Web Series review
Blue Collar Hustle
Written by: Alonge Hawes | Directed by: Geoffrey Henderson (S1), Jairus Burks, Alonge Hawes (S2) | Genre: Drama | Length: Varies
"Blue Collar Hustle" is about finding that perfect balance of life and art - and if that fails? It's about going for the gold and chasing your dream.
The general season 2 & 1 review of "Blue Collar Hustle" can be read below this current review. The rating of 4 stars is the overall rating of the series thus far.
Episode 5 of "Blue Collar Hustle" arrived on my desk and I happily dove in. A mere 10 seconds in I knew this was going to be a good one; maybe even the best one so far - and I'm not surprised. As a micro budget title, "Blue Collar Hustle" has had a steady increase in perceived production value since it began. Sometimes some glitchy video or audio will dip the production down a little, but when it recovers it passes the previous points in production standards. "Justify My Thug" had a certain ring to it even just reading the title. A little grittier sounding and certainly after watching it, I'll stand by that term. Episode 5 is definitely grittier than many of the previous episodes. But sooo good.
Jose Torres (Roberto Cruz) has a shady past. Growing up in the hood as Jose (Strong Arm) Torres was a title he earned. Him and childhood friend Luke (Quick Hands) had always been tough; but together the 2 rose up and ruled their hood. It's a backstory that could be a series in itself. A bloody and violent world where loyalty rules. Jose got himself out, and grew up. His friend Luke, after serving a lengthy prison term, wants back into the game. Now though, he wants to target a new area. Jose's home turf. He also expects to rekindle the duos old alter egos as Strong Arm and Quick Hands. Although agreeing to meet up with Luke, Jose has no intentions of traveling that road again; but Luke doesn't want to take no for an answer.
Without major spoilers, that pretty much sums up the plot of episode 5 and it was a good episode. A chunk of screen time is dedicated to Jose's youth in the form of collages. It's a slight departure from the normal episodic format but a welcome one. Seeing the past of some of these characters adds an extra layer of depth to the show. Depth that will translate to a better overall story. Dedicating an episode to one such backstory does wonders for the series, helping to cover up any sense of shallowness that could occur. "Blue Collar Hustle" is growing up.
This episode doesn't move the current story forward all that much, leaving a lot of room for more episodes. We still don't get to see how the new addition to the group will fare, and don't hear much on bookings for Quan, although there is a very brief moment where the crew is together and discussing things. Alonge Hawes has chosen to flesh out some of the characters before moving forward. Perhaps there will be a future connection to this episode later on? We'll just have to wait and see.
Season 2 of "Blue Collar Hustle" arrived here on the street and 4 episodes in, there is little doubt this micro series has some really talented minds backing it. As we left the guys last season, everything was coming together and that work / life balance was tough, but completely doable. Season 2 kicks in and almost right away, Ajani (Alonge Hawes) has had enough. During a meeting he abruptly decides to quit his job. The idea is to dedicate himself to the music, but he quickly finds it's not 'quite' that simple.
With his wife planning on working less to stay home with their baby, Ajani's timing couldn't be worse. Eventually when things start getting tight, he begins looking for, and finding a menial job. With the music still being priority number 1, eventually Ajani finds suitable work that fits with his ambitions and schedule.
The job / work life balance issues are not the only problems explored in season 2. The issues of racism, particularly for black men and woman, was dabbled with in the previous season. Season 2 thrusts these issues right in your face from the first act. Ajani wants to send a message. To stand for something. Quan (Quentin Banneker) on the other hand, wants to make a name for himself first. Only after that's happened does he want to brand himself with Ajani's message. This continues on and during one touching scene with Quan and his daughter, the series really begins it's shift.
"Blue Collar Hustle" season 2 is quite different from season 1. With the creating and recording finished, I had expected this title to focus on the promotion and rise of Quan and the label; and it does, just not as much as I thought it would. Season 2 is more about that ever important message that always seems to get swept under the rug in real life. Racism. Perhaps even politics. Season 2 'does' remain about the music. It 'does' remain about family and life balance, but seems to shift it's priorities. That's all fine and dandy with me. The politics of being black in America open up a trove of dramatic possibilities. I'm just curious where the rest of the series will go from here. What direction will Hawes face and strive towards.
The presentation of season 2 compared to season 1 is improved upon, but just. Regarding the script, after Ajani, Quan, Jose (Roberto Cruz) and Anthony (Howard Woodburn) marched into the sunset preparing to hit the big time, I was really rooting for them. With this season I'm torn. The musical progress is here, but just didn't have the impact it did with season 1. In it's place is the true message "Blue Collar Hustle" is delivering. The problem is that plenty of shows tackle racism and being black. This title had that little bit extra, the music to keep things fresh. It 'still' does, but I can see a shift happening. It will be amazing if Hawes and the production crew can maintain the balance in the future. Time will tell.
The cinematography has improved. Not perfect, but better. That's to be expected as everyone becomes more familiar with the production. Where things didn't improve much is the audio. I'm not writing about the backing tracks spread throughout the series. I'm talking about the dialog. Fading in and out. Cracks. Pops. I'm hoping the audio will be sorted soon as it really downplays the great story being told. If it can't be fixed cut it right out. I'd rather see a shorter episode then one I have to strain to hear.
Season 2 keeps things going and sometimes, the end result is nothing less than brilliant. Some great scenes backing a great story. But can the show be maintained and grow? I don't see why not because it's set some great ground work.
Season 1, original review.
Having just wrapped up it's first season, "Blue Collar Hustle" is a web series with some serious ambitions. Ajani (Alonge Hawes) is the poster boy of success at work. Having moved up the corporate ranks, when the show begins, he is running things locally and improving the companies bottom line considerably. Lifting the spirits of the people working under him, showing them that good things are possible if you work for them. Work life is good, home life is better. Beautiful supportive wife, new baby and that good job with some serious potential. What more could a young black man ask for in life? Shortly in, the answer to that question is revealed. Ajani's passion is music. Rhymes and hip-hop. It's at this point the rest of the main cast are "really" introduced and "Blue Collar Hustle" shifts from a life drama, to one of the arts. The juggling act becomes real as the crew burn the candle from both ends. Working, financing and recording, family life, relationships, it's all represented. Then of course, they have the strategies to come up with. "Blue Collar Hustle" is about finding that perfect balance of life and art - and if that fails? It's about going for the gold and chasing your dream. By the season finale the crew have their recordings. Mission accomplished. That's no real spoiler. Anyone who watches for more than five minutes will assume they would finish it. As much as this series promotes itself as being "about" the music, the music is usually just the connecting plot point. More-so later on. The real point is the choices themselves. Deciding the road you want to take. Is your/Ajani's true passion the idea of being successful at work? Or does it lie in the music? How much slack will your "true" friends give you, and how much will they take off your shoulders in support of you, doing what you love? Hawes has written a series that promotes music, questions the accepted idea of a successful black man and their families, and generally attempts to capture some of the magic of the industry. At the same time dramatically showing us that dreams and passion are not cheap, and don't happen without some real commitment. It doesn't hurt that the featured tracks kick ass either. Just saying.
But... Things are not perfect. They rarely are with low budget endeavors. The first episode struggled a little to find it's footing, but things do improve. Considerably. The problem is when things do start to get technically better, they have a tendency to slip back a few rungs. Then climb a little higher and slip again. All the technical woes rear their heads at some point or another. Weak audio. Weak video. What always does manage to feel top notch is the score itself. The songs never feel cheap and really add some credibility to the show.
Another area of concern was with the episodic content itself. The overall story of the series is clear, and the characters and their personalities are "reasonably" clear. It's the lack of drama that gets me. I don't mean within the main arc itself, I mean the little stories contained in each episode. In this case, the lack of them. "Blue Collar Hustle" remains focused on the main goal of the characters. The seasonal arc. The individual episodes "should" be individual stories with their own goals and drama. That doesn't really happen here. To some extent we get the sort of cliff-hanger ending, relating to the overall story, sometimes, but we never get a real conclusion to the individual episode - because there was never really anything to conclude. The main story just continues on with no mini stories filling the gaps. Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but not by much. The best shows have mini stories that relate, sometimes indirectly to the main arc. This is the weakest production element of "Blue Collar Hustle" that these guys have to fix. It really does make a difference. The people like me, who watch this stuff, need to feel some kind of conclusion to each episode to keep us going. Even if that conclusion ends up being the acquisition of a bag of chips. There needs to be something.
Another thing I found myself noticing was the extreme amounts of talking in the show. Normally, when the actors are good this isn't a problem. Since the cast of "Blue Collar Hustle" happen to be good, you may be asking what the hell am I talking about? I'm talking about loads and loads of dialog that isn't needed. Filler lines I call them. There are conversations that go on for minutes and minutes - and those same conversations could probably be wrapped up in one minute or less. Maybe not all of them, but a good bunch. The focus should be on us seeing, not hearing.
This show has a lot of potential. I noticed a new trailer for season two and it looked technically superior. These guys are determined to make this show the best it can be. The first season wasn't perfect but damn well good enough to enjoy. I urge anyone reading this to click on over and check this show out. Season two looks like it's going to kick some serious ass. I'm really looking forward to that.
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