The Preachers of L.A. premiere reached 1.1 million viewers last night, and it left all of them talking. One particularly rapt viewer was Hitfix.com's Senior Editor, Liane Bonin Starr, who recapped the episode from start to finish! Click after the jump to relive the drama, the ladies, the music and the faith!
It seems that there is church and then, there is CHURCH. Preachers of L.A. is about the latter, and it's hard to believe that we haven't seen this rich territory mined for a reality TV show previously. These are not boring, stuffy men of God who read long, dry passages from the bible (someone begat someone else begat someone else again). These guys are pretty much rock stars, with all that entails -- sunglasses at night, big cars and women.
We meet our preachers one by one, usually with their significant others nearby. Deitrick Haddon already stands out as the minister with the strongest storyline and the most at stake. He's a Grammy nominee and a "gospel entertainer" and was called to the ministry at age 10. Unfortunately, his ex-wife was called to cheat on him, and now he has a fiancée, Dominique, who had his baby out of wedlock.
Haddon initially dances around the hard truth of his situation but ultimately there's no getting around it. Still, he says, "I asked God to forgive me. Everything's going to be okay."
He got Dominique pregnant before his divorce was final, and he's now trying to revive his career following a very public shaming by putting on a great, big, gospel show. If you're wondering, this is the event that drives this episode. After this week, I suspect there will be enough fighting not to need too much external drama.
Next up are Ron and LaVette Gibson. Ron, a Bishop, is a former PCP addict and Crip gang member who, despite becoming a wildly rich and successful pastor, still heads back to Compton to try to save gang members. While LaVette worries (logically) he's going to get a cap busted in his ass, Ron assures her he has protection: Mr. Glock. So, you know, a gun.
Pastor Jay Haizlip is a former pro skateboarder and drug addict who found God and has been with his wife Christy since they were teens. As the only white guy in the mix, he seems a little uncertain of how to behave when he gets together with the rest of the cast (you can practically hear his inner voice wondering, "Do I do that hand clench thing with a hug or a fist bump or is that trying too hard? Crap, I'll just stand here and smile awkwardly). Somebody, hand him a skateboard!
Bishop Noel Jones is the only single preacher on the show, and 20 years after his divorce, he isn't entirely sure he wants a serious girlfriend. "You get to my age, and you think, why can't I have some fun?" That means having expensive meals, driving fast in his Porsche or his Ferrari, and, you know, living it up to the extent you can when you're a preacher.
Next, we meet Pastor Wayne Chaney and his wife Myesha. "We want people to know you can be saved, sanctified and sexual," he says, establishing that this is the bedroom we'll be seeing the most of this season. Of the group, Wayne (along with Jay) seems the most grounded and least rock star of the bunch (and I don't say that just because I've been to his church, though I will admit a small bias here).
The biggest, brightest peacock of the show is Bishop Clarence McClendon. He and his wife have four kids and stalkers. I never guessed preachers would have stalkers, but, again, the rock star parallel holds.
In addition to seeing Ron hang out with gang members in Compton (Ron is most taken with one named J.R., whom he is afraid will seek revenge on a rival gang that attempted to kill him and whom he hopes will come to Deitrick's gospel concert to be saved), we see the concert itself. This is by far the best part of the show and, honestly, I would have loved to see more of it. There is a reason why Deitrick is a Grammy nominee. The music is phenomenal, the singers impassioned, the mood uplifting and, yes, fun. There's a reason why people gravitate to this kind of gospel, this kind of church. When people say they feel the spirit here, we can see how true that is.
Finally, it's time to bring the preachers together at Ron's Man Cave. This is simply a house he owns that "grew too small for his wife's clothes." If this raises some questions for you, keep reading.
After some initial pleasantries, Deitrick brings up a point that ruins the Man Cave vibe but is, if you ask me, the elephant in the room. Deitrick wonders if any of the other preachers would wave that fee if they got a request from a venue that couldn't afford it. Would they preach for free?
Clarence argues that the fee doesn't just go to him -- he hires four or five people to join him, people who need and expect to be paid. Deitrick isn't dropping this, however. What about leaving the entourage at home? Clarence says that makes no sense, because if a group wants him, then they want the full performance. Admittedly, I guess leaving the four or five other people at home is kind of like asking Skrillex to come over and recreate his hits on a kid's Casio.
Still, Deitrick isn't buying it, and he holds on to the topic (Can't he spread the word of God on his own? If someone calls him, doesn't that mean he needs to perform for them?) until Clarence gets up, rips off his microphone, and heads for the door. Deitrick doesn't get it (there's a lot of everyone hurling "disrespects" at one another), and I don't think he's going to have a supporter in his host, Ron, who is already angry with him for cutting him off during the concert. Ron had dragged J.R. (a Crip gang member) and Rick Dogg (a Piru gang member) onto the stage and enthusiastically saved them. Ron felt it was a Big Moment and Deitrick interrupted him by telling him to "expedite."
To the show's credit, the prosperity issue isn't shoved under the table but is instead front and center in the premiere episode. Preachers of L.A. isn't pulling any punches -- if this episode is any indication -- and that might be the best surprise I've seen in reality TV all year.
HitFix.com Senior Editor Liane Bonin Starr is an author, screenwriter and former writer for EW.com. Her byline has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Variety and a lot of other places. Her last book was called "a scandalously catty, guilty pleasure" by Jane magazine. Expect the same from her HitFix blog, Starr Raving and follow her on Twitter.
Flip through a photo recap of the premiere!
Watch 'Preachers of L.A.' Wednesdays at 10/9c!