'The Divide' on WE tv smartly smudges race, class stereotypes
In what is becoming something of a monthly ritual, yet another niche network is venturing in from the old film/documentary/reality fringe with a character-driven drama that executives hope will do what "Mad Men" did for AMC.
At least with "The Divide," which premieres Wednesday night on WE tv, there is no pretense. WE, which stands for Women's Entertainment, is owned by AMC Networks and it produced "The Divide."
Indeed, cocreators Richard LaGravenese and Tony Goldwyn originally pitched the multithemed modern legal drama to AMC, where the show's female protagonist apparently made it a good candidate for a much-needed broadening of the WE brand, thus far embodied by the reality series including "Bridezillas" and "Braxton Family Values."
Whether "Women's Entertainment" is a legitimate genre necessitating its own network (No! she screamed, before the crowd fell upon her) is open for debate, but it is unfair to ask "The Divide" to host it. However it got made, and wherever it airs and why, "The Divide" does deal with issues that transcend gender and promises to be a very good show.
Law student by day, bartender by night, Christine Rosa (Marin Ireland) works for the Innocence Initiative, a nonprofit group dedicated to saving the wrongfully imprisoned. She is investigating a case involving the brutal killing of a black family who lived in a prestigious and mostly white neighborhood.
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The conviction of the two white men — Jared (Chris Bauer), now on death row, and Terry (Joe Anderson), his much younger partner — made the career of Dist. Atty. Adam Page (Damon Gupton). Not surprisingly, Adam sees the last-minute intervention by Christine and her Initiative boss Clark (Paul Schneider) as an attempt to derail his rising career and responds with "Scandal"-like alacrity (Goldwyn is, of course, "Scandal's" commander in chief).
Fortunately, at another level, things are a bit more complicated. Race plays a big role in the case, and the show (Adam is black, Christine and Clark white), but so does class. The two are bravely not synonymous. And though the story may seem familiar, the creators' willingness to smudge out traditional demographic stereotypes is not.
Christine is scrappy and poor with a personal stake in fighting a justice system weighted in favor of the wealthy. She vibrates with a fury that both fuels and exhausts her. As the pilot winds around the facets of the case (all is not what it seems!) which foreshadow the show's themes, Christine, as a character, requires us to take nothing on faith.
In a subtly stellar performance, Ireland shows us her charm and her defects. She pushes and pulls, tells the truth and lies with the sort of passion too often confused with sincerity, but none with a crusader's long-winded self-righteousness. The wins are no more fun for Christine than the losses because both illuminate a system that routinely chews up those who do not live in the nice neighborhoods.
Mercifully, and astonishingly, "The Divide" is not a complete downer — Christine has a fine and feisty relationship with a cop played by "Ripper Street's" Adam Rothenberg, and Gupton's Adam and his wife, Billie (Nia Long), are raising a family along with attempting to run the city. More important, the main characters all seem bent on justice, although their definitions of that term have been formed by their own lives.
Corruption may wind up playing its part in "The Divide." But Goldwyn and LaGravenese seem more interested in examining the small decisions, the omissions made for expediency, the assumptions not challenged, than any grand, soap operatic conspiracy.
Is it the new "Mad Men"? No. But you know what? That mythical creature does not exist. "The Divide" is a tense and thoughtful drama, with what promise to be complex characters and at least one breakout performance.
Even in this day of niche networks, live-streams and clogged DVR queues, that's quite enough.
Teetering on the Line Between Good and Evil
‘The Divide,’ a Drama Inspired by the Innocence Project
By ALESSANDRA STANLEYJULY 15, 2014
“The Divide,” a legal drama that begins on Wednesday, is surprisingly good. But what’s most surprising is that it’s on WE, a cable channel best known for shows like “L.A. Hair” and “Marriage Boot Camp.”
Not that there is anything wrong with escapist reality shows aimed at women. But if HBO is the Stanford of cable networks, WE is closer to Mary Baldwin College in Virginia.
“The Divide” isn’t frilly or fun: It is a smart, intense thriller inspired by the Innocence Project, the nonprofit organization that uses DNA testing to fight to reverse wrongful convictions — including many in death penalty cases.
And there are so many news accounts these days of inmates being released after decades in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
CNN has an entire documentary series, “Death Row Stories,” narrated by Susan Sarandon (“Dead Man Walking”), that looks at real-life capital punishment cases where convicts turned out to be victims of an unjust system of justice.
“The Divide” isn’t focused on the lighter side of wrongful incarceration; promotional materials begin with a quotation from Solzhenitsyn: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states nor between classes nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.”
Of course, that’s not exactly encouraging, either; some dramas about the legal system drown in their own righteousness. Fortunately, the two-hour premiere of “The Divide” defies expectations in both directions.
On the premiere, the death row inmate that do-good, pro bono lawyers seek to save is Jared Bankowski (Chris Bauer), a white man who was convicted of brutally slaughtering almost all the members of an African-American family in their home.
Nobody wants this infamous monster released, not the young woman who is the sole survivor of the killing spree and certainly not Adam Page (Damon Gupton), the ambitious African-American district attorney who put his career on the map with the case.
The setting is Philadelphia, and anything to do with that fictional multiple homicide, known in the tabloids as Killadelphia, is explosive. Jared’s conviction has become a cornerstone of the city’s efforts to restore racial harmony, so there are plenty of reasons to want the execution to stay on track, besides the prosecutor’s and the public’s certainty that Jared is guilty.
Marin Ireland (“Homeland”) plays Christine Rosa, a law student and intern at the Innocence Initiative. And while Christine is a lot prettier than either Barry C. Scheck or Peter J. Neufeld, the two lawyers who founded the Innocence Project, she actually looks like a lawyer.
Television shows too often cast flawless, gorgeous actresses to play rumpled, stressed workaholics.
Christine works in a bar to pay for law school and has shadows under her eyes; her hair is long, blond and a little stringy, and she wears jeans and field jackets, not short skirts and high heels.
The understated cinematography and music are in the same vein: Someone went to some trouble to avoid the genre’s usual cheesy shortcuts and clichés.
Christine is the show’s heroine, but Adam, for all his ambition, isn’t the villain, and neither, really, is Jared. Good deeds are sometimes stained by crass or selfish motives, and bad ones sometimes have a mitigating factor. The premiere of this eight-episode legal thriller is remarkably free of cheap melodrama.
That may partly be an act of atonement by one of the creators of the show, Tony Goldwyn, who also directed the premiere. At his day job, Mr. Goldwyn plays the passionate, lovesick President Grant on Shonda Rhimes’s florid nighttime soap “Scandal,” on ABC; there is some perfunctory sex on “The Divide” but scant romance and a lot less murder, conspiracy and face slapping than on “Scandal.” Christine has a boss, Clark Rylance (Paul Schneider), who respects her commitment and zeal but has a more realistic view of the job. “You want to be a lawyer,” Clark tells her. “You better get used to knowing what should happen and accepting what does.”
Christine doesn’t listen, and she has hidden facts on her side. So does “The Divide,” a show that tries to live up to Solzhenitsyn’s maxim that there is good and evil in everyone, even lawyers.
Who watched it? I'm really into it. The cast of this show is perfection. Britne Oldford needs her own show, that is not on MTV or ABC Family. Adam Rothenberg is fucking hot, I need him inside me. The show needs more Nia and it would be flawless.