova (Rutina Wesley, True Blood), as they struggle to pull together the tatters of their family, the family business, and their own complicated lives. The series is the crown jewel of the network, and following up its bright and brilliant debut season begs the question “How do you top yourself?”
It’s a fair question. There have been many promising series with great first seasons that have found themselves in this dilemma. After all, how often have we started out as fans of a new and exciting show, only to turn on it the next season, asking with a sneer “Is that it? Is that all you’ve got?” Often, the fear of this attitude and resultant drop in ratings indicates a sophomore slump, which then seems to push a production team to turn the series up “to eleven”. This, in turn, leads to a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in which the show loses the magical something it had and, eventually, its audience.
A couple of weeks ago at a press junket for Queen Sugar, I had the opportunity (and audacity, in retrospect) to ask Oprah Winfrey, executive producer of the show, how the creative team planned to avoid that dreaded sophomore slump. Before I had completely finished the question, Ms. Winfrey stated emphatically, “We’re not slumping, we’re rising.” She went on to say that even before the season bible was written, Ava DuVernay — co-executive producer and the show runner for season one — laid it out for her, and by the end of it, she was gasping and crying.
I, as they say, heard that.
In fact, Winfrey and DuVernay had a decidedly, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet” air about them at the press conference announcing the much anticipated second season.
Two of the series stars, Dawn-Lyen Gardener who plays the arguably bougie Charley, and Kofi Siraboe who plays the terminally tragic Ralph Angel, were also on hand and were all smiles as they deflected questions about the fates of their characters. Gardener did share her experience of trying to unpack all of her character’s extremely complex layers, a process she says is ongoing. She also expressed her hope that this season Charley might find some inner peace, to which Ms. Winfrey quickly interjected, “She won’t. Maybe in Season 5.”
Siraboe, for his part, is enjoying the development of the character of Ralph Angel and wouldn’t change anything in the upcoming season. He feels a kinship to the character, even though he avoids watching the show itself, saying he lives in the character on set, so watching himself after experiencing it can sometimes be very “Matrix-like”. Still he loves the character and admitted that, like all of us, watching Ralph Angel’s struggle has, at times, made him cry.
DuVernay addressed Queen Sugar’s all-female directing team and how proud she was of setting an example of what true equity looks like, and how glad she is that other productions are following suit. “I always say that if Game of Thrones can have three seasons of all male directors, why can’t we have three seasons of all women directors?”
In response to the question of what she learned from season one that then helped to shape season two, she said that in season one they were fresh out of the womb, just trying to learn from each other, the ways they worked together, and exploring the characters. Now, with season two, “we’re toddlers, we’re walking around, touching things, we can express ourselves a little more freely, I feel.” That confidence, she concluded, grew out of all that they learned from season one.
The series’ fans are definitely looking forward to seeing not only how the characters have grown, but how Queen Sugar itself manages to maintain the level of excellence it has set for itself and that the audience has come to expect. Having already watched the first episode, I have to agree with Oprah: Queen Sugar will indeed continue to rise.
Queen Sugar returns with a two-night event on OWN Tuesday, June 20, and Wednesday, June 21 (10 p.m. ET/PT each night). The series will regularly air Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
From the producers:
In the second season of Queen Sugar, Nova, Charley and Ralph Angel struggle to move forward with their lives as they strive to honor the legacy of their father after his unexpected passing. Charley relocates to Saint Josephine Parish to help run the family business. As the only black female sugarcane mill owner, she must fight to regain her independence while rebuilding her relationships with her estranged siblings. Ralph Angel struggles to transform from a formerly incarcerated single father to a landowner in the eyes of his family as he tries to re-establish a relationship with his son’s mother. Nova finds herself torn between her activism and her desire to be loved. As the season unfolds, the Bordelons must learn to rely on one another as they navigate the new reality into which they’ve been thrust.
The expansive cast also includes Tina Lifford (“Parenthood”) as the siblings’ free-spirited Aunt Violet; Omar J. Dorsey (“Ray Donovan,” “Selma”) as Violet’s much younger boyfriend Hollywood Desonier; Dondré T. Whitfield (“Mistresses”) as trusted Bordelon family friend Remy Newell; Timon Kyle Durrett (“Single Ladies”) as Charley’s estranged husband and pro basketball player Davis West; Nicholas L. Ashe (“The Lion King” – National Tour) as Charley and Davis’ teenage son, Micah; Ethan Hutchison (“The Path”) as Ralph Angel’s son, Blue; and Bianca Lawson (“Rogue”) as Darla, Blue’s mother who battles drug addiction. Additionally, guest star Henry G. Sanders (“Rocky Balboa”) recurs as Prosper Denton, a farmer and longtime friend of the late Bordelon family patriarch, Ernest. “Queen Sugar” is produced for OWN by Warner Horizon Scripted Television. The executive producers are Ava DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey and Monica Macer. The series is based on the book by Natalie Baszile.
The debut season won an NAACP Image Award for Best Drama Series, Television Show of the Year from both ABFF and AAFCA, and was a People’s Choice Awards nominee for Favorite Cable Drama. The award-winning first season was the #1 new ad-supported cable series for W25-54 and the #1 new cable series for African-American women and total viewers during the run. Additionally, season one averaged over 2.7 million total viewers in Live+3.
The show is produced for OWN by Warner Horizon Scripted Television. The executive producers are award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey and Monica Macer. The series is based on the book by Natalie Baszile.
DaVette lives in Inglewood, CA with her husband, Rob, her mother, and her seven (yikes) kitties. She has a BA in English and Theater and a Law degree. When not writing, reporting and editing for BGN, she operates Running Lady Studios and producing animated shorts. She loves books, plays, movies, and more than anything, she loves telling stories