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TV REVIEW : 'Slop': Racial Parables With No Payoffs

November 08, 1994|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Submitted for your approval: People of color in search of an exit.

"You are standing on the verge of gettin' it on ," intones funk-meister George Clinton--the Crib-Keeper, or Alfred Hiphop, if you will, of the HBO fantasy anthology "Cosmic Slop"--welcoming us to "the black hole."

It's Clinton's disembodied mug, floating through the ether with a third eye and an adjustable hairdo, doing the hosting duties on this three-parter described by its creators as "a multicultural 'Twilight Zone.' "

Said creators are the Hudlin brothers, of "House Party" and "Boomerang" fame, so interest automatically rises even among the funk-impaired. And in a way, the gambit of doing moral fantasy parables with ethnic or minority themes is a natural, as these three episodes update the socially conscious ethos of Rod Serling's 1959-65 series much more provocatively than subsequent mainstream attempts at re-creating the name or magic have.

Finally, though, none of these half-hours quite pay off the way they should, and "Twilight Zones" were famous for nothing if not great payoffs.

First up, and liveliest, is "Space Traders," directed by Reginald Hudlin from a script by black novelist Trey Ellis (finally getting a screen credit after having his name removed from the "Inkwell" debacle). A few years distant, planetary visitors offer to solve all of America's pressing problems, with one caveat: All the nation's blacks must be delivered en masse to be taken away in spacecraft, for reasons unspecified.

*

The premise is silly even by paranoid/PC standards, but this none-too-subtle setup is pretext for some surprisingly sharp and amusing satire: Many white CEOs have their own statistical reasons for wanting to thwart the forced African American exodus, while black leader Robert Guillaume is convinced that the only way to turn white America against the plan is to convince the country that blacks want to go to this other planet.

Some of the throwaway gags help take off the bitter edge--like the reported aside that melanin-heavy George Hamilton has agreed to go aboard, too, if called. Now if only the episode had any kind of ending, twist or otherwise.

The middle segment, "The First Commandment," directed by Warrington Hudlin, is the most cosmically sloppy of the three. Nicholas Turturro stars as a Catholic priest whose parish liberally mixes Christianity and Santeria, despite the church's call to exclusivity; a spooky "saint" comes to life and sets everyone straight. The message seems to be that these disparate religions are strands of one true faith, a notion destined to offend much of the viewing audience.

The conclusion, "Tang" (directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan), takes the biggest chances: It's a grungy two-character drama, about a shiftless husband and abused wife whose fates turn nastier when a mysterious gun is delivered to their apartment door. Chi McBride and especially Paula Jai Parker do a riveting job of finding social realism as well as genocidal metaphor in this self-destructive duet.

Like David Lynch's "Hotel Room," this looks to have been the pilot for an HBO anthology series that won't make it past the initial trilogy. But--its anticlimaxes aside--the Hudlins' "black hole" seems too promising a series concept not to regret its getting lost in a black hole.

* "Cosmic Slop" airs at 10 tonight on HBO.

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