This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The show doesn't premiere until the day after this post's publication; we got a screener.
Should You Let Vivica's Black Magic Cast Its Spell On You?
Vivica A. Fox played a stripper in Independence Day, but now the poles are reversed.
What Is This Thing?
Actress Vivica A. Fox has been paid a decent amount of money (one assumes) to appear in recent properties like Empire and Independence Day: Resurgence. She's putting at least $300,000 of that cash into building an "urban exotic male revue" ("urban," in this case, means that the troupe will mainly be comprised of men of color) with the ultimate goal of a residency for the revue in Las Vegas. (Financial decisions like this are, perhaps, why she had to to appear in, uh, Independence Day: Resurgence.) This show is not fictional in the traditional sense, which is kind of a pity because then it might have been funnier.
When Is It On?
It premieres on Wednesday, January 4 at 10 PM ET on Lifetime.
Why Was It Made Now?
It's likely you're most familiar with this type of elaborate sexual charade slash dancing from the movie Magic Mike (2012) and its inferior yet still enjoyable sequel, Magic Mike XXL (2015). But there'a also a 2015 film called Chocolate City that's been widely described as the "black Magic Mike" that stars the lovely Tyson Beckford and, surprise surprise, Vivica A. Fox. That movie did well enough to send Chocolate City: Vegas into (as of publication time) pre-production.
Did these films spur an upsurge in patronage at events where oiled men with big muscles and low body fat pretend to hump audience members? Beats me, and my research has only uncovered conjecture regarding any increase in male revue popularity. And yet, here we are.
What's Its Pedigree?
Fox isn't just coordinating and (partially -- does $300K fetch you much in the way of tear-away pants?) bankrolling the effort, she's also the show's co-creator and co-executive producer. The other half of the team is J.C. LaMarre, a director and producer who brought us the aforementioned Chocolate City, what do you know!
A bit of time spent on internet forums that discuss male exotic dancers (no, I can't believe I get paid for this either) reveals that many of the the dancers of Black Magic are fairly known within the industry: "Bolo," "Slo-Motion," and the rather clinically named "Penetration" all have disturbingly fervent followings, which I am sure Fox and LaMarre used to suggest to Lifetime that this should could bring a new audience to the network.
Vivica A. Fox, as she presents herself on the show, is enormously charismatic and likable. Seriously, if you don't want to go throw back a few with Fox after watching this you are allergic to fun. She does not, however, appear to be (again, based on the first episode of this show, the only one made available to critics before broadcast) an especially savvy mogul.
We are told, for example, that Fox is frantically auditioning dancers to make up the revue because their first performance has already been scheduled for a week from now. As a person who has watched TV before, I get what's happening here -- we're presented with this false deadline to create tension (will the black magicians learn their choreography in time? etc etc), but it just makes Fox look like she is bad at business. Who schedules a performance without a cast? Come on, show.
That sort of random choppiness plagues the entire episode, as we hear that some guys can't dance, but then they can (or something)? Oh, and the guys who don't live in L.A. will reside in some house together (when this was announced, my husband groaned "TV shows stiiiill do that?"), but then we see all the guys hanging out there?
And then we have these weird tangents like Fox taking her staffers out to lunch to explain to them that they should "feel empowered to make executive decisions." This is said with a straight face. Executive decisions about what, which remix of "Put Em On The Glass" to use? (Speaking of, other than Iggy Azalea's "Fancy," which is used to introduce Fox, you will not hear any actual popular music. I can only assume that the music budget was slashed to cover Fox's wigs, all of which are excellent.)
Oh, and did I mention that the initial performance (which is frustratingly shot in a way that never really answers the "did they get the choreography?" question) in what looks like a pre-Bar Rescue venue is themed "A Salute To The Troops"? You know that U.S. forces, between avoiding IADs and shit, are like "thanks, we guess?" But it's that level of un-self-awareness that permeates the show, to its detriment.
Like most people, I like looking at attractive people with good bodies. In fact, I'm so superficial that I've happily dated men with whom I didn't necessarily click right off the bat because they were professional athletes or looked like they could be. (And eventually, dear reader, I married one.) But I am not a fan of the whole stripper/exotic dancer construct for a number of reasons: all that elaborate lip-licking and grinding feels very non-sexy to me, and it all seems a little...sad. But just because it doesn't give me a lady boner does not mean that it's not fun to sit there and critique the guys' physical and performative prowess.
Another fun thing to do while watching the show is to speculate on which of these men are actually homosexuals! (Two are pinging my gaydar pretty hard, and I hope that after you watch the show you'll pick the same ones I did.) This by no means is a witch hunt, but it's an interesting thing to contemplate, and it takes the required facade of sexual availability to the audience to a new level. I assume for the sake of these fellows' careers in the industry that this won't get explored, but if it did I'd tune back in for that episode, for sure.
I guess I kind of spoiled my conclusion with that last sentence, sorry about that! Bottom line is that it's very difficult to make conflict over an inconsequential thing (in this case, male exotic dancing) interesting when all of the participants appear to be dumb but basically decent people. The pilot was amusing enough, sure, but I don't feel compelled to watch it the way I did, say, MM XXL after watching this. I wish Ms. Fox the best with her revue, and if it comes to San Francisco I'll be at the door with several of my gentlemen friends -- but in terms of the show, the magic just isn't there.
Update: Apparently, I will not be seeing Fox's revue with my friends after all! Asked during a recent interview whether (presumably gay) men were part of her troupe's audience during a recent interview, Fox said, "Hell no," explaining that "They dance for women. It's called the 'Ultimate Girls' Night Out' for a reason." In a subsequent tweet, she denied that this apparent ban on male audience members was homophobic, saying (sic throughout) "I've NEVER been homophic! U are spreading hate not me!" Here's hoping Fox's goal is to create a safe, female-only space, like that bookstore from Portlandia, and not to shut out half her audience on the basis of a backward belief.