Critically acclaimed “neon-noir” stripper drama P-Valley sizzles on Showmax

23 November 2020

Critically acclaimed “neon-noir” stripper drama P-Valley sizzles on Showmax

Welcome to the Dirty Delta. 

Hailed by Indiewire as “unlike anything ever seen on TV,” P-Valley is “a sexy, fast-paced drama that sets out to de-stigmatize the world of stripping and shatter misconceptions,” and it’s coming weekly to Showmax and 1Magic, every Tuesday at 22:30.

Set in a fictional strip club called The Pynk in the Mississippi Delta in the American South, P-Valley is the eighth highest-rated new TV show of 2020 so far, according to Rotten Tomatoes. Their 100% rating critics consensus says, “A stunning, lyrical piece of neon noir, P-Valley explores the unseen lives of strippers in Mississippi through Katori Hall’s singular gaze, celebrating the beauty of the craft without sugarcoating the challenges.” 

P-Valley broke the record for the most-viewed series premiere ever on the Starz App, and was renewed for a second season within two weeks of its debut.

The series is led by four women: Brandee Evans as veteran stripper Mercedes, Elarica Johnson (A Discovery of Witches) as strip-circuit newcomer Autumn Night, Shannon Thornton as Miss Mississippi, and Skylar Joy (Ma) as Gidget. 

Nicco Annan plays the club’s non-binary owner, Uncle Clifford, while the cast also includes Emmy winner Loretta Devine (Grey’s Anatomy, Crash, Boston Public), Black Reel nominee Parker Sawyers (World on Fire, Barack Obama in Southside with You), Black Reel nominee and Image Award winner Isaiah Washington (Grey’s Anatomy, The 100) and Morocco Omari (Empire, 21 Bridges).

Although professional exotic dancers served as stunt doubles for the more complex routines, the lead actors themselves went through rigorous training and bootcamps to pull off their characters’ eye-popping feats on stage, ultimately doing most of their own dancing and stunts.

“P-Valley is about why these women make the choices that they do. It’s about why these women love to do what they do. We’re really talking about black female sexuality from a black female perspective.”

Creator Katori Hall

“I want people to respect what these women do,” says series creator, showrunner and playwright Katori Hall, who created P*ssy Valley, the original stage play the series is based on. “They are athletes. They are super-sheroes. They are on this pole and they are flying around like birds. You really have to build up your body, build up your strength and build up your bravery to be able to get up on that pole, so the show really focuses on the athleticism and showcases the realness of the craft.”

The series is the result of six years’ worth of research and interviews with over 40 women in clubs across the US, and particularly in the South, Katori explains. 

From the dancing to the characters themselves, and even the way they speak, it was all about authenticity – something that has earned the show comparisons to The Wire. 

“P-Valley hooks in with [Katori] Hall’s dialogue, which undulates and swerves, melodic and vulgar at once, cascading so fast sometimes it’s hard to catch on the first go round,” says The Guardian. 

 I never shied away from the slanguage of my world,” Katori explains. “You have to allow your ear to get acclimated to how these characters speak to one another… I was really committed to it being an authentic portrayal of the world.”

Katori also wanted to explore the female gaze, and that meant getting the camera’s point of view right. For the show’s first season, she brought on board eight award-winning female directors, as well as Emmy-nominated cinematographer Nancy Schreiber (Better Things), who shot half the episodes.   

But the show’s success – and its pulling power – lies in the balance it strikes between wrangling real social issues and just plain having fun. 

In an online panel discussion for P-Valley’s Seriesfest opening night, Katori said, “I am a daughter of the South. I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and I went to strip clubs all the time, whether it was a birthday party, or a baby shower (and that’s true). So for me it was really about using reality and using a lot of the real women that I met, and so the four women, Mercedes, Miss Mississippi, Gidget, Autumn Night, I wanted it to be a diversity of perspectives, because every woman does it for a completely different reason.”

“Some women do it because they love it, some women do it because they’re trying to get out of a relationship, some women do it… because they need to go to school, or… they need to take care of their family. This is a very kaleidoscopic viewing of this world. There’s so many stories to tell.”

Salon.com praised the show for “turning every stereotype about these places and these women on its head and presenting them from a view that serves their perspective, for once.” 

“There is a dance between exploitation and liberation”

Of the strip club world, Katori says, “Even though obviously it is a space of exploitation, these women have been able to carve out a space for themselves within this space that’s very liberating. It’s interesting to see how empowering that space can be, whether it is financial empowerment, empowerment of expression, sexual freedom…” 

“P-Valley is about why these women make the choices that they do. It’s about why these women love to do what they do. We’re really talking about black female sexuality from a black female perspective,” she says.

“When people think of the strip club, they don’t think of a theatrical experience, they don’t think of strength,” she told Rotten Tomatoes. “They just think of exploitation, and we wanted to show there’s flight in this space, and there’s also falling in this space. And there is a dance between exploitation and liberation.”

It’s a dance that has the critics enthralled. As TV Guide says, “P-Valley blends the profane, the sacred, and the politics of the almighty dollar to tell engrossing stories about black women on the margins who use their bodies to keep families and communities afloat. It’s also one of the year’s best new shows.” 

Want to see more of the strip club life? Also watch the Golden Globe-nominated hit movie Hustlers, starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu and Julia Stiles, and documentary series Beyond the Pole on Showmax.

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