OWN’s Ambitions: Subverts Expectations At Every Turn

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Credit: OWN

Written by: David Janes

OWN has a new soap in town and it’s taking names baby! Season 1 of Ambitions is the smartest offering of salacious, raunchy, delicious soap that often hits the right sweet spots and oozes such sexual fantasy and desires as if we’re viewing Cinemax-lite, that’s how HOT this show is. It’s a whipped up creme-brulee of sexual perpetual heat of Who’s Zoomin’ Who? Mixed with Ginuwine’s Differences and TLC’s What About Your Friends. With the mid-season finale airing tonight, the show has setup so much ground for an explosive finale of epic proportions.

Ambitions Wastes No Time:

Soap Operas have always been predicated on the continuous nature of “I have to see what happens next….” The evolving and unfolding built on the long-story that will take months, possibly even years for something to be revealed, exposed or explode, rippling an aftermath of cataclysmic effects among a town, a community, a core group of characters. Yet while some things might take a long time to be exposed, whether it’s the classic tales of the paternity reveal on The Young and the Restless, multiple storylines on Passions! (Eve and that letter!), or is Kristen Alfonso – Hope or Gina and in recent years, who was Fluke in General Hospital…..Who pushed Rhonda on Empire? Who Shot Fitz on Scandal? Or the multiple identities on How to Get Away with Murder of who killed who, who is under the sheet and who got shot.

On the contrary, Ambitions is paying off threads setup since the pilot, proving you don’t have to wait until the season finale to ramp it up. In fact, some secrets don’t have to drawn out or dragged out in a contrived melodramatic conflicting way to where the characters backed against a corner in protecting this secret that may jeopardize/sacrifice who their character is at heart for plot.

“In Episode 9 – Stephanie devised a scheme against Lori, and revealed her plans, all for her schemes/secrets on both ends to be exposed. There was no prolonging, flashbacks, holding secrets. The show would rather let its characters be exposed and let the dominoes fall and the repercussions in producing good character drama out of it testing the waters and shaking up the status quo, the balance scale of every character and where they stand with their relationships, alliance to one another. The episode ended with a stunning last five minutes.”

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Credit: OWN

A Callback of What Soaps Can Still Be:

OWN’s Ambitions is revving up the “soap opera”, which at times with the amount of fast-induced pumping adrenaline this show moves at, it feels more in the vein of OPERA, putting such multi-generational and multifaceted characters at the forefront, at the same time making statements, pushing boundaries, passing censors (“jizz-stains”), setting marks all unapologetically in a glitzy, glamourous stunning fashion, all packed with big hair, struts, energy and as much shade in almost every scene. The show blows through so much plot, upping the stakes each week and invests in telling juicy, delicious soapy tales that rewards an audience’s enjoyment and the perfect gift to soap fans to watch and live in nostalgia for the old days while glorying for a new modern soap of our era.

The nastiness filled shady, vampy digs is for every soap fan who relished the rivalries from Alexis vs. Dominique on Dynasty, Amanda vs. Allison on Melrose Place, Erica Kane vs. Brooke English and Maria Santos on All My Children, Nikki vs. Diane; Jill vs. Katherine on Young and the Restless….I can go on.. Every time you lived, quoted and echoed those scenes, It is times a 100 on steroids.  It’s a raunchier, sexier modern day soap treat that Will Packer along with Creator/Executive Producer, Jamey Giddens calls a love letter to the soap fans. And if anyone has followed Jamey’s brilliant commentary on the soap industry on his co-owned first rate site for all things soap journalism, Daytime Confidential, which is hilarious, insightful with a must-listen to podcast, then you know this man knows SOAP OPERA! Calling Ambitions, one type of soap, or limiting it to this show meets this show would be doing it a disservice because it celebrates soap operas unapologetically. It’s no hybrid, nor does it pretend to be one. 

There’s thrills, chills, schemes, murder, blackmail, conspiracy, underworld, triangles, quadrangles, entanglements, sex-tapes, a menage à trois, a beautiful Romeo/Juliet love story between two women, a pharmaceutical dynasty, and the tap into the pulse of what’s happening with what’s happening with the opioid crisis. Stephanie says in the series trailer “That’s just for starters,” because there is so much more to quench that parched sudsy thirst of what goes down. 

This show is such an engaging fun treats that fits the OWN branding of “Temptation Tuesdays”, and a labor of creative love. There’s subtext, psychological drama running through all the characters that’s already starting to tick, tip and explode ahead of Tuesday’s finale.

“Titus has been playing back all the times, Amara has told him that it was only one time. The rage, the lies and the love all explode at once creating a conflicted man trapped within a marriage he was working to put together and refalling back in love with his wife …hits it’s boiling point in Episode 10.”

Ambitions is a soap that never once insults intelligence and embraces an audience member’s itching to think while tying in culture, sex, technology, today’s conversations/language, smart motivations and strong characters and a fully realized twisty sexy mysterious ensemble that pushes the envelope in ways that doesn’t feel it’s for shock and awe but in such a cheerful, OMG, audacious way that speaks to the twisty mythical world in which these characters operate.

Redefining the Face of a Soap Canvas

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As we approach the end to the operatic tales, journeys and characters of Empire, How to Get Away With Murder set to debut their final seasons in the Fall and air it’s final episode in 2020, and the ending of Starz’ Power set to also air in 2020, Ambitions is taking the Paton while changing the soap game and putting a powerhouse diverse cast especially our titular leads: Robin Givens, Brian J. White, Essence Atkins, Kendrick Cross, Brely Evans and Erica Page. 

With the influx of shows with powerhouse black leads, ranging from heroines to anti-heroes in: Olivia Pope, Cookie Lyon, Annalise Keating, Samantha White, Nova Bordelon, Lucious Lyon, James “Ghost” St. Patrick, all who are nuanced, complex, messy, fierce, and can shut it down within a minute and twist the narrative in which the world is ran by them, moved by them and changed by them. The world of Ambitions is a canvas filled with anti-heroes, heroines, cheaters, strivers, psychos, and morally complicated people doing dastardly things, and entangling themselves into mess and more mess where black characters aren’t an afterthought, supporting side-kick, the best friend or the talk-to. They’re the leads, they’re the ones who call all the shots and create a game-changer before the end of an “Act.”  

  • Stephanie and Evan are our J.R. and Sue Ellen, Alan and Monica with a bit of sex-capades that reach new levels of OMG. Quite the appetite as all of our characters.
  • Titus and Amara are our soap super-couple/heroines
  • Bella is our striver, a little less of Jill Foster and more Erica Kane
  • Rondell is our hero, having sacrificed for Evan, and working to keep the memory of her mother alive through Thelma’s Place, and will give it to you straight, and except no tongue in return. Calling out the sidities, bourgeois, the elitists. In many ways, she represents the audience, she speaks on it and sees through the treachery. 
  • The stalker tendencies of the no-good Damian Collins is the Ambitions equivalent to a Kimberly Shaw on Melrose Place or a General Hospital’s Kevin or Jake Ballard on Scandal just more crazier and psychotic.

The Running Power of the Characters:

For every over-the-top, craze or a cape wearing, gun-wielding Stephanie lavishly and talking in such camp, Ambitions grounds itself by boldly tackling and commentating on gentrification in Atlanta. 

“Our fierce, down to earth, tells-it-like she sees it, while serving a peach cobbler pie with a knife ready in head, Rondell Lancaster runs Thelma, a family-owned Diner that is a staple of “The Banks”, in which Greg Peters, and his developers are trying to buy up the neighborhood and tear down every lasting memory of the neighborhood. Rondell is a hero with a cause, holding on to save her mother’s memory through the diner, but gives people who’ve lived in The Banks all their lives a bold voice. Along with that, her brother, Evan, the mayor is connected to Peters through his wife, Stephanie Carlisle and her family’s law firm firm. Oh and she loves her some celebrating, and a song from New Edition!” 

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Credit: OWN

The show is making bold statements of the times we live in, it’s fully realized world, but also putting our lead characters in power-player roles. Steph scheming for power, trying to take over the law firm and every deed all lead back to her in some sort of way. She’s the one who calls the shots, and she has no problem reminding those that she’ll blow up their life never giving it a single thought. To me, this show goes beyond the staples of being a modern black Dallas, Dynasty, or Knots Landing. Ambitions pays homage but entirely is its own mythical, methodical, shakespearean twisty world, that has lined up every character in a way where Scandal made Olivia Pope along with her father, the most powerful people in American politics and the world. They just don’t scheme, or sit on the sidelines answering to someone. The characters of Ambitions run the city in some sort of fashion, and all have a stake in it which is refreshing. It’s Atlanta’s Game of Thrones. The tale of a interwoven connected of five families, masterfully tying a thread over these 11 episodes of introduction, buildup, and now anticipation of what’s to come, and the craving for more. As Stephanie threatens an investor in a cut-throat manner, she swiftly reminds her and everyone: “May God have mercy on the poor souls unfortunate to become our enemies,” as she smirks in control, in demand, ready to strike at any moment reminding everyone of the wrath she’ll unleash. 

Currently in it’s first season, Ambitions airs it’s mid-season finale Episode 11: “A Change is Gonna Come”, Tonight on OWN at 10pm. Catch up on the season through the OWN TV app.

Mid-Season Finale Promo