DAVID BIANCULLI

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NOEL HOLSTON

 
 
 
 
 
The Good, the Bad, and the Music with 'The New Edition Story'
January 24, 2017  | By David Hinckley
 

Now here’s a song we’ve all heard before. It’s about artists whose lives are sensational on stage and chaotic everywhere else.

The New Edition Story, a three-night, six-hour miniseries about the 1980s boy band, recounts yet another chapter of that classic story starting Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on BET.

There’s plenty of arguing, fighting, distrust and general bad behavior throughout the show. The best reason to watch, however, is the music and the group’s on-stage performance.

Whether or not you were a boy band fan in the 1980s, this is top-quality stuff, putting New Edition into a rich stage tradition that goes back through the Temptations to Jackie Wilson, the Cadillacs and the vaudeville and stage revues of the early 20th century.

That’s a tribute to the actors who play the six members of New Edition, both as kids and as adults.

Shoutouts to Dante Hoagland as the young Michael Bivins and Bryshere Y. Gray as the grownup; Caleb McLaughlin as the young Ricky Bell and Elijah Kelley as the grownup; Tyler Williams as the young Bobby Brown and  Woody McClain as the grownup; Myles Truitt as the young Ronnie Devoe and Keith Powers as the grownup; Jahi Winston as the young Ralph Tresvant and Algee Smith as the grownup, Luke James (left) plays Johnny Gill, whom we don’t see as a child.

While the music is lip-synched, the arrangements and choreography are splendid. Credit here to Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and Babyface.

Off-stage, for all the interpersonal drama among the members, all their bad treatment at the hands of record companies, and all the screw-ups their behavior brings on themselves, The New Edition Story has a positive undercurrent.

Beyond pure talent, these guys would not have been this successful if something weren’t keeping them together.

We meet the guys – minus Gill, who joined later – in Boston’s Roxbury projects when they’re all around 11 years old. They want to become music stars to make money, and while they cash in on this dream perhaps a little too smoothly, we do get a sense that it wasn’t just random luck.

After selling themselves to manager Brooke Payne (Wood Harris), they show an exceptional level of dedication and commitment to becoming professionals.

That thread runs through the show, which is to say, through their careers. No matter how far their personal lives veer off the rails or stardom gets into their heads, they never seem to forget that when they go on stage, they need to know their steps and hit the notes.

As a thousand artists have proven, you can get away with a lot of bad stuff as long as you can still do that.

Not that New Edition members got away with all their excesses. Drug and alcohol abuse in retrospect may seem exotically glamorous, but it exacts a steep price.

The New Edition Story doesn’t glamorize drinking or drugs. If anything, it may downplay them, which in turn might be traceable to the fact that this miniseries was executive-produced by all the members of New Edition.

That means the show is more autobiography than docu-drama, which is fine. The perspective of real-life participants is always valuable, and no one begrudges them the right to portray events, or outcomes, the way they’d like to see them.

It does leave room at some point for a third party to weigh in with a different take on all the dramas. Perhaps producer/manager Maurice Starr wasn’t quite as scheming as he’s portrayed here. Perhaps the intra-group bonds at times frayed a little more than this series suggests.

Or perhaps not. What’s undeniable is that in a business that routinely throws away young artists after it has milked them for a hit or two, these guys kept it going.

That speaks to personal bonds, commitment, and talent, and The New Edition Story makes a convincing case that it was no accident the members of New Edition hung around long after they were no longer new.

 
 
 
 
 
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