TV Review: ‘The Quad’ on BET

A new scripted series brings the college-soap model to historically black colleges and universities

Anika Noni Rose, Peyton Alex Smith, Jazz Raycole, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Zoe Renee, Michelle Defraites, Jake Allyn, Sean Blakemore, E. Roger Mitchell, Jasmine Guy.

BET is so committed to framing its new scripted series “The Quad” as an authentic glimpse of life at a historically black college/university that they made a fake website for Georgia A&M University, the fictional college campus where the show takes place. BET’s website includes videos from the “administrators” to students, taglines like “Do you know what HBCU life is really like?” and blog posts about different HBCU campuses or potential HBCU commencement speakers. But while “The Quad” aims to present an accurate depiction of life at an HBCU, it mostly follows in the footsteps of its more white-bread cousins “Greek” or “Blue Mountain State.”

There’s a reason shows about college don’t see the same critical praise as high school dramas. University life is rarely dramatic enough to make the plots believable, and any manipulation of reality often feels inauthentic. Of course, that doesn’t keep shows like “The Quad” from being satisfactory entertainment. But while the show has energy, infusing its characters with vivaciousness and tenacity, it often rushes through an incoherent timeline — the pilot double-header is so fast-paced it’s dizzying. The interweaving plots seem plucked from a hat of ideas; an evil band director (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) and a student getting arrested for murder are just two of several story lines.

The series is led by Anika Noni Rose as Eva Fletcher as she begins her tenure as the new Georgia A&M University President, left with no other options after being fired from her previous post and blackballed from other colleges for her affair with a graduate student (who ends up transferring to GAMU). In a surprising move“The Quad” focuses the better parts of its drama on its adults. Perhaps this is an attempt to keep from alienating older viewers, though the writers display little insight into how a college administration actually functions and thus lose some credibility. Furthermore, Fletcher’s strength, performed brilliantly by Rose, is undermined by how often she’s sexualized. Fletcher is plopped in more sexual situations than the rest of the characters combined, and it feels writers have left quite a bit of room for romances with her more likable male counterparts, such as football coach Eugene Hardwick (Sean Blakemore).

As for student life, “The Quad” seems a bit unclear on what a first-year student experiences, with its unbelievably small class sizes and demonstrative positive attention from high-power administrators. This is typical television show fluff, useful for creating relationships where they may not otherwise grow, but the show is marketing itself as real HBCU life, and it is doubtful college students will relate much to the depictions of campus life they see onscreen.

This is also why it’s funny that some of the most contentious issues for college students are dealt with rather poorly and predictably. At one point, Eva’s daughter, Sydney (Jazz Raycole), goes from coherent speech and control of her body movements at a party to passing out and having enough liquor in her system to be very near alcohol poisoning. While this soapy plot point loses its fun with its believability, others are more enjoyable — like the shirtless spontaneous concert student Cedric (Peyton Alex Smith) puts on, or the hazing scandal exposing corruption in the administration.

The show earns points in its attempts to tackle hard conversations on race. But the writing makes the well-intentioned themes seem heavy-handed and devoid of nuance, despite great performances by newcomer Smith. For example, when a character is arrestedhis roommate’s father, a prestigious lawyer, condemns the boy as a thuggish South Side of Chicago implant without a father or a future. During a jail visit, the man says, “One way or another, you would end up right where you are, but [my son] has a lot ahead of him.” The message is clear: the black community often internalizes the worst kind of respectability politics and uses the racist language of white news anchors against itself. But the conspicuousness of the dialogue is likely to cause eyes to roll among college students studying Af-Am theory, the very people the show intends to depict.

Despite its shortcomings, “The Quad” has enough quirks and personality to be somewhat addictive to those who like these workplace-dramas. In one enjoyable aside, Eva attempts to gather funds from an alum-turned-strip club owner. The juxtaposition of students vs. staff puts the intended audience up for debate, though. Based on the first three episodes, the rest of the 10-episode run will be filled with soapy drama. But we’ll have to wait and see if the show takes itself more seriously than that and delivers on its promises. Hopefully, the drama will begin to reflect some of the less sexy problems actual HBCU students face, such as part-time jobs or obstructive financial aid offices, rather than just continue to ponder the romantic lives of the school’s star football player and lead administrator.

TV Review: 'The Quad' on BET

Drama: 10 episodes (3 reviewed); BET; Wed., Feb. 1, 10 p.m. 60 mins.

Crew: Executive producers, Felicia Henderson, Rob Hardy

Cast: Anika Noni Rose, Peyton Alex Smith, Jazz Raycole, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Zoe Renee, Michelle Defraites, Jake Allyn, Sean Blakemore, E. Roger Mitchell, Jasmine Guy.

More TV

  • BAFTA Backs BIFA’s Unconscious-Bias Training for

    BIFA’s Unconscious-Bias Training Rolls Out to BAFTA Voters, Wider Industry (EXCLUSIVE)

    The British Independent Film Awards is opening up its unconscious-bias training to BAFTA voters and, more widely, to anyone who judges the work of others in the film and TV business in the U.K. With the makeup of award-nominee and -winner lists under close scrutiny, BIFA introduced its unconscious-bias training last year. Its voters, jurors, [...]

  • Jody Madden Replaces Craig Rodgerson as

    Jody Madden Replaces Craig Rodgerson as CEO of VFX Firm Foundry

    Jody Madden has been upped to CEO at U.K.-based VFX outfit Foundry. She steps up fromchief product officer and replaces Craig Rodgerson, who joined the company in late 2017. Foundry was bought by U.S. tech firm Roper Technologies earlier this year in a £410 million ($509 million) deal. The London-based business provides software and technology [...]

  • La Linea Invisible

    Mariano Barroso Shoots Basque Conflict Origins Story ‘La Linea Invisible’

    IRUN, Spain  — When- and why – do people begin to kill for a cause? Having created “What the Future Holds,” maybe the best reviewed to date of any Movistar + Original Series, Spain’s Mariano Barroso (“The Wolves of Washington”) tackles this question head on in “La Línea Invisible,” a six-part series, again from Movistar [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Writers Guild Leaders Warn Members About Contact With Fired Agents

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America are warning members about being contacted by their former agents — asserting that such efforts are an attempt to undermine the WGA and its members. The missive, sent Tuesday from the WGA negotiating committee, came with the guild in a bitter three-month standoff with talent agents that appears [...]

  • Mike Fleiss

    ‘The Bachelor’ Creator Mike Fleiss Accused of Attacking Wife

    “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” creator Mike Fleiss has been accused of attacking his wife Laura Fleiss at their home in Hawaii on July 4, according to documents obtained by Variety. The documents show that Laura Fleiss, who is currently pregnant, filed for an emergency domestic violence restraining order against her husband after he allegedly [...]

  • James Cordon Drag Race Handmaids Tale

    Emmys Trivia: 20 Surprising Facts From 2019's Nominations

    For a show that technically wasn’t eligible at the Emmy Awards in 2019, “The Handmaid’s Tale” did quite well this year. The Hulu drama picked up 11 nominations, including major ones like outstanding directing, writing, guest actress and guest actor, thanks to a quirk in the TV Academy’s Emmy rules. As previously noted, most of [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Emmy Nominations Give Boost

    'Schitt's Creek' Emmy Nominations Give Boost to Pop's Profile

    The core executive team at Pop TV expected to be disappointed, but they still gathered at the CBS-owned cable channel’s Playa Vista offices early Tuesday morning for the reveal of this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards nominations. They were not disappointed. “Schitt’s Creek,” the quirky comedy series that has punched above its weight for Pop since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content