P-Valley is summer’s best drama, an unflinching, layered look at sex work

P-Valley - Courtesy of Tina Rowden/Starz
P-Valley - Courtesy of Tina Rowden/Starz /

P-Valley is a stellar summer series, one of this year’s best

Over the years, we’ve seen several television shows try to address sex work to various degrees of success. Starz’s new addicting summer series P-Valley may just top them all.

Collider‘s review really hits the nail on the head of why this show is so fantastic. For starters, it’s a story centered around Black women and their experiences working at a strip club. It’s nice to see a different spectrum of the industry, because often when we see non-white sex workers depicted on-screen, it isn’t the best representation.

P-Valley is a neon-lit, compelling, provocative, and bracingly honest look at the ins and outs of the world of stripping. The series isn’t just about eye candy and killer routines. It speaks on topical and relevant themes such as classism, colorism, sexism, domestic violence, and more.

Even better, the gritty, multifaceted show was directed by an all-woman team. Showrunner Katori Hall, who based on the show on her own play of the same name and is also known for her work on Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, really lets these characters come to life and the cast all gel together and elevate the already excellent material.

P-Valley – Courtesy of Jessica Miglio/Starz /

Breaking down the leading players of P-Valley

The main focus of the first episode is setting up the characters and world of the series. The Pynk is a notable strip club in Chucalissa, Mississippi. We start by meeting “Autumn Night,” real name Hailey, as she flees a violent past in search of something more.

Broke and alone, she finds The Pynk and participates in a local competition night, which she wins. Autumn then gets a job at the club while also suffering from PTSD. We don’t know exactly what happened to her before, but based on the flashback snippets, it seems likely she was in an abusive relationship or something similar.

She appears to win over Uncle Clifford, the openly queer manager who sounds tough but has a big heart and genuinely cares for the girls. Throughout the first episode alone, we see her make tender gestures toward Keyshawn and Mercedes when they’re in a bad spot.

The shining star of the episode, though, is Mercedes. The actress, Brandee Evans, is a force to be reckoned with this role, and everything about Mercedes just screams “fierce OG.” She knows the club like the back of her hand. But she’s also leaving it behind for reasons yet unknown.

Outside of the club, Mercedes has to deal with her manipulative, devout mother, Sister Patrice, who uses her religion to emotionally and verbally abuse her daughter. She degrades her, calls her a ho, and constantly judges and criticizes her for being a stripper. Simultaneously, she uses Mercedes for money and expects her to invest sizable amounts into the church’s contribution fund.

P-Valley – Courtesy of Jessica Miglio/Star /

In one of the standout scenes from the first hour, Patrice visits Mercedes on “Mercedes Sunday” to see her infamous performance and then brutally chastises her in the parking lot. She goes so far as to drop down on her knees and pray to God to save her daughter by “putting all of her sins on me,” as if she’s a martyr. To get her to shut up, Mercedes hands her a bag of her hard-earned money before collapsing into tears.

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Mercedes isn’t the only one with a tricky situation outside of The Pynk, another dancer, Keyshawn, has a newborn baby and is struggling to get by in a domestic violence situation of her own. It seems she may have caught the eye of the resident bouncer, Diamond, a former soldier who also has demons to contend with.

Clifford, too, is forced to come to grips with The Pynk being close to bankruptcy. She’s struggling to keep the lights on at the club and doesn’t have much outside of it either.

When not at the club, Mercedes coaches a dance team of young girls. She’s tough but seems to know how to get results, as is evidenced by the fact she’s dynamite on the pole.

Seriously, the pole dance routines on this series are insane, some of the best I’ve ever seen depicted on television or film. They should have Olympics for this stuff because the musculature it takes to be able to dance upside down on the ceiling must be incredible.

According to Glamour, Hall spent six years talking to exotic dancers to learn more about the business, and it shows.

P-Valley – Courtesy of Tina Rowden/Starz /

Questions we have for P-Valley Season 1

A lot happens in the first episode of P-Valley, and they plant a lot of seeds for the season moving forward. For starters, in addition to the characters mentioned above, there is also Little Murder and a mysterious photographer that Autumn meets while taking a breather to contend with.

Little Murder is an up-and-coming rapper who shows up at the club with his boys and gets into a bit of a scuffle with Diamond after they get too handsy with Autumn. Later, we learn he might actually be gay or bisexual as he has a tryst with Clifford.

I’m confident we’re going to see more of him as the season progresses, it’ll be interesting to see if anything more happens between him and the manager.

As for the photographer, Autumn happens to notice him when she steps outdoors, needing a break from the Champagne Room. They have an instant attraction to one another, but he declines her invitation to come inside the club.

In the final moments of the episode, we see him photographing her while she smokes a cigarette outdoors. Is he just charmed by her beauty, or is he perhaps working for someone else who is keeping tabs on Autumn?

Furthermore, will the girls eventually learn how badly the club is doing financially, or will Clifford find a way out? Will Keyshawn get out of her bad relationship unscathed? I wish this show had released at once. I need more episodes!

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What did you think of the first episode of P-Valley? Do you plan on watching the rest of the season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

P-Valley airs Sunday nights at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on Starz, episodes are also available to watch wherever Starz streams.