This was posted Wednesday, March 15, 2017 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
In this cluttered TV world, breaking through and generating a hit takes luck, pluck and, in the case of "Greenleaf," a sprinkle of Oprah Winfrey pixie dust.
The Atlanta-produced drama about a megachurch family in Memphis drew an average of 3.256 million viewers in its opening season last year, according to Nielsen based on DVR usage up to a week. That was the eighth most popular prime-time show shot in Atlanta last year and 177th of all prime-time shows in 2016.
It's the first scripted show on Winfrey's OWN network not created by Tyler Perry. And much to Winfrey's relief, the mixture of soapy drama, gospel music and complicated family dynamics clicked.
“In the past, we couldn’t get Tyler’s audience to stay for anything,” Winfrey told Jonathan Landrum of the Associated Press. “They would just come in and then they go. So to be able to get a great percentage of his audience, I think around 70 percent, to stay tuned for something else other than a Tyler-produced show, it was a new feat for us. It was a new accomplishment for us.”
For season two, the producers don't make any major character or structural changes but over 16 episodes have the opportunity to deepen family relationships and probe varied conflict points.
"When I read some of these scripts, I have to say there's a little bit of jumping around, a little bit of screaming about what just happened," said Merle Dandridge, who plays main protagonist Gigi, in an interview on set at Eagle Rock Studios in Norcross Tuesday. "We have really torn the roof off of things this season. You want to talk about fireworks? Get ready!"
Deborah Joy Winans, who plays youngest sister Charity, said the second season will feature more sibling time. "There's more quality family time where some secret isn't coming out," she said.
Winfrey will continue her recurring role as Mavis, who is now managing a burgeoning jazz artist she's sleeping with and drinking to salve her misery since Mac forced the closure of her beloved jazz club. She appeared in six of 13 episodes season one. It's unclear how many she will be on this season.
Let's break down what is set to happen among key family members for season two:
Bishop James Greenleaf (Keith David) and his wife Lady Mae Greenleaf (Lynn Whitfield)
The couple remain a tightknit unit but there are always stresses. Bishop James harbors guilt over allowing Mac to burn down their church 34 years earlier to collect the insurance money, inadvertently killing someone.
He is also dealing with some medical issues that may or may not be life threatening.
Lady Mae continues to try to keep the Cavalry in one piece after so much controversy over the past year and reduced attendance and financial contributions. She has to protect her husband from an investigation into the 34-year-old arson case that could implicate him and take the Greenleaf family down. She is still grappling with Gigi's return and the push-and-pull dynamic between mother and daughter.
And she is upset to see Jacob leave the mansion now that he's working at rival church Triumph. She can't quite understand why her son and husband clash so much.
One thing's for sure: they both hate Mac now with a vengeance.
Grace "Gigi" Greenleaf (Merle Dandridge)
Gigi is now settled into Memphis as an associate pastor at the church, trying to balance her own sense of justice and the pragmatism of keeping the church's attendance and finances in order.
She still is seeking payback regarding Mac but in the early going is focused on other issues, including having to fire a gay choir director because of internal board pressure.
"Her priority is to protect the Greenleaf legacy for her daughter's sake," Dandridge said.
After such a grim season one, she meets up with a fellow journalist played with oodles of charm by Rick Fox. Early on, they are in the friend zone but it's clear that may not necessarily stay that way. She finds him not just attractive visually but intellectually.
"He's someone she can blow off steam with," she said. "We get to see a whole different side of her."
Jacob Greenleaf (Lamman Rucker) and his wife Kerissa Greenleaf (Kim Hawthorne)
Jacob, now that he's working for Cavalry rival Triumph under the eye of Basie Skanks, is showing more confidence and independence outside the shadow of his family.
His wife Kerissa, who kept having to push him season one while dealing with his philandering, is happier and doesn't feel as much of a need to push and prod her husband. "We're just now starting a new life," said Kim Hawthorne, who plays Kerissa. "Trying to forge our own way. Kerissa looking at this as an opportunity to better define our immediate family unit. She's hoping that Triumph will be a place where we can build something for ourselves."
But she said Jacob is forever yoked to his family and its often conflicting expectations. "He's still trying to please his father while supporting his own family," she said.
Her character, which came across a little harsh season one, will loosen up just a bit season two. But she is never going to be a barrel of laughs. Instead, she is often contrasted with Skanks' wife, who is bubbly and spontaneous. "There is comedic tension based on how different they are," she said. "I'm very stoic and straight-laced."
She gets Kerissa's toughness. She was raised in Newark lower middle class and said she had to fight for everything she got.
Jacob, in comparison, was coddled. "He has been comfortable," he said. "Leaving the mansion takes away a level of comfort."
Kerissa does not fully trust Skanks. So she is always keeping in mind multiple back up plans for her family - just in case.
Charity Greenleaf (Deborah Joy Winans) and husband Kevin Satterlee (Tye White)
Charity began the show a year earlier as the sheltered, naive baby sister. When Grace showed up after 20 years, she "had this automatic defensive attitude," said Winans in an interview. "She was worried nobody will notice her anymore, nobody would appreciate her anymore."
Then she got pregnant with twins, lost one of the babies and found out her husband was grappling with issues of his own sexuality. That's plenty to deal with in a single year.
At first, she thought Kevin was cheating on her with a woman. But when she realized he felt feelings toward men, she felt helpless. "She can't compete with that!" Winans said. "Clearly, they can't be together but how can they make it work for their son? He still love her. She loves him. They're best friends. You just can't break up that love overnight. But the divorce is happening. "
Then again, her life is looking up in other ways. She has a high-end producer working with her on an album. She and Kevin are living apart but remain on speaking terms. She is showing more maturity. And she is now being more included in important issues. "I want to be treated like a grown up," Winans said. "I don't want to be the last one to know everything."
She is thrilled during the second episode when Grace asks her to convince her parents from firing a gay choral director she had hired.
"She's becoming her own woman," Dandridge said. "Grace is very proud of her."
And there's irony here. With the name Winans attached to her, there's a presumption she wanted to be a singer. She didn't. She actually wanted to be an actress and ended up in a role where singing is crucial. "Singing was never my passion," she said. "It's kind of just like God to bless you with something you know you love and add on something you never wanted to. Really Lord! Now I'm recording music! It's so funny to me!"
Sophia Greenleaf (Desiree Ross) and Zora Greenleaf (Lovie Simone)
They remain best of friends at the start of the season but a hot teen singer at Triumph causes tension. Sophia likes him but he has his eyes set on Zora.
Gregory Alan Williams (Robert "Mac" McCready)
Now sprung from jail despite sexual assaulting teen girls, he is a true outcast in the Greenleaf family. Nobody wants to talk to him or associate with him. Bishop James said he will eventually find a place to forgive him but he will never forget. Gigi sends out "known sexual predator" flyers around town with James' picture on it. How he can earn an income is now in question. And how free can he really be under these circumstances?
But as Dandridge noted, Mac knows all the skeletons around town, the type of information that got him out of prison in the first place. That alone might be able to keep him from begging for pennies on a street corner.
"He's a very smart, very resourceful man," Dandridge said. "I think it's also interesting to see him dealing with consequences. We'll see some of his journey around those kinds of feelings."
"Greenleaf," season 2 begins Wednesday, March 5 at 10 p.m., OWN