Agu, Igbo word for “leopard,” unfolds as a six-episode legal drama series that delves into diverse themes. In the realm of Nigerian shows exploring legal elements, it follows predecessors like Castle & Castle and the enduring Tinsel. Unlike Castle & Castle, which centered on the dynamics of a power couple navigating the Nigerian legal system, Agu introduces a supernatural layer into its contemporary narrative. Accompanied by a haunting introductory soundtrack, Agu offers a distinctive departure from your conventional legal drama.
Pius (Nonso Odogwu) bashes his friend Felix’s (Ozzi Nlemadim) head during a land inspection. The truth or something akin to it is then worked out in court in a bid to get justice for dead Felix. The lawyers on opposing sides of the case, Barr. Etim Inyang (Kanayo O. Kanayo) and Victoria Ameh (Ruby Okezie), who are estranged father and daughter, have to work out ways to save their relationship while they seek justice for their respective clients. Over the course of the weekly episode release since December 14, each person digs through the pile of mess that is his and her life till they meet in the middle. It might appear like a legal drama with the court proceedings, investigation and moral quandaries, but at the centre of it, Agu is really a story of love and reconciliation that fails to channel its strongest points of supernaturalism and standout performers end up as its unique saviours.
The show hits the ground running, and for the first two and half episodes you’re sucked in, but slows down in the third to allow for the fleshing out of the different subplots. Pius, who insists that he acted in self-defense, tries to convince Inyang about the alleged juju attack on his life that led to the murder. Of course, the urban people think it’s silly talk. Inyang, who decides on a whim to represent Pius because he wants to be in proximity to his estranged daughter, a member of the prosecuting counsel, barely buys his leopard attack story either. In Inyang, we are presented with the strongest offering of the show, a character who has to reevaluate his beliefs across an arc of laughing at the commons who believe in juju to blaming juju for his predicament episodes later.
Playing Inyang, Kanayo O. Kanayo is the star of Agu. The Nollywood veteran has two things about him that are brought to the forefront of this series. One, juju (a staple in his many older movies), and two, his real-life Bachelor of Laws degree. You might be tempted to roll your eyes and think “KOK in another juju film? I thought we were past that “. But no, the expectations you might have of his character are turned on its head. In Agu, KOK captures the thought process of the average Nigerian. Unimpressed and unmoved at first about the juju claims, he faces a number of encounters that set him on a path of reawakening.
The direction of Kanayo’s character is impeccable and kudos must be given to director Anis Halloway, who has coincidentally worked on my aforementioned series with legal elements, Tinsel. Inyang, who is described by Victoria’s boss as a “washed-up charge-and-bail lawyer depending on the glory of his former days” embodies the quiet misery of the character. He is graceful in his suffering and comes across as one who watches the mess he has become. His misery is funny and his deep relationship with alcohol evokes pity. He represents a true washed-up charge-and-bail lawyer. What distinguishes the narrative is the skillful application of Chekhov’s gun, notably seen in a seemingly trivial event—the cut on Inyang’s finger. This draws viewers in, creating anticipation over three episodes about the fate of this infected finger and its owner. There are a few more of these instances but none is really as exciting as Inyang’s finger.
A legal drama is hardly complete without its court proceedings, so in Agu, a number of the scenes are set in the court, presided by the Judge (Tina Mba). In this setting, the lawyers display their wit. Victoria, who has battled to be the principal in charge of this case, isn’t quite convincing, which might not entirely be Okezie’s fault (this is pointed fingers towards her characterization). She is shown a few times studying and preparing but the arguments she offers in court don’t astound, even her closing argument lacks the loftiness that legal dramas offer viewers. She has mentioned that she was top of her class in law school and is often referred to as one of the firm’s best but the script (penned by Stephanie Dadet, Jemine Edukugho, Uchechukwu William, and Uche Ikejimba) doesn’t give her enough time and opportunity to showcase herself. Everyone makes arguments but more is expected from the person who went to school to learn to argue and convince. This is a murder trial and serious legal jargon is expected. Instead, in the deciding seating, we are offered a meagre few minutes of questioning, cross-examination and dissatisfying concluding statements.
Her love life on the other hand, is given thorough consideration. She finds herself between two handsome men, Shola (Mofe Duncan), her boss who is rather controlling and selfish; and sweet and considerate Obinna (Vine Olugu). They work at the same firm and are the epicentre of office politics and power dynamics. Victoria’s joys and struggles are largely connected to them and when one angle in this triangle starts to seem too tight and restricting, she finds solace in the open and warm hands of the other. Her growth is eminent in the romantic choice she ends the show with. Obinna, patient and helpful when needed, has his act a little overwrought. And I am not totally convinced about the chemistry between Victoria and Obinna. They are two beautiful people who do not seem to mix well romantically but are better suited during the sex scenes.
There is a mastery of camera movement, especially during the scenes at the Lateef Simpson and Awolade firm (where Victoria works). Space is maximised well to capture a wide angle that fits everyone in frame. This angle contributes to the Victoria and Obinna love story as we can often read the mood between the two from that framing. The fluidity and precision of the camera work contribute significantly to the overall visual appeal. The houses are meticulously designed to exude a homely ambiance and this attention to detail extends to the wardrobe choices. The women don beautiful gowns, and the men’s attire is accentuated by carefully chosen accessories like standout necklaces. The makeup department also deserves accolades for their remarkable work, especially in portraying deep gash injuries realistically. Their skillful execution underscores the commitment to visual excellence in the series.
Agu blends legal drama, supernatural elements, and interpersonal relationships to present a captivating story that engages viewers. KOK shines in this unique take on familiar themes, while Ruby Okezie (Far From Home) is able to showcase some versatility. Watching both seasoned and fresh talents skillfully navigate the challenges of everyday Nigerian issues offers a refreshing perspective. The compelling story crafted by the writers and director elevates Agu to a notable position within the legal drama subgenre.
Agu premiered on December 14, 2023, on Showmax.
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- In the words of Afrofusion star Burna Boy, “you go explain explain tire, because no evidence.”
- That funny thing that happens during sex scenes – Person A climbs Person B, both fully clothed, share a kiss, and afterward are suddenly in the passionate throes of intercourse! With clothes on. Haha.
- “Voilà voilà tap tap, I’m in.” – true words from a hacker character here who taps on the keyboard for one minute, with a black screen peppered with tiny writing. It is heartwarming that the old film hacker tradition is maintained.
- Etim Inyang’s sharp resort, “I don’t want to talk about God or anything that does not exist” is hilarious.
- There is a weird enunciation thing going on at the Lateef Simpson and Awolade chambers. You try to ignore it but your ears itch. Actors should please speak clearly.
- There is an abundance of attractive people here, it feels like a deliberate casting choice. It would be lovely to have a second season of their beautiful faces and dramatic lives.
- Obinna almost comes across as a “loser”, and Victoria is not attracted to losers.