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‘The Crossover’ review: Disney+’s coming-of-age basketball drama is most captivating off the court


When basketball fans gather to discuss the Greatest of All Time, the debates are often comparative. Russell vs. Wilt. Magic vs bird. The search for The Next Jordan or The Next Kobe or The Next LeBron.

The Current LeBron is still active in his own part of the GOAT conversation, presumably due to his status as a producer on Starz’s Survivor’s remorse. But the latest TV series from James’ company SpringHill conjures comparisons rather than direct declarations of greatness. My notes on the eight episodes of Disney+ The Crossover are littered with references to other shows that the family basketball drama came to mind.

The Crossover

It comes down to

A distinctive mix of well-known elements.

broadcast date: Wednesday, April 5 (Disney+)
Form: Derek Luke, Sabrina Revelle, Jalyn Hall, Amir O’Neil, Deja Monique Cruz, Trevor Raine Bush, Skyla I’Lece, Daveed Diggs
creators: Kwame Alexander and Damani Johnson, from Alexander’s novel

It doesn’t quite reach the lyrical poetics of OWN’s David makes man or the heartfelt youthful sincerity of Freevee’s Secondary school or the expertly executed basketball rush of Apple TV+s Swagger or the tantalizing time-jumping mystery of The WB’s Jack and Bobby. But in even evoking those connections, the adaptation of Kwame Alexander’s novel-in-verse at least shows broad ambition beyond many shows aimed at a similarly young audience.

The Crossover generates some satisfying emotional beats, mixes his coming-of-age and mature storylines well and, as distracting as some of his individual pieces may feel, his overall voice is probably distinctive.

Adapted for TV by Alexander and Damani Johnson, The Crossover is the story of twin brothers Josh (Jalyn Hall) and JB (Amir O’Neil) Bell. The boys are the sons of former professional basketball player Chuck (Derek Luke) and their high school principal Crystal (Sabrina Revelle), so it’s fitting that as they approach high school, they’re torn between athletic and academic ambitions. Josh spent his young life charting a course for the NBA, never questioning whether that was JB’s dream. But just as JB can find his true passion in art, Josh’s real genius can be in his poetry read in voiceover by Daveed Diggs.

As the Bell family deals with trials and tribulations these days — citywide basketball tournaments, first loves, Chuck’s health struggles, Crystal’s pressure at a new job — episodes are bookended by chapters less than a decade into the future. By 2030 and 2031, one of the Bell boys has become a star for the Lakers, one of many moments of future triumph offset by ominous hints of future tragedy. Which bell will be the hoop sensation? What sorrow awaits? What joy? If you thought my Jack and Bobby comparison was arbitrary, it wasn’t!

The future stuff hints at several moody elements that might be too mature for the youngest viewers, but it also sometimes feels like a forced attempt to impose serial mystery on a show that really doesn’t require genre embellishment.

It’s not like a seven-year leap forward opens the door to speculative details. So if you’re an NBA geek who’s thinking, “Gosh, the NBA just reached a new collective bargaining agreement, with some changes in the game and that agreement runs until about 2030,” let’s say maybe you The Crossover too serious. Just focus on the main story without focusing on the little misguided clues at the top and bottom of the episodes, each of which is a blissfully solid 30 minutes.

The Crossover doesn’t always know how to translate the unique style of Alexander’s novel, but even if the poetry doesn’t make it to the screen, the writer’s love of language is always evident. Josh is a vocabulary nerd and the show’s directors, including George Tillman Jr psych veteran James Roday Rodriguez, uses his florid verbiage as an opportunity for both education and visual flourishes that can prove contagious to some young viewers.

Ideally, the series’ love of Afrocentric culture should also be contagious. For all basketball references, The Crossover is equally invested in celebrating the likes of Langston Hughes (whose name is on the all-boys’ school), Miles Davis, and Zora Neale Hurston. While episodes are often built around Big Game montages, I was much more involved in a Harlem Renaissance-themed school dance and roller skating party driven by the show’s awesome wall-to-wall soundtrack.

That black joy is as much a part of the show’s tapestry as basketball joy has been a good thing ever since The Crossover is never really convincing when it tries to depict the sports action. Josh jokes about being undersized, at least he acknowledges that necessary suspension of disbelief, but no amount of strategic editing or compelling photography could lead me to believe that anyone would think of these two kids as potential high school basketball players let alone ​​​​future best NBA draft picks.

It’s not just Swagger – produced by Kevin Durant, who wins this showdown with LeBron – who delivers the basketball products more consistently. Disney+ is short-lived Great shot also managed his athletic limitations better.

It wouldn’t hurt if Hall and O’Neil were cast more for acting than basketball. They’re both solid screen presences – O’Neil helps ground his character’s budding romance with Skyla I’Lece’s Alexis and Bell predicting the confidence that drives Diggs’ narration. Luke and Revelle make sure that the adult side of the storyline never feels superficial, as it so often does on teen shows, and that their chemistry is genuine and mature. Few goals, so to speak, albeit not without some secrets and disagreements that define the drama in the second half of the season.

The young ensemble features fine work by I’Lece and Deja Monique Cruz, with Phylicia Rashad being a welcome guest as Chuck’s mother, who has an opinion on the boys’ upbringing and the right taste of her cuisine. daughter in law.

Rashad’s presence, of course, only evokes more David makes man comparisons – check out this underrated gem on HBO Max – but her welcome gravitas is part of why The Crossover clearly has room to expand and improve as it moves beyond the events of the first season.

I’d like to see the show become more confident with its basketball scenes, make much better use of the New Orleans settings, and maybe find more visual equivalents to Josh’s poetry. That may not be enough to make The Crossover the GOAT of everything, but it would make it easier to enjoy the show for its own pleasures and not primarily to make viewers think of slightly better shows.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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