TV Review: BET’s ‘Rebel,’ From John Singleton

TV Review: BET's 'Rebel,' From John
Courtesy of BET

In this "female 'Shaft,'" Danielle Moné Truitt plays a cop whose brother is killed by one of her colleagues on the force

Rebecca “Rebel” Knight (Danielle Moné Truitt), in the grand tradition of hardboiled private investigators, is an ex-cop with a past — a pro who got jaded because of one bad case, one tough story, one loss that was too much to handle. She can take on a room of guys twice her size armed with just her nightstick; she can sling innuendo-laced insults in the face of sexist, racist boors. But she can’t protect her brother from being killed by the same cops she works with — including her former partner and onetime lover, who fires the first shot.

“Rebel,” created by Amani Walker, is a pulp detective story set in modern-day Oakland that hands the role of brooding private eye to a black woman. In its premise, it is brilliant; the random and awful violence that characterizes the genre is not out of place in Rebel Knight’s own life — and of course her life is punctuated by the lover who got away, the trusty sidekick who tags along on stakeouts, and the police chief with a soft spot for Rebel that he tries to hide.

In execution, unfortunately, “Rebel” is less brilliant. The 120-minute pilot released to critics is bloated and sometimes melodramatic; most of it is spent waiting for the inevitable to happen — for the good stuff to start. In most television dramas about a fascinating central character, the painful backstory would be doled out in fits and starts throughout the first season (consider the reveal that Don Draper is really Dick Whitman). But “Rebel” — which was originally conceived of as a movie before being quickly upgraded to series status by BET — opts to tell the origin story first. This wouldn’t be so bad if that origin story weren’t so poorly rendered.

In the show’s defense, this is weighty material that is hard to do right. The pilot tells the harrowing tale of how Rebel’s younger brother Malik (Mikelen Walker) was shot to death in front of her, by her colleagues on the police force. One of the shooters — the one who shoots first, actually — was her former partner and sometime lover, Mack (Brandon Quinn). This leads Rebel to quit the force, avoiding both the internal affairs investigation that tries to pin blame on her and the amassing Black Lives Matter protestors that camp out at her house. She leans into her grief, producing poetry and tweaking the police whenever she can; because it comes easy, she starts taking cases from wealthy connections she made while working as a cop.

But “Rebel” struggles to portray its protagonist as a woman that evolves, mostly because it is more interested in who Rebel Knight becomes, not who she is at the beginning. From the first frame, Rebel is hardboiled and bada–; at her brother’s funeral, which is the scene directly following his death, she is oddly poised in killer shades and a maxi dress. She steps out of the service only to trade flirtatious barbs with old flame TJ (Clifford “Method Man” Smith). For all that this is obviously a tragedy, “Rebel” doesn’t make it feel like a tragedy.

Even where the show disappoints, it’s hard to deny the skill of director John Singleton, who was the first black director nominated for an Oscar back in 1991. Last year, he directed “The Race Card,” the Johnnie Cochran-centric episode of FX”s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”; he’s skilled at bringing an intimacy to narratives about weighty ideological issues. “Rebel,” all else aside, is a kinetic, practiced story to watch, with a loving touch for its action sequences and heart-eyes for its steamy sex scenes. (Method Man uses a lot of tongue, apparently.) The characters are all real people, and Oakland feels like a real place they live in; these are not small accomplishments.

But the 120-minute pilot just focuses on the wrong things. “Rebel” could be snappy and fun, playing Singleton’s kineticism and Moné Truitt’s easy bravado off of the slightly melodramatic backstory. Detective procedurals are made for the serialized form; with tighter storytelling, Rebel could be one of the most enjoyable P.I.s to watch, one that combines an appealing and beautiful vulnerability with a hard-as-nails approach to love and life that leaves the audience breathless. The costars are great, too — specifically the always wonderful Giancarlo Esposito, as Rebel’s long-suffering police chief, and Angela Ko, who plays her best friend. But right now, the show is lost somewhere between filmic narrative and television serial.

TV Review: BET's 'Rebel,' From John Singleton

Drama, 9 episodes (1 reviewed): BET, Tues. March 28, 10 p.m. 60 min (120 min pilot).

Crew

Executive producers, John Singleton, Dallas Jackson, Randy Huggins

Cast

Danielle Moné Truitt, Giancarlo Esposito, Mykelti Williamson, Cliff "Method Man" Smith, Brandon Quinn, Angela Ko, LaTanya Richardson

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  1. NotAgain says:

    Hate the fact Hollyweird will not allow black lead characters be portrayed in positive black on black relationships in dramas. Liked this show until the Finale. She had to sleep with the white guy. The same guy that shot her brother. Come on John Singleton. Stop It. You can do better.

    • Patricia Chavis says:

      Rebel..reflects empowerment…strength..intelligence….character…truth….beauty…drive…determination….artistic expression..strong-will!!!! #blackgirlsmagic #ipledgeallgiance 🖤✊👊

  2. Sego Ayah says:

    REBEL, the police are at war with the police? The idea or an event of this nature would not last a day. Rebel, seems to struggle with what real life is all about. The main character is made for us to believe that these types of situations do exist. When they do not. They don’t cover in this picture the truth based on reality. Maybe, there is another story here that can explain why young black children are killed for their acts of terror. This story is completely fictitious and lacks substance that will explain why kids kill kids or why cops kill kids. It would be more realistic. Say, REBEL was the cause of her brothers death and is willing to exploit her anger on other criminals, not cops, she becomes a destructive force of revenge against crime. This is my personal opinion!? When black children wake up every morning they are faced with kill or be killed, run or be run over, right or wrong their reality is their truth and should be ours as well, but some of use have gotten over the hurdles, the obstacles and are blessed. Not Rebels, it should deal with the subject matter of why kids kill kids. Not cops killing cops, but cops killing criminals, right or wrong it is a reality.

  3. Anji says:

    Rebel is the female version of Shaft, outstanding.

  4. Dale Mntgomery says:

    wow in the pilot the poem at the end Love it,

    would love to havea copy of it

  5. Ak says:

    Great pilot and First few series. Takes the standard idea of a police drama/ justice seeking star (Danielle Truitt) and adds contemporary relevance about police injustice specifically between police and black males. The star quality is good with Esposito and bubba gump but the series Star Danielle Mone Truitt is phenomenal. She is earthy, fine , beautiful, sexy but best of all a great actress and future talent

  6. Tiana Dixon says:

    I watched the pilot show and it kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I want to watch every episode.
    Danielle Truitt is a phenomenal actress who portrays a fiery & passionate woman. Looking forward to watching lots of drama this season and I’m hoping for a forgiving, peaceful, unified ending.
    I think John Singleton directed it well. Glad to know Method Man is partaking in it.
    Overall a great creation by Amani Walker!

  7. Donna Witten says:

    Not good too phony and corny!

  8. Ms. Mi says:

    HATE IT HATE IT HATE IT HATE IT

  9. Nicole says:

    Super corny. Actor that plays Brim , hated it. Tried , but can’t do it.

  10. beyondamber says:

    It was really hard to sit through. It just seemed low budget, over thought and the acting just wasn’t good. I wasn’t convinced. I tried to like it. I even DVR’d it. But, halfway through the 2 hour pilot, I un-DVR’d it. John Singleton is a respected director, but was he biased with this project? Maybe it was his wifes project and he just doesn’t wanna admit what a real stinker this really is. Well, I do know that if it does get better, I won’t find out. Rebel gets a big 👎👎👎

  11. Sherika Terry says:

    Good show. It’s like Cleopatra Jones 70s film. Good to see something different from black women being petty, ghetto, light skin, slutty & materialistic. Some things I would change but still good show. A real African American woman career wise, natural, talented, & beautiful.

  12. Shirley Gaskin says:

    I guess it caught me during a soft moment because I loved it. I really like Rebel, she is real. The story mirrors what’s happening in the headlines today but gives an inside view of the thought process behind it. I see Rebels former partner a little confused with his actions of killing someone that he liked, Rebels brother. But is confronted with his own bullying, racist brother about how he should be acting and feeling. I hope the story continues to develop and Rebel finds a good mental place for herself.

  13. Bigfish says:

    Did not even get through the pilot. Not what I expected…a bit cheesy. I see cancellation in its near future. This is like a puppet show compared to the other shows aimed at the Black demographic. Very dull in comparison to shows like Greenleaf and Queen Sugar.

  14. Fleach says:

    Not good. SORRY

  15. SONYA WEBB says:

    loved it! Great to see a woman who stands for something verses the reality shows that are on TV.

  16. Clif says:

    I give rebel 1 star show was not good sorry john you struck out on this one

  17. Jeff says:

    Just saw John Singleton (Director) on The Daily Show. Rebel sounds different so will DVR the pilot to check it out.

  18. kem says:

    Great show. Watch if you want to be entertained. I’ve watched plenty of shows where men kick butt but can’t save their loved ones. That’s not the only thing I picked up on but it was the one that stuck. Watch it, it’s good stuff. Rebel is a Rebel.

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