Freshman year in college is all about exploration and growing up. It’s a time when students really get to show the world who they are and where they’re going. Sophomore year, in contrast, is about upping the ante and maintaining momentum.
The same holds true for television series. The inaugural season establishes the tone and lays the groundwork, but the second year narrows the focus, giving the story and its characters time and space to evolve. As fans of BET’s hit collegial drama “The Quad” know, the series’ first year fired up viewers with hot plotlines about everything from date rape to the advantages and disadvantages of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).
The fictional Georgia A&M University serves as the setting for this tale, which also tackles the politics and money behind college football and competitive marching bands. Expect more of the same when “The Quad” roars back for a second season Tuesday on BET.
Missing this time around, however, is the razor-sharp focus that allowed the show to thoughtfully introduce characters and unpack backstories. Instead, season two is served up in a whirlwind of activity with very little resolution. Yes, “The Quad” is a nighttime soap, but what made the story compelling initially was the time the writers took to make sure we got to know each person. Now, these same characters are being eclipsed by their actions.
This is certainly the case with Tony Award-winning star Anika Noni Rose’s character, Dean Eva Fletcher. Just as before, Eva is still struggling to save GAMU from financial ruin, but this time, she’s also battling the parents of Terrence Berry (Kevin Savage).
In case you forgot, he’s the star quarterback who raped Eva’s daughter Sydney (Jazz Raycole) and then killed himself when that rape and others he’d committed ended his football pursuits.
Rose, a real-life Florida A&M grad, brings undeniable gravitas to the portrayal. Eva is a flawed-but-relatable woman struggling to rebuild her life after an affair with a student at her former university destroyed her marriage and her career.
Because of this, it’s thrilling to see Eva verbally and physically lunge at Terrance’s victim-shaming mother. In the #MeToo era, Eva is a soldier on the front lines determined to defend and protect her daughter.
But if the president of a university happened to be the mother of a rape victim at that very same university, there is no way in the world she would be expected to negotiate a financial settlement with the perpetrator’s parents. Suspension of disbelief has its limitations.
Rose’s talents would’ve been better served exploring the depths of Eva and Sydney’s PTSD following the rape. Instead, a brief scene of the two on a therapist’s couch and Eva’s recurring nightmares are halfhearted signs that Eva is more fragile than she thinks. By the time that fragility sends her into a downward spiral in episode three, the culmination is ham-handed and premature.
A revenge plot involving Cecil (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) and Noni (Zoe Renee) is painfully undercooked, as is the thread following Bryce as he secretly (Larry Rhem) pledges a fraternity.
There are some bright spots. A playful nod to “Thelma & Louise” has Sydney and Maddy (Michelle DeFraites) teaching one of their ex-boyfriends a costly lesson that will make women cheer. Guest appearances from native Georgia rappers Cyhi and Big Boi are also fun.
Thankfully, this season of “The Quad” is more entertaining, racy and topical than not. But to keep the viewers it has and attract more, the writers really need to slow down and revisit what worked the first season. Quality storytelling is worth the wait.
Mekeisha Madden Toby is a Los Angeles-based TV critic and entertainment reporter.
Season two premieres 10 p.m. Tuesday