MOTV,” a moving and distinctive one-hour drama, looks at life in the inner city and how its inhabitants cope. But scripter Thomas Osha Pinnock has created much more: A study in humankind, as those who feel they must flee the neighborhood and its dangers eventually decide to stay and try to reshape it.
The device to tell the story is a camcorder (purchased in a back alley) that is used to chronicle the doings of Ishmael (Lawrence Anderson) and his wife, Elmina (Kaci M. Fannin).
The couple’s love for each other is unwavering. However, Elmina wants a speedy exit from the area, while Ishmael, seeing the good in everything rather than the danger, prefers to remain. Yet, ever anxious to please, he plays the lottery to help finance their escape.
Through voiceover, Elmina explains Ishmael is “tragically killed,” though the method and circumstances of his death are not amplified until almost show’s end.
The haunting flashbacks that spur wifely tears tell a vivid tale, with stark inner-city images in black-and-white used as an effective contrast to the color-filled happy times, told mostly through Ishmael’s camcorder tapes. It’s a well-trod dramatic device, yet effective nonetheless.
The juxtaposition of events may confuse viewers, rather than enhance the storytelling, but it is risk-taking filmmaking at its best.
Anderson as the happy-go-lucky Jamaican transplant is believable and not cartoonish, as a web offering might concoct, while Fannin’s work as the school teacher/housewife, and the occasional foil to Ishmael’s schemes, is also top-notch. Debbi Blackwell-Cook as Juniper, a single mother with two jobs yet plenty of positive vibes, helps move show’s third act along.
Director Ayoka Chenzira deftly weaves the bleak images in with the uplifting ones and repeatedly succeeds in striking the emotional jugular in the process through perfs and visuals.
This is the second of six installments in PBS’ “TV Families” series, which takes a look at non-traditional families and their depiction on TV, as well as their relationships with the tube.