The Saturday adventures and exploits of three savvy, smart, Philadelphia high-school friends who must use their brains and a bit of luck to get out of a series of predicaments. This is the comedy TV pilot The Kingfish.
“In West Philadelphia born and raised” rapped Will Smith at the beginning of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. That was way back in the 90s, and around that time young Will just couldn’t wait to get out of Philly. Over thirty years later we now have The Kingfish and our young protagonists are fine staying right where they are. The pilot episode of The Kingfish opens with our three main characters sitting on the couch, Xavier Edwards and Taylor Myrick play two busy gamers X and Bobby, while Britt Starghill as Flip is reading a maths textbook on quantum physics.
The pilot episode follows the adventures (and mainly misadventures) of these three friends as they travel across different parts of Philadelphia trying to deliver a mysterious package. On their way to the destination, they bump into different archetypes such as a bully, a gangster, and a Godfather who may or may not want the parcel for themselves. They also get involved in silly incidents that will force the friends to rely on their wits and smarts to escape. In that sense, at its most basic level, The Kingfish is an enjoyably low-stakes caper movie.
What surprised me during this pilot were the interesting touches of surrealism permeating throughout the first episode; despite a number of them making little narrative sense, it is a credit to the directors’ Saint Martin and Tab Edwards that the majority of their choices work. There are never any hints or tips to let us know which director has made which decision, but each of the different moments impresses thanks to them being original. The choice to use speech and thought bubbles to infer what the characters are really thinking, or to emphasise certain usage of words and slang are some of the highlights of the film’s 18-minute run time. Starghill’s Flip has a Max Headroom-type stutter for certain lines, while some moments see the cast breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience. Another interesting choice is the continuous use of subtitles and ident graphics on the screen; there was also one particularly strange cut to a zombie-like creature similar to how William Friedkin added subliminal images to The Exorcist. It doesn’t lead anywhere but it remains a particularly memorable image.
Alongside the two directors, there are two directors of photography, they are Shareef Robinson and Kareem Tilghman. Once again, there is no indication as to who filmed which scenes but there is a genuine look to the film which is gritty-yet-homely. There are many different colour palettes on show, with the streets of Philadelphia looking a lot brighter than usual. There are also different swipes, black-and-white images, and the use of slow motion at different points throughout the episode. The internal shots are filmed using a couple of different angles, with the editing cutting between the point-of-view shots and behind-the-shoulder shots, the camera however stays mainly static. The external shots are done differently with handheld techniques that see the camera following our trio on their adventures and these scenes flow quite naturally. The sound becomes a little distorted at times, and certain locations with echo prove to be more distracting than others, but the music and soundtrack help liven the film up and it moves along quite quickly. The opening rap song and the theme at the end provide us with a definite sense of time and place. We hear some familiar sound effects with a screaming ‘Oh no!’ and Darth Vader-style breathing being the standouts.
As pilots go, The Kingfish does its job by providing us with a couple of likable protagonists, a couple of dodgy antagonists, and thanks to an earthy and streetwise script by director Tab Edwards the possibility of some future fun storylines. The Kingfish is an interesting experiment that with a bit more of a budget could find its audience as a popular web series.