BY JIM KELLAR
It's hard to get past the name. P-Valley, the new series that debuts on Stan on Sunday (one episode a week over eight weeks), has its roots in a play, Pussy Valley, that hit the stage in Minneapolis in 2015.
The play was created by Katori Hall, a black woman from Memphis, Tennessee. It depicts the complex lives of women who work at strip club in the Mississippi delta. Hall did her homework, talking to dozens strippers over six years, to make the production as real as possible.
The concept has grown into the P-Valley series, which draws on real characters Hall met in the strip club scene. Hall, who is the showrunner and executive producer for the series - her first foray into television - enlisted eight diverse females to direct each episode in the first season.
Hall is well-known for The Mountaintop, her award-winning drama about the final hours of Martin Luther King Jnr before his 1968 assassination in Memphis. The play, which was seen on Broadway starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, toured the US to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jnr.
P-Valley appears at a time when western culture is on the cusp of a seismic adjustment.
"P-Valley arrives when Hollywood has begun to rethink the stories it tells and who gets to tell them," says New York Times writer Alexis Soloski. "The show's characters are mostly Black, mostly women, mostly sex workers and mostly working class, a demographic typically underrepresented or misrepresented onscreen."
The show carries an aura of authenticity, at least to the extent of what most of us imagine walking into a warehouse that serves as a strip club deep down in the Mississippi Delta might feel like.
Of course, most of the talent is black, but the show makes a point of dissecting the "blackness" of the female dancers to literally the darkness of their skin. Hall has been quoted in other interviews as saying that is a real sticking point - dark black strippers get paid less than lighter-coloured ones.
One of the stars of the show, Brandee Evans (playing Mercedes Sundayz) is dark black. One of the stars, Elarica Johnson (playing Autumn Night) is a much lighter black. And that in itself is acknowledged as a source of conflict in the show.
Of course, the club boss, Uncle Clifford (played by Nicco Annan) is a trans black man.
There is plenty of skin in the show (although the first bare breast is a stripper feeding her infant in the dressing room), and plenty of exotic dancing, with particular attention paid to pole dancing.
You can feel the bump and grind, the stanky dark night air, the alcohol flowing and spilling and refilling.
There's also a lot music, like hip hop and trap, feeding through it - of course, music and dancing go together. The southern accents are heavy, but feel right. "Y'all" has got to be the most common word on the show.
The dialogue is full of catchy lines, for better or worse. It certainly breaks it down into bits you can swallow.
Like Autumn Night telling a man who comes to her assistance outside the strip club, "You can't trust a man without a vice. You need to get into something."
Or stripper Mercedes' mum, a preacher, telling her, "stripping is blasphemous" and Mercedes responding, "No, it's art".