Rolling with RAQ [Preview] | (Raising Kanan Preview)

This is a preview of my new series Rolling with RAQ where I will be recapping and reviewing Power Book III: Raising Kanan. While Kanan is the star of the show, I’ve titled my series Rolling with RAQ because Kanan’s mom, the character Raquel “RAQ” Thomas as portrayed by Patina Miller is everything.

Kanan Stark was an adult character in the original Power series and was portrayed by 50 Cent. He was a vicious criminal willing to do unimaginable things to achieve his goals. When this series begins Kanan (Makai Curtis) is a fairly normal 15-year-old boy growing up in South Jamaica Queens, New York. This is an origin story of sorts as the show follows Kanan as he matures and transforms into the villain of the later series. A key factor in Kanan’s development is that his mom Raquel aka RAQ isn’t your average mom. She’s actually the head of a growing drug business operated by her and her brothers.

As the premiere of the second season nears I’ve decided to recap and discuss each episode from the first season. I’ll be dropping a new episode every day from now until the season premiere. Check them out, check the show out if you haven’t already, and let me know what you think. But in this episode, I’m going to give you an overview of why I think the show is worth checking out and what to expect.

Let me start by saying that I didn’t start watching Power Book III: Raising Kanan until a year after it came out. The show premiered in July of 2021 but I didn’t start watching until June of 2022. I’d received an offer for Starz and Showtime on Roku for $1 per month for each channel for two months and decided after a few weeks that I should probably start watching something. I found a few things to check out on Showtime but almost nothing on Starz until I saw the listing for Raising Kanan.

To be honest, I had very low expectations and assumed it would be on par with those terrible straight-to-video movies. Bad acting, terrible storylines, dry weaves, and general dustiness all around. When I tell you I was wrong. I was immediately drawn to the show the moment it began because it was clear that this was something different.

I had plans for the day. A list of things to get done. All of that went out the window. I completely changed my day around and binged watched one episode after another. I watched most of the season that first day and another day of plans were pushed aside so I could finish watching the next day. To say that I was hooked is an understatement.

The season was done and I immediately wanted to see what happened next. From the beginning, I was into the overall story and the characters. But Raquel “RAQ” Thomas is the show for me. She pulled me into the show and I was riding with her from the jump.

At first, I had no idea who the actress playing RAQ was so I hit up Google to learn more about Patina Miller. I’d watched at least some of the first season of Madam Secretary and realized she was the one random Black lady that I’d seen on the show. I hadn’t paid her any mind because I disliked the way the character was presented (though that might have changed in later seasons). And while the Hunger Games were a big thing, I still haven’t gotten around to seeing any of them. I watched The Many Saints of Newark and while she was in the film, I don’t recall her character (but that movie was a disappointment).

But here, I sat up and took notice of Patina Miller as she shines in the role. And if anything it shows that there are a lot of talented Black actors and actresses who really just need more opportunities. I’m loving Patina Miller as RAQ but seeing interviews of her as herself you realize how very different they are. She transforms into this character and is bodying the role. Miller is for lack of a better term very bubbly in interviews, I can believe that she’s from the South. Meanwhile, RAQ is very New York City grown up around the way girl, if that makes sense. RAQ is not randomly smiling while walking down the street but Miller looks like she skips down the street smiling while telling everyone good morning.

I want Miller to stick around as RAQ for at least a few more seasons but I’d also like to see her in other roles. She’s now officially added to my list of actresses that I check for and will support whenever possible. I know she returned to Broadway over the summer but I’m curious to see what she does next. Hopefully, more film and tv roles that show her talent and range are in her future.

I’d watched the previous Power series but eventually disliked both of them. I watched the original Power series in real time for the first few seasons but by maybe the third season or so it began to feel very repetitive. I got tired of the love triangle storyline between Ghost, Tasha, and Angela because I don’t have patience with television romances that go back and forth for no good reason. Ghost and Tommy having issues or a contentious relationship with their connect each season also began to feel repetitious. And once Tariq and his twin became involved in the main storyline…it felt beyond ridiculous.

I prefer complex but realistic characters and storylines over shootouts every other episode. So by the later seasons, I was just watching episodes whenever I got around to them and was over it by the last season. I like characters that are smart and strategic thinkers but it becomes boring when they’re smart because everyone else is seemingly stupid. The characters felt flat as they didn’t grow or develop over the course of the show and I just didn’t buy Tariq’s storyline. I still tried to give Power Book II a chance but it just didn’t grab me as there were too many people, the storylines were uninteresting, and some of the acting wasn’t very good.

Raising Kanan caught me off guard because I had really low expectations after the previous series. First, the acting is good across the board and especially for the main characters. Even the characters that I don’t necessarily like, it’s not because the actor or the actress is doing a bad job. The storylines, at least thus far, are better. The characters are more fleshed out and feel like they could be real people.

In the original series, I didn’t care about Kanan at all, and that played a part in me initially passing on this show. Kanan was supposed to be a cold-hearted and ruthless adversary to Ghost but felt like a cartoon villain as he was just portrayed as evil with no complexity or nuance to his character. They made smarter choices with how they chose to approach the characters in this series.

Part of that might be a result of this series having a different creator and showrunner. Courtney Kemp seems to have been more involved with the first two books and I think her style is not for me. This series is helmed by Sascha Penn and maybe that change in leadership explains the difference in the feel of this series.

What I really enjoyed was the time devoted to explaining the characters and their motivations. They’re taking more time to develop the characters so you care about and feel vested in them. We know Kanan and Jukebox as adults from the original series and they’re completely different from who they are as teens in this series. Little to nothing was known about the rest of Kanan’s family in the original series but we’re introduced to them here.

This makes you question what happened to turn Jukebox and Kanan into the monsters they became. And upon meeting RAQ and the rest of the crew, what happened to make them who they are? Why are they seemingly not around by the time we met Kanan and Jukebox as adults?

We first see Kanan as a cute chubby little kid around the age of 10 and RAQ is a young mom in her 20s. But the bulk of the show is really about Kanan as a teen and by that point, RAQ is in her early 30s. Kanan is a regular teenage kid and if anything, he actually feels a little bit sheltered. He’s aware that his mom is involved in the drug trade but she tries to keep him away from that side of her life.

Kanan is decked out from head to toe in name-brand clothing and has all the latest Jordans, Nikes, Timberlands, etc. He doesn’t have a job so obviously his mom is either buying this stuff or giving him the money to buy these clothes. Their house isn’t super fancy but it looks comfortable and he has his own room. He might not have his father in the picture but his mom is certainly taking care of him with regard to food, clothing, and shelter. Not to mention that she dotes on him.

In turn, Kanan loves RAQ as well as his cousin, Laverne aka Jukebox (Hailey Kilgore). He also has his main group of friends from the neighborhood/school which consists of Famous and D-Wiz. As with most teens this age, there’s also a love interest. In this case, a girl named Davina who he has known and liked since they were younger children.

You can’t help but wonder, how does this kid go from being a seemingly nice to becoming the mess of a man that is Kanan in the original Power? Sure his mom and her brothers are selling drugs. But at this point, RAQ isn’t doing a bad job with him. When he’s out of pocket she corrects him and reminds him to mind his manners. She’s also tried to teach him to cook, clean, and otherwise take care of himself.

RAQ has provided for and taken care of Kanan. But she’s also trying to prepare him for when the time comes and he’s on his own either because he’s an adult or because she’s no longer there. RAQ doesn’t let him run wild or do whatever he wants. She tries to offer some kind of guidance and at least at the start of the show, there’s your typical mother and son relationship. RAQ doesn’t treat him like her friend but rather as her child.

But by the time the original Power begins and Kanan is an adult, RAQ is seemingly nowhere around. He mentions going to see his mom but by the time he dies, he’s already killed Jukebox and it’s reported that he has no surviving relatives. No family members show up to claim his body.

It’s been consistent that Kanan grew up without his father in his life. Yet, here he has not only his mother but also at least two uncles and his grandmother. Granted by the time he became an adult his grandmother could have just been old and died from natural causes so let’s set her aside. What happened to the rest of his family? Is his mom still around but they’re estranged or is she dead or in jail?

More than following the story of Kanan, I got wrapped up in wondering what is going to happen to RAQ. In this look back we see that his mom is very much alive but there’s a sense that she might be living on borrowed time. Jukebox is also still relatively normal at this point but despite only being a year older, she’s more on the ball than Kanan.

Part of this is that Jukebox seems less sheltered than Kanan. She’s like the reverse of his situation as her mother isn’t around and she’s being raised by her dad. But he is somewhat distant and neglectful. Jukebox grows into a person that Kanan, Ghost, and Tommy respect, if not fear.

RAQ along with her younger brother Lou-Lou (Malcolm Mays) and older brother Marvin (London Brown) are already adults by the time we meet them. RAQ is a surprisingly complex and multifaceted character and as one of the show’s main characters, we see more parts of her life. The brothers also have their own quirks and personalities but we also get bits of their backstories as the season unfolds. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to this trio of siblings that set them down this path and shaped them into these characters. I didn’t have any of those kinds of questions while watching the original Power.

They haven’t completely reinvented the wheel here but the story and characters are still interesting. There have been movies and tv shows about drug dealers. The same for Black women who are single moms and Black teen males growing up without their fathers. But the way that it’s presented here is actually quite refreshing.

Often when you have stories about drug dealers or any of those other categories it’s the same thing over and over with no real complexity. In place of story, dialogue, and character development there is just violence and machismo. Taking the opposite approach is one of the things that I really like about Raising Kanan. We see that Kanan didn’t enter the world with guns blazing but was a scared teen at first and was actually bullied as a kid.

As a Black woman watching this Black woman on TV, I certainly don’t want her life. But I like that she’s a Black woman who is certainly imperfect but also complex. Quite often, Black women, Black people really, are portrayed as just flat stereotypical characters whether they’re criminals or paragons of virtue. Sure, RAQ was a teenage mom from South Jamaica, Queens, New York (Southside) and that could have been a completely different storyline.

Instead, here she is as a tough and ambitious drug queenpin. (Yes, she’s selling drugs but let’s put aside the moral issues because this is a work of fiction.) RAQ is the leader of this growing drug enterprise. Out in the world, she is a smart, strategic, and tough leader. Not everyone might know her by sight but most know her by reputation. She’s a little bit cold as you rarely see her genuinely smile or laugh. That’s understandable as when selling drugs you can only trust the people you deal with to a point.

The relationship and her personality are a bit different from her brothers because they work together. They have their relationships as siblings where she cares about them and they care about her. But the nature of their illegal and deadly business affects their relationship. It impacts the way that she interacts with them and them with her. They might be siblings but in the context of their business, she’s also their boss.

RAQ makes this especially clear with Marvin as there’s some tension between the two of them. He’s constantly trying to prove himself to her but typically messes up in the process. Marvin has good intentions but tends to just make things worse and constantly disappoints RAQ.

Lou Lou despite being younger is more dependable so RAQ relies on him and he is her right-hand man. RAQ’s clear preference for him affects the relationship between Marvin and Lou. There’s uneasiness between the three of them because of this business. Yet, while they might clash at times and fight with each other you get the sense that they’ll back each other against any threats from the outside because they’re still family.

Yet, RAQ is different when she’s at home with Kanan or even Jukebox. She is warm and extremely affectionate towards them both. On multiple occasions, RAQ hugs Kanan and tells him that she loves him and encourages him. She wants good things for Kanan and a life far different from the one that she is living.

RAQ accepts that she is risking her life selling drugs. In her eyes, it’s worth the risk if it means that Kanan will have a chance to leave this neighborhood behind and go on to live a good life that is safe and happy. These are things that any decent parent would want for their child.

That their child would have more and be more in life than they had for themselves. She is putting her life on the line to provide Kanan with opportunities that it sounds like she probably wishes she had for herself. Having missed out on these things, RAQ wants to give them to Kanan.

Then you see her with Jukebox with whom she’s arguably even more open and affectionate. We come to find out that at one point she was raising both of them. Keep in mind that Raquel had Kanan when she was a teenager so she would have likely been anywhere from her teens to her 20s but was raising both her son and her niece. She and Jukebox still have a good relationship when the show opens but it seems like they were even closer in the past.

Jukebox’s mom isn’t around, Marvin spent some time in prison and while he’s home the two still aren’t very close. At one point, RAQ functioned as Jukebox’s mom and Lou Lou still serves as her quasi-dad. Marvin is doing his own thing and there just seems to be a disconnect between him and his daughter. He might have played a part in conceiving Jukebox but he’s not really in the mix or at least not to the extent that he should be when it comes to her development as a person.

Yet, there’s a definite warmth between Lou and Jukebox. Lou Lou also cares about Kanan but we never really see the two interact one-on-one in the first season. It’s worth noting because Lou Lou is a fairly constant presence around RAQ but we never see him alone with Kanan.

It’s obvious that RAQ loves Kanan as that is her baby but she also loves Jukebox. Maybe because they are females, there are conversations that RAQ has with Jukebox that she doesn’t have with Kanan. She’s more open with Jukebox about personal topics such as relationships and romance. These are topics that she doesn’t really talk about with Kanan or at least we don’t see it. She hugs both of them, tells Kanan that she loves him, and most importantly she’s openly proud of their individual merits and encourages them to use their abilities to strive for more.

I liked that RAQ has different facets to her character because that’s how most people are. I don’t care how bad you are, unless you’re an absolute sociopath there was probably somebody at some point in your life that you loved and cared about or felt some degree of warmth towards. And likewise, there’s probably at least one person that you just could not stand. If someone were to ask those two people to describe you as a person they might give vastly different descriptions.

There are things in life that make you happy as well as things that make you sad. I don’t care how tough you are at some point as a kid and even as an adult you’ve cried or felt some kind of feeling beyond anger because people have emotions. You generally don’t feel the same way all the time.

And depending on where you are and what’s happening, you probably adjust your demeanor accordingly. But quite often, that’s not portrayed in TV shows and movies. Characters are often portrayed the same way all the time which creates that flatness and lack of complexity that makes them feel one-dimensional.

Out in the world, RAQ has this boss lady queenpin persona. Looking at her interactions with her rival, Unique, or even her soldier, Scrappy, it’s likely that neither of them knows her personally. They’re not hanging out at her house and don’t know what she’s like at home. There’s no need for them to know that side of her as they just need to know her within the context in which they interact with each other in the drug business.

But then you see her at home with Kanan or Jukebox and she’s typically warm and motherly towards them. Why? Because there’s a time and place for everything and the street is not the time or place for all of that. She bumps heads with her brothers but if something happens to one of them she would care and be concerned. When Marvin messes up and creates problems for her, she becomes upset with him and you can see their hurt feelings on both sides.

Then there’s her love interest, the cutie patootie that is Symphony Bosket (Toby Sandeman). We don’t learn much about his backstory but thus far Symphony is the perfect combination of cute with a body and a brain. He’s cute which would attract most women but he’s also kind of nerdy.

At first glance, you wouldn’t think that RAQ would be into him but I totally get his appeal as he’s sweet, open about his feelings, and seemingly genuine. He’s refreshing in this group of manipulative people who are always scheming. I was rolling with RAQ on him, I also grew to like Symphony randomly dropping knowledge. Who would have thought urban planning and the history of concrete could be so fascinating?

RAQ is also tender and affectionate with him but obviously in a different way from Kanan or Jukebox. With Symphony you see her be sweet and tender but also sexy. We get to see yet another side of her character because she is intimate with him in a romantic rather than maternal or familial way. More on this in later episodes but she also frustrates me with the way she speaks to him at times. Symphony is the only character who at times has me not rolling with RAQ.

Throw in her seemingly problematic mother and we see RAQ as a mother, sister, aunt, daughter, girlfriend/lover, and boss. The only dynamic that’s missing is her as a friend because she doesn’t seem to have any personal friends.

There’s also the aspect of RAQ being a woman in a male-dominated environment. The actress, Patina Miller, seems to be of average height and is very slim. They dress her in a lot of heels so she ends up being at eye level with many of the male characters. But she is noticeably physically smaller than most of them. (Though her height in comparison to Kanan sometimes appears off as she looks huge standing next to him in some scenes but is about the same height in others.)

Sometimes having characters show a little bit of vulnerability or them not being perfect or not having all the answers and being scared at times makes them more interesting. Selling drugs is a dangerous trade and while RAQ is tough, she’s also vulnerable. It’s obvious from the very beginning that she might be running things but can be moved aside just like anybody else out there. And so can her son, Kanan.

She admits that fear to Kanan and you can see the stress in her life as she chain smokes like nobody’s business. But from that fear and tension comes the willingness to make really tough choices. There’s fear and vulnerability within her but you also see fear and vulnerability within the other characters as well. Rather than being perfect superheroes or supervillains, they’re flawed humans. And that draws you into the characters.

You see them out in the street where if need be they are violent, ruthless even. But that’s a persona or rather just a part of who they are but not the entirety. It’s like who you are when you’re at work is different from who you are when you’re with your friends, kids, significant other, etc. I would hope that you don’t speak with your co-workers on the same intimate level that you might with your boyfriend or girlfriend. The conversations that you have with your significant other are different from the type of conversations you have with your kids. You might be affectionate in both situations but the way that you express that affection is different.

Those varied facets of the characters and their vulnerabilities which are apparent from the beginning are engrossing. It’s not like when you watch action movies and the star walks into a room of 50 people, beats them all up, and walks out unscathed. They don’t take any losses and just win all the time. Those are shows or films you watch for the action and special effects of fighting and explosions but not necessarily for the story or to see how the characters develop.

RAQ and Kanan are the leads of this show but they both take losses and make mistakes. In the very first episode, Kanan’s life is in danger due to a mistake that he makes. And there’s an ominous feeling that something might happen to RAQ. That makes the story incredibly interesting because you tune in to find out what’s going to happen next.

Given the original Power, Kanan is in no danger of dying at this point but he can be seriously injured. But now there’s RAQ, Lou, Marvin, Symphony, Unique, and a bunch of other characters to worry about. Who is going to get hurt or die? Will any of them escape to better lives by the end? And most importantly, I really want RAQ to leave this life and run away with Symphony.

Unique (Joey Bada$$) is RAQ’s rival in the local drug trade so while I don’t want him to win against her, I also don’t want anything too bad to happen to him. For the most part, I like everyone and care about what happens to them. Everyone except for Detective Howard (Omar Epps). I don’t like and wish nothing but bad upon him. Nothing against Omar Epps but I disliked Howard the moment he appeared on the screen.

I tend to have a healthy level of skepticism about shows and movies that are very popular in the mainstream. That’s not to say that I won’t check them out for myself but I try not to get my hopes up as I’ve been disappointed in the past. I’ve watched and discussed this show with several other people and everyone has enjoyed it. Maybe not to the level that I have but they liked it as well with RAQ, in particular, being a crowd favorite.

I’d initially banned my mom from watching the show given RAQ and the rest of the crew’s carnal shenanigans. But when I finally relented and allowed my mom to watch she got caught up in the story and was upset when she reached the end of the first season. I recommended the show to a co-worker and she’s now just as fanatical and will be one of my watch buddies when the second season starts.

At this point, I should probably be getting a check for the way I’ve been promoting Raising Kanan to everyone that I know. But being serious, that’s part of why I decided to start making these recaps and reviews. Raising Kanan is a good show that doesn’t seem to be getting the attention that it deserves.

I’m looking forward to the second season and hope that they’ll maintain the quality and continue building on what they’ve done so far. There have been a few shows that are great in the first season as they spend time setting up the characters only to have the show fall apart in the second or third season. I think the reason is that shows seem to be renewed on a season-by-season basis.

It can be quite a hurdle for a show to get from pilot to production and then get picked up for the first season. Thus showrunners and creators put a lot of effort into making sure that the first season is really good to increase its odds of success and being renewed. But because they’re working on a season-by-season basis, they might not be thinking three or four seasons down the line or planning the show to maintain consistency from premiere to finale.

Raising Kanan was renewed for a second season before the first season had even premiered which speaks to the network’s confidence in the show. But Power is also the franchise series on Starz as there are a few other popular shows but nothing really major. As I was writing the notes for this episode, I saw on Patina Miller’s IG account that they’re starting to do press. This was a few days after the second trailer premiered.

I don’t watch regular tv so my perspective might be skewed. But speaking to other people who watch the show, they had no idea that it was getting ready to come back. So while part of the show’s lack of attention might be due to mainstream media ignoring so-called “Black shows”, Starz could also do a better job of promoting Raising Kanan.

There was at least a month or two between the trailers for the second season. But there should have been drops and clips on social media along the way. Now at two weeks out, the cast should be everywhere doing interviews. Get people amped for the show’s return and make people who watched last year want to go back and watch it again so it’s fresh in their minds. This is a show about hustlers so the people at Starz need to follow suit and get on their grind.

Whatever happens, I’m still “Rolling with RAQ”. It seems the plan is to eventually kill or otherwise move her aside so Kanan can continue on his journey to becoming a monster. Patina Miller has done almost too good a job for them to easily get her out of there. I’ve watched other reviews and comments and I know some people are impatient to have Kanan meet Breeze, Ghost, and Tommy. But in my eyes, I haven’t had enough of RAQ and the Thomas boys so those other three can stay where they are. I’d be perfectly fine with never seeing Ghost or Tommy on this show.

I just hope that in the move to eventually shift focus to Kanan that the showrunners don’t try to turn the audience against RAQ by having her go completely off the rails. I like the facets of RAQ’s personality and understand if future experiences change her somewhat but hopefully not into a completely different character. I almost don’t even like that the complex Kanan we have in this show becomes the caricature of a villain shown in the original Power.

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