André Holland in Apple TV+ Huey Newton Series

Whether or not it’s one thing like “Central” for Expats or “Lengthy, Lengthy Time” from The Final of Us, the change-of-perspective standalone episode has change into a technique to ship a contained brief story inside a fuller novel — to remind viewers that each supporting character has a special prism by means of which they course of occasions.

Ideally, Apple TV+‘s The Huge Cigar ought to be “The Huge Cigar,” a change-of-perspective standalone episode inside a definitive 10-part restricted collection concerning the Black Panthers. In a special good world, The Huge Cigar may nonetheless be a six-episode restricted collection, however it might observe restricted collection(es) already dedicated to Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver; at that time, as soon as the historical past of militant Black activism within the ’60s and ’70s had been adequately informed, it might be an ideal time to say, “And right here’s an oddball story that was on the periphery! Take pleasure in!”

The Huge Cigar

The Backside Line

Turns one wild story into two mediocre tales.

Airdate: Friday, Might 17 (Apple TV+)
Solid: André Holland, Tiffany Boone, Alessandro Nivola, Marc Menchaca, P.J. Byrne
Creator: Jim Hecht

As an alternative, The Huge Cigar units out to inform a traditionally secondary story during which Huey P. Newton is a central, however pretty passive, participant. However that is 2024, and you’ll’t inform a Huey P. Newton story during which the precise protagonists are a bunch of white Hollywood producers. The Huge Cigar writers know this. There’s even a scene during which Newton and a few Tinseltown bigwigs are discussing doing a Newton biopic, and Bert Schneider declares, “Don’t put me in it. It’s not my story.” He’s proper. The writers of the collection are proper. However in making an attempt to make use of the narrative of the heroically bumbling white Hollywood producers as a backdoor for a chronicle of the Black Panthers (during which Newton is kinda the main focus), neither story is given its due.

The Huge Cigar finally ends up being two completely different unsatisfying reveals squished collectively into six episodes of underneath 42 minutes apiece — often trendy and boasting an excellent lead efficiency by André Holland, however frustratingly mediocre total.

The majority of The Huge Cigar is ready in 1974. Newton (Holland) is on the run from the regulation, accused of murdering a teenage intercourse employee. Having repeatedly been railroaded by the justice system, together with a jail sentence spent primarily in solitary confinement, Newton flees to, of all locations, Los Angeles, the place he enlists Bert Schneider’s (Alessandro Nivola) help in smuggling him in another country.

Schneider, deep into post-production on the Vietnam documentary Hearts and Minds, comes up with an excellent concept: Newton shall be smuggled into Cuba underneath the auspices of a faux film titled The Huge Cigar, and the FBI — one-dimensionally embodied by Agent Clark (Marc Menchaca) and Agent Anderson (James Cade) — shall be none the wiser.

It’s right here that you simply’re in all probability noting similarities to the Oscar-winning thriller Argo, which isn’t a coincidence, since each tasks are primarily based partially on articles by Joshuah Bearman. And when you’re additionally sensing similarities to Successful Time, that’s as a result of The Huge Cigar was tailored by Jim Hecht, co-creator of that HBO interval dramedy.

You’ll really feel these similarities for the primary episode or two of The Huge Cigar — particularly when it weaves in a bunch of celeb impressions that don’t repay, aside from treating folks like Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson as pointless background characters who, when all is alleged and executed, have completely nothing to do with the remainder of the story.

After the midway level, the movie-within-the-show stops being related both. There are little bits of the escape which have a heist-y looseness and sense of enjoyable, however The Huge Cigar is caught in an ungainly place the place it doesn’t need this story to be an excessive amount of enjoyable, but it surely’s afraid to make the story too critical both. It’s a tonally disjointed strategy that’s matched by the collection’ visible model, which boasts a number of snazzy enhancing and jazzy split-screens within the first two episodes, each directed by Don Cheadle, and turns into typically aesthetically nameless within the 4 subsequent episodes, directed by Tiffany Johnson and Damon Thomas.

The issue is that it’s onerous to precisely articulate who Newton was at that specific second in historical past. He was traumatized and paranoid and had little resemblance to the enduring determine he was within the late Sixties, when the image of Newton sitting in a wicker chair holding a rifle in a single hand and a spear within the different grew to become the archetypal illustration of the resistance. The Black Panther social gathering additionally wasn’t the identical establishment in 1974 that it was 5 years earlier. Newton and Bobby Seale (Jordane Christie) have been on the outs. Eldridge Cleaver (Brenton Allen) was in an exile of his personal in Algeria, a weird historic chapter that additionally in all probability deserves a restricted collection and was featured in Netflix’s Agent Elvis, of all locations. Idealism had given technique to assimilation and compromise.

So The Huge Cigar makes use of flashbacks and flashbacks inside flashbacks in order that we see Newton at his charismatic peak; in order that we get hints of the variations between his and Seale’s personalities; and in order that we get we get a way of the Black Panthers at their progressive peak. Cleaver is usually a non-factor right here, and key Panthers like Elaine Brown are talked about however unseen. As an alternative we get two or three episodes that focus often on Moses Ingram’s Teressa Dixon, who’s, I consider, a composite and in the end fully irrelevant. The story jumps backwards and forwards and backwards and forwards inside a five-year interval and I assure that no one who is available in with none information of the Black Panthers will be capable to make significant sense of any of it.

The bouncing round in time hinders Holland’s capability to construct a coherent portrait of Newton, as does the present’s nervous hesitation to delve into the true darkness in Newton’s biography. It doesn’t assist that almost all of Newton’s key emotional scenes are reverse Tiffany Boone’s Gwen, who hasn’t been written with a hint of a persona.

It isn’t a full whitewashing. Newton is broken and self-obsessed and self-destructive, however the dominant tone continues to be certainly one of normal adulation and constant evasion of something that may completely obscure that. An assault on a tailor is handled as a joke and featured solely off-screen, whereas the homicide that Newton is needed for all through the collection is acknowledged solely as a fabrication by the police, which wasn’t precisely the case (neither is the post-script explaining that Newton was “acquitted” of the homicide). Newton is scripted to straight acknowledge The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance‘s “print the legend” quote, however when you might have Holland making an attempt to play a posh model of an actual human, it’s discordant.

As for the lads representing the legend-making manufacturing facility, they find yourself with the clearest, if least attention-grabbing, arcs within the story. Bert is a spoiled wealthy child decided to make use of his final identify — father Abe (John Doman) runs Columbia Footage, whereas brother Stan (Noah Emmerich, completely wasted) is a extra conservative film producer — and his clout to make a distinction, however he retains screwing up. Stephen Blauner (P.J. Byrne) desires to do one thing related, although his girlfriend Roz (Jaime Ray Newman, underused) is tiring of his altruism. They’re each Jewish, which is talked about sufficient instances that it should be extra related than it’s.

Nivola and Byrne are fantastic, and within the second half of the collection, their characters are continually doing issues to push the plot alongside, whereas Holland’s Newton is reactively unraveling. The present makes a degree of getting a personality — Inny Clemons’ Richard Pryor, rather more current than makes any sense — declare that he’s “been round Hollywood lengthy sufficient to know that it ain’t gonna get made except you set a white individual in it,” suggesting it desires to do one thing completely different or higher. After which… the white individuals are the characters advancing the story.

This all explains why The Huge Cigar ultimately reaches a finale that has no concept what tales it’s meant to be resolving and what tone can be acceptable for that decision, a lot much less the way it desires to sum up the teachings of the collection. You possibly can spot a dozen nice tales scattered all through The Huge Cigar, however the very best factor concerning the collection is that it shouldn’t preempt someone going out and making a genuinely nice Black Panthers collection.