There’s an art [and sometimes a science] to humour in film and TV. We have the well-known physical comedy painted by sometimes exaggerated mannerisms and memorable characters, a comedy Aristotle might have called “farce” if he ever witnessed it. There’s satire where there is almost always a punching up, your laughs are at the expense of social situations that could be better. There’s also comedy gotten from romantic situations, my personal favourite, where love and humour meet to create vulnerability and hope. These are just a few ways humour can exist on the big and small screen and somehow Funke Akindele’s She Must Be Obeyed fails at all comedic forms.
The five-episode series streaming on Prime Video follows the life of successful afrobeats artist, Siyanbola Adewale aka She (an obvious play to create some air of grandeur and fame), and her efforts to do anything to remain at the top. Following the classic Funke Akindele formula of humour laced with moral lessons, She Must Be Obeyed struggles to make you laugh and the lessons it teaches are shallow.
The show begins with one of its better scenes: an award show with performances from She and Tito (played by BBN newcomer Vee Iye). The music is passable and choreography is reminiscent of an actual Nigerian award show but the minute the dialogue starts, the downward spiral also begins. There is a constant need to remind us of She’s superstar status in the dialogue with lines that don’t seem real and delivery that is plastic. Waje’s character, X-cite, serves as some sort of antagonist but without any backstory, their beef lacks the heft the story wants us to believe, which results in a conflict you never truly understand.
We first meet She as a kind, loving celebrity who even celebrates Tito’s win over her, with words laced with heavy saccharine she captures the public’s love. Later in that episode, we are introduced to She at her most true self: an obvious bald cap, patches of hair, no eyebrows and a crassness in the way she eats—something about the image reminded me of one of the witches in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. But while the witches have always had some cultural context and interpretation over time, She is just grotesque for the sake of it. The one time her appearance is given a backstory, it is inadequate and confusing at the same time. We also find out, in one of the more interesting and least explored parts, that she runs different social media accounts trolling Tito and praising herself. There’s something there about the self erosion and self-absorption that celebrity brings but I guess we’ll never know.
Some of the supporting characters move the skeleton of a story forward while others are supposed to be comic relief. Nancy Isime (Blood Sisters) plays She’s new personal assistant who we never really see doing any PA work, save keeping herself small to make She look good. Rachel Okonkwo draws out the melodramatic in her performance as Adaeze, serving inadequately as the emotional core and main conflict of the show. Bishop Imeh and Lizzy Jay play into the worst of their respective stereotypes which might get a laugh from an audience used to sketch comedy but ultimately feed into a general cultural ignorance which filmmakers are partly responsible for by constantly repeating these stereotypes. Abdulateef Adedimeji (Ayinla) is stunted as Bayo, She’s nephew who is hanging on to her promise to send him abroad by keeping him subservient. Akah Nnani (Man Of God) overplays Sisqo, a trope known both home and abroad, the effeminate/queer supporting male character; there’s an insincerity in the portrayal that removes any complexity it could have had which makes the scene with his father castrated of any feeling.
Funke’s influence manages to bring out some of our acting royalty for scenes and characters that could have been cut. Patience Ozokwor (Chief Daddy 2) is a drunken Mama Cruise in scenes that are often embarrassing not because of the character but the lack of substance it holds, Shaffy Bello (Elesin Oba) is She’s mother in a flashback that’s supposed to dig deep, Chiwetalu Agu is forgettable and Ali Nuhu (Amina) could have as well not been in the show.
So many beats in the story happen in the last two episodes and considering each episode is almost an hour long, a lot of time is spent doing nothing or lingering on unfunny moments. A heavy-handed romance culminates in two undeserved sex scenes: Vee and IK are passable while Nancy and Abdulateef give it an amateur effort, and then towards the end, the show transforms into a double fight scene that is a bit of a jarring tonal shift.
The disappointment continues in the visual and audio quality of the show, a Prime Video original prodcued by SceneOne Entertainment. The lighting is constantly harsh, amplifying the cakey makeup of the characters, the audio is sloppy which is disappointing considering the show is about the music industry. There is nothing stimulating about the way the film is shot, no proof of expertise or inspiration despite the resources and talent attached to the show.
She Must Be Obeyed, like many Nollywood shows, is great on paper but it never turns into something good. There is a half dimension to all the characters in this showbiz world which makes connection to the audience impossible, the cruelty of the main character is repetitive and her motives are never truly clear. There are characters everywhere but somehow the show feels devoid of any kind of personality. It ends up not being smart enough to be witty, not self-aware enough to be a satire and the lack of any subtlety makes for a caricature that is always loud but saying nothing.
She Must Be Obeyed premiered on Prime Video on September 29.
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- I just know Akah had a blast playing Sisqo, you could tell.
- Every time Abdulateef Adedimeji as Bayo came up on my screen I was trying to figure out the choices that led to his hairstyles.
- IK Ogbonna is somehow in this film and his wig is from the Tyler Perry school of lace fronts.
- Bishop Imeh, we will do a tribunal in Akwa Ibom state where you will come and answer for your crimes.
- They should release a soundtrack album just for the fun of it.