MTV wants to have its cake and eat it — with a metal file inside — in “T.I.’s Road to Redemption: 45 Days to Go.” The series focuses on the rapper as he prepares for a March hearing on gun charges (the title counts down toward that date), while he runs around “Scared Straight!”-style performing community service and trying to steer younger guys away from the gangster/hustler lifestyle. What the show really feels like is an infomercial for the rap star that simultaneously exalts and exploits his notoriety. T.I. might well find his redemption; for MTV, it’s a bumpier road.
For those who aren’t followers of the T.I. story, it’s told with the kind of schmaltzy tone that would make a grown man blush. Yes, T.I. (a.k.a. Clifford Harris) admits he has made mistakes, among them being caught in an October 2007 federal sting operation for purchasing, among other things, machine guns. The Grammy-winning Atlanta rapper felt he needed a lot of guns, he explains, because one of his buddies got shot. Something about a fight at a club. You know, things happen.
T.I. is also a family man, or at least a father. At age 27, he has six kids, which suggests a likely sequel won’t be titled “T.I.’s Road to Contraception.”
As much as I’d like to say the show’s intentions are clear and unsullied — dissuading urban youths from pursuing lives of drugs and crime — it’s hard to escape the slap-dash feel of the first story. In the premiere, T.I. hangs out with an 18-year-old named Pee Wee, who he seeks to shake up by locking him in a cell and later making him view a dead body. As for a legitimate career, Pee Wee says he’d like to act, which — based on his quickie audition for T.I. — is sort of like me saying I’d like to play power forward for the Lakers.
In the original “Scared Straight!” at-risk kids were taken to prison, where hardened lifers got in their faces and gave them a taste of life in the big house. Thirty years later, one trip to the mortuary is apparently enough to place a teen on the path to righteousness.
In short, “T.I.’s Road to Redemption” wants to do good but falls into the MTV pattern of either elevating the mundane to high drama (think “The Hills”) or offering facile solutions to deeply ingrained, complex problems. And while the series promises to deliver a portrait of “the T.I. you’ve never seen before,” frankly, I could have done without the introduction.