There’s something about P-Valley that draws you in, most likely its central trifecta: the promise of sex, the hope of love, and the certainty of death.
But there’s more that keeps you there, connective tissue, that makes you compelling enough to care about the characters that inhabit the series’ fictional town of Chucalissa, miss.
Do the Memphisippi. Creator and showrunner Katori Hall describes the setting as a combination of places she grew up in and not readily found on television, a blend of city and country that evokes authentic Black Southernity.
“I always say if Chucalissa was a city, it would be this fusion of Memphis, Tunica, Miss., and Jackson, Miss., all sort of put in one pot and cooked and marinated together,” she said. “Chucalissa reflects the hood, the rural communities, the different languages, the musicality of the southern black language. It’s all represented in this fictional world which is quite real and based on everything I’ve experienced in my life. That’s why it feels so tactile.”
Follow these streets and you’ll end up at “P-Valley,” which is based on Hall’s (almost) eponymous play and is both political — a mayoral race pitting a preacher, an invader, and a son of the land — and Poles-ite intrigue – the lives of exotic dancers and those in their orbit.
Season 1 was all about The Pynk strip club, run by Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan). Cliff has a lot of rules — a favorite is rule #88, which says, “Just because a bitch’s good at keeping the peace doesn’t mean she’s no good at making war” — and applies them along with him a fist with lace gloves on. Good thing, because in Season 2 there’s still a fight going on to keep the club – now co-owned by former dancer Autumn Night (Elarica Johnson) – out of the hands of developers looking to bring a casino to the impoverished town.
Season 2 is broader: it’s about the people in all their beautiful, chaotic glory.
“I always tell people the show isn’t called ‘The Pynk’, it’s called ‘P-Valley.’ What I find most ambitious is to get more into our characters and become more familiar with them,” said Hall, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her play The Hot Wing King in 2021. “The audience is starting to see themselves more because we’re literally and figuratively stepping behind the masks of all our characters… and it really makes people uncomfortable, which is a joy.”
And no one sees more than Uncle Clifford, who is into everyone’s cause (and knee-deep into his own). These include a torrid love affair and inspiring self-esteem.
“The first thing I asked Katori was, ‘Where did this idea come from with this character?’ and [Hall] said, ‘I’m just interested in seeing what a person could be like when they accept their whole self, all of their femininity and all of their masculinity,'” Annan said.
The actor stuck to this note.
“This season is like the Olympics for me with Uncle Clifford; it’s an emotional rollercoaster ride,” said Annan. “And there were things that I very rarely get an opportunity to do as an artist. And most importantly, being a black man and being a black gay man and being a black gay man of a certain height and then being all that, playing this non-binary person in such an inclusive space. Usually when you dip your toe in these pools it’s so minimal, and this is just a huge open galaxy. I just feel like any man.”
Saturated in colour, steeped in melodrama, Uncle Clifford perhaps best described the series’ development when she said, “This place is full of ghosts and unsung tunes, kid.”
Bouncer Diamond (Tyler Lepley) is revealed to be a roots worker, something hinted at in Season 1. (“Being black is such a magical experience,” Hall said.) The origin story of the often injured and battered Keyshawn (Shannon Thornton) is told as a broken fairy tale. Lil Murda (J. Alphonse Nicholson) and OG dancer Mercedes (Brandee Evans) make money moves. And COVID-19 is causing all kinds of businesses to stop and start again.
It sounds like a lot, but anyone who’s spent time in a city like Chucalissa knows that stories are always intertwined. Everyone always seems to be going somewhere, even if they stay put.
“All of the different marginalized communities that the show represents are really only being amplified this season and in the work,” Annan said.
In fact, everything is “amplified” this season: more money, more choices, more of the trifecta mentioned above. The show is rich in symbolism for those who enjoy watching. And nothing is more emblematic of that than this season’s fashion choices.
Hall and Annan joined The Times to break down season two’s style, some affectionately dubbed “corona couture.”
Scene: Uncle Clifford goes to the post-funeral dinner to get some chitlins for her grandmother.
room: We had decided that lime green would be the color people wore to funerals [Mayor] Tydell Ruffin. And so it’s like conforming to stand out, which is just [Clifford’s] MO anyway. I love that we were able to get this suit that is actually inspired by this Ugandan traditional clothing called Gomesi. It has that kind of pointy shoulder pads. We try to draw inspiration from the culture, from the motherland, and I was really happy that we were able to incorporate that into this particular outfit. There’s a sort of UC monogram that we put on the fabric of the suit. Uncle Clifford would have her own Gucci. The mask she’s wearing is this green plastic mask — her COVID couture or her Corona couture.
Annan: How do you then enter and do it civilly? To me, Uncle Clifford’s fashion is often how it travels, how it can go beyond Chucalissa’s borders because it has so many things that keep it there. This is her own little castle and the tower she has. That’s how it comes alive for me.
lady in red
Scene: Autumn Night/Hailey Savage meddles (read: crashes) with a group of High Rollers to make an offer for the Pynk.
room: One of our inspirations for this special moment was The Mask of the Red Death, the short story by Edgar Allan Poe. This woman is basically one of the greatest finesse we’re likely to ever meet in the entire series. She’s for take away. Just like Prince Prospero in this story didn’t know that someone was coming in to take his life. And so it’s almost like Andre is the prince, and she comes in to take over in a very metaphorical way. We’ve talked a lot about bringing that kind of literary reference to the big screen.
Scene: Friends and lovers Big Teak and Lil Murda spend the day together. Their time ends when the former takes his own life in the driver’s seat of a car given to him by the aspiring rapper.
room: It was one of those happy, unwanted moments… just relying on your costume designer. It’s nice when you can have such great people who bring these opportunities and allow you to go deeper into the work on the site.
Scene: Uncle Clifford has a lot of money on his mind while she’s figuring things out at and for the Pynk.
Annan: Money is always on her mind. It sure is cultural. But I think most people know something about it, if you don’t have anything you still strive for it don’t you? That was a look that was in the closet. We build a closet for each of the characters. When the designers talk to me, I tell them what’s going on in my mind as a character. So I knew my grandmother had Rona. I was stressed about the club and also had to deal with Hailey. I didn’t have time for anything big and elaborate. Give me a pair of leggings, my boots and just put on that swing top.
room: When I saw the money, I just thought: “This is perfect”, especially because it is an ambitious moment. Like she wants money but she also wants the pynk. So being caught between a rock and a hard place, your castle or the root of all evil.
When: Sunday, 9 p.m
Stream: Starz, anytime
Valuation: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under 17)
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-07-29/starz-p-valley-katori-hall-nicco-annan-uncle-clifford ‘P-Valley’ creator, Nicco Annan break down Season 2 fashions