'Soul Food' whets viewing palate
Starring: Nicole Ari Parker, Malinda Williams, Vanessa Williams.
When: 10 p.m. June 28.
By Jay Bobbin
Tribune Media Services
Following the acclaimed 1997 movie, Showtime is ready to make a full-course meal out of "Soul Food."
The saga of three Chicago sisters trying to hold their family together continues in a new drama series premiering on Wednesday with an episode directed by "ER" regular Eriq La Salle. Nicole Ari Parker, Vanessa Williams and Malinda Williams (no relation to Vanessa) play the siblings whose bond grows stronger after the death of their mother (returning cast member Irma P. Hall, who appears in flashbacks).
Teri (Parker) is a successful attorney whose musically inclined ex-husband (Isaiah Washington) retains a big role in her life. Meanwhile, Maxine (Vanessa Williams) tends to her tow-truck-driving husband (Rockmond Dunbar) and her children, including wise-beyond-his-years Ahmad (Aaron Meeks).
Salon-owner Byrd's (Malinda Williams) life is unsettled, since her husband (Darrin Dewitt Henson) is an ex-convict struggling to stay out of trouble. Despite their respective challenges, the women aim to maintain a tradition by gathering the entire clan for Sunday dinners. Executive producers of "Soul Food" include George Tillman Jr. — who wrote and directed the original movie — and two of the picture's other makers, Tracey Edmonds and her husband, music impresario Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds.
Though the film was released by 20th Century Fox, Paramount is the studio behind the series.
"It is a wonderful shock to the system," Vanessa Williams says of being cast in the weekly "Sou1 Food" incarnation. "Prior to this, I had mostly been home with my young son. This is definitely demanding for me because it is a lead role, even with an ensemble cast, so it requires me to use more of my professional tools on many levels I haven't experienced before. It's great in some ways, but I also have a learning curve."
Williams found benefits in her fast friendships with her female co-stars. "During the past year, I had actually spoken the words that I wanted to work with them. I had been amazed and impressed by their work. Nicole's from the time of 'The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls In Love,' and Malinda's in 'The Wood.' Malinda is a new mom, too, so we've been sharing tips. The bonding between all of us was instantaneous, just like 'add water and stir.'"
"Soul Food" was a known commodity to Williams when the series opportunity came up. She recalls being "so moved" by the movie: "I really enjoyed the acting, and I totally identified with what George (Tillman) was saying in it. In fact, I watched it while standing up at a drive-in theater when my baby was about 6-months old. I was rocking him, and I had about five speakers attached to my car."
With "Soul Food" premiering in the same week Showtime launches the Monday night series "Resurrection Blvd.," about a Latino family in East Los Angeles, Williams credits the cable network for embracing ethnicity. "It's the old blood vs. the new blood," she reasons. "Cable executives represent the new blood less threatened by change. That changing of the guard is a slow process, but it's whatever the market will bear. People will go where they can find the reflections of themselves that they want to see."