TV

The New Edition Story

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The art of making a good biopic is extremely complex and results do vary. Most issues arise as early as the point of conception. Others fall a part at some point during casting. It is quite a feat to turn a real life story into a successful TV movie and I am delighted to say that BET’s The New Edition Story is truly a masterpiece.

This three part miniseries works like a well oiled machine. Every aspect is amazing; the casting, the music and choreography, costuming, I could go on and on. It is probably worth noting that every member of New Edition (Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ralph Tresvant, Ronnie DeVoe and Johnny Gill) was on board this project as executive producers and at some point worked one on one with the young actors portraying them onscreen. I think that this was a great touch and yet another element that sets this miniseries a part from others.

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Woody McClain as Bobby Brown, Elijah Kelly as Ricky Bell, Algee Smith as Ralph Tresvant, Luke James as Johnny Gill, Keith Powers as Ronnie DeVoe, and Bryshere Gray as Michael Bivins in BET’s The New Edition Story

The miniseries tells New Edition’s story starting with their humble beginnings in the Boston projects in the late 70’s. It also follows their rise to stardom as well as the lows each member faces throughout the group’s break-up, subsequent solo careers, and eventual reunion.

New Edition is such an important group because of all that they did for R&B and hip-hop culture. Their sound and style paved the way for dozens of artists who came after them and this miniseries really shows that.

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Tyler Marcel Williams (as young Bobby Brown), Caleb McLaughlin (as Ricky Bell), Dante Hoagland (as young Michael Bivins), Jahi Di’Allo Winston (as young Ralph Tresvant) and Wood Harris in BET’s The New Edition Story

The cast is just PHENOMENAL. The young actors who play New Edition as children are all incredibly talented. Tyler Marcel Williams, Caleb McLaughlin (Stranger Things), Dante Hoagland (30 Rock), Jahi Di’Allo Winston (AMC‘s Feed the Beast), and Myles Truitt are each a delight to watch onscreen and it was quite satisfying to see how and where the group began.

Playing New Edition from young adulthood on are Woody McClain (CBS’ Training Day), Elijah Kelly (Red Tails, Hairspray), Bryshere Gray (Empire), Algee Smith (Earth to Echo),  Keith Powers (Straight Outta Compton) and Luke James (The Black Nativity). Much like the young cast they are exceptional. The onscreen chemistry they share and buzzing talent they each individually possess is a winning combination.

At first glance it may not be obvious who each actor is portraying, but once they start speaking or performing onstage it’s quite apparent. I found that to be so impressive. Even the actresses who portray each boys’ mother were well cast. They had a couple different scenes where they really shined and helped infuse humor. Another worthy mention is Wood Harris, who portrays Brook Payne, the group’s first manager and uncle to Ronnie DeVoe.

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Top: Woody McClain (as Bobby Brown), Luke James (as Johnny Gill), Keith Powers (as Ronnie DeVoe), Bottom: Bryshere Gray (as Michael Bivins), Elijah Kelly (as Ricky Bell), and Algee Smith (as Ralph Tresvant) Still from BET’s The New Edition Story

New Edition obviously has incredible music and I loved how so much time was spent on the music itself. Whether it was seeing them in the studio or performing onstage during a tour, music was central to the overall miniseries. Most biopics focus solely on life behind the scenes, but The New Edition Story had a good balance. We saw each member as more than just an entertainer; you saw them as sons, flawed people and most importantly as brothers to one another.

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A still of Luke James (as Johnny Gill) and Elijah Kelly (as Ricky Bell) in BET’s The New Edition Story

Another thing worth highlighting is how much time was dedicated to duplicating interviews from the 90’s nearly verbatim as well as routines and choreography being in complete sync with the originals. Even music videos were shot and matched nearly frame by frame to the originals. That blew me away!

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A still from BET’s The New Edition Story

As with any project, only so much can be told in the allotted time and I think all of the high points of New Edition’s early career were addressed. Some have complained about the absence of Whitney Houston, whose infamous marriage to Bobby Brown was the center of headlines for years. I think the decision to not talk about that marriage in the miniseries or even cast an actress to play a young Houston was one of respect and ultimately a wise choice.

There is also no explanation given about where each of the boy’s fathers were during their childhood. While both story lines would have surely added more depth to each character or a deeper understanding of each, it really wasn’t necessary to the overall story.

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A still from BET’s The New Edition Story

New Edition is a group that experienced great highs and deep lows, but their story is still being written and I cant wait to see what comes for them next.

The New Edition Story is directed by Chris Robinson (ATL) and scripted by Abdul Williams (Lottery Ticket). It also stars La La Anthony, Yvette Nicole Brown, Bre-Z, Monica Calhoun, Lisa Nicole Carson, Faizon Love, Duane Martin, Michael Rapaport and a slew of talented others!!

 

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