Now Streaming Review: THE BIG CIGAR, Rude, Rowdy, Righteous

Andre Holland stars as activist Huey P. Newton, with Alessandro Nivola as film producer Bert Schneider. Tiffany Boone, P.J. Byrne, and Marc Menchaca, also star in the Apple TV+ limited series.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
Now Streaming Review: THE BIG CIGAR, Rude, Rowdy, Righteous

Out of the gate, the first episode is a banger.

The Big Cigar
The first two episodes debut globally Friday, May 17, exclusively on Apple TV+. New episodes debut every Friday thereafter. I've seen all six episodes.

Director Don Cheadle, operating from a script penned by Jim Hecht, keeps the screen boiling throughout the first episode, from the moment when Huey P. Newton (Andre Holland) and Gwen Fontaine (Tiffany Boone) banged on Bert Schneider's front door, seeking refuge from Los Angeles police, to its conclusion, before turning the dial down to a high simmer in the second episode.

People of a certain age may remember Huey P. Newton as a revolutionary activist who founded the Black Panther Party with fellow college student Bobby Seale (Jordane Christie) in Oakland, California, 1966. How did he get involved, then, with Bert Schneider, known to film fans as the producer of Easy Rider (1969), Five Easy Pieces (1970), and The Last Picture Show (1971)?

The first two episodes effectively answer that question, bouncing between events in 1974, as Schneider schemes to get Newton and Fontaine out of the country to evade arrest for accusations of murder, events in 1967, as Newton became known implicated in and imprisoned for manslaughter, and what happened in 1970, after Newton's conviction was overturned. It's a great story, clearly told.

Jim Hecht developed the six-episode series based on an article by Joshua Bearman, published in Playboy Magazine in January 2013. Bearman also wrote a magazine article in 2007 that became the source for Argo (2012), and The Big Cigar bears surface similarities to that story, in that it involves producers in Hollywood and notable real-life events.

Newton's chief pursuer is the FBI, in the person of Sydney Clark (Marc Menchaca), who is leading the furious chase as Newton eludes capture, even as Schneider's plans to help him continually fall apart or are utterly smashed. The broken trail leads from in and around Los Angeles to ... elsewhere ... with the goal of reaching Cuba continually pushed just out of grasp.

Having six episodes allows for greater depth, while also keeping the series fuelled by urgency. Each episode also runs 45-50 minutes, thus feeling more like a broadcast TV series (without ad breaks), rather than a languid streaming show, which pushes up the pace and the tension.

If the show tends to feel like Argo, only with repeated failures instead of unmitigated thrilling success, it is that. As the pace slows a tad, and a pattern emerges of great attempts to escape, followed by frustration foiled by stupidity and cowardice, the show becomes (improbably) more fascinating. And it's all powered by the very strong lead performance by Andre Holland, who roars righteously in every episode.

Apple TV+ pattern of releasing shows weekly has created a trap that some lesser shows have fallen into, namely, extending the show past its 'sell by' date with minor variations on the same theme. The difference here is that there are only six episodes in total, and each episode explores the increasingly complex dramatic material in greater depth.

The end result is a very satisfying show that made me want to know more about Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale.

The Big Cigar

  • Janine Sherman Barrois
  • Marc Menchaca
  • Alessandro Nivola
  • Glynn Turman
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Alessandro NivolaAndre HollandApple TV+Bert Schneider. Tiffany BooneHuey P. NewtonMarc MenchacaP.J. ByrneJanine Sherman BarroisGlynn TurmanBiographyDramaThriller

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