In an ocean of Peak TV, there are two things that can stand out to weary viewers. One is a miniseries or anthology format; the time investment is not 22 episodes a season or 65 episodes previous to catch up with. You know that a complete story will be told, and there’s something satisfying in that. The other thing is shaking up old formats, not necessarily as a gimmick, but telling a story in a unique way. OWN’s new series Cherish the Day checks both boxes easily in terms of fostering interest, but whether it can sustain it is uncertain.
Cherish the Day chronicles the story of Gently James (Xosha Roquemore) and Evan Fisher (Alano Miller), two Los Angelenos from very different backgrounds. Her father was killed on the streets, Evan’s parents sent him to Stanford. Gently is a caregiver to an elderly actress (played by the incredible Cicely Tyson), while Evan rises in the ranks of LA’s biggest tech company. But after a chance meeting at a library, the two see something special in one another that they just can’t shake.
Each of the first season’s eight episodes follows them through one day of their courtship, from a rocky first date to a redemption for them both, to meeting the parents and eventually an engagement (as of the first four episodes available for critics). Taking place over five years, it cuts out a lot of the smaller stuff in between, and yet, that means it also cuts out some of the best ways for us to really get to know Gently and Evan both as individuals and as a couple. Because Cherish the Day is only hitting the highlights (or lowlights) of major moments in their relationship, the dialogue can feel stilted from exposition that isn’t always needed, and too often slips into far too familiar and tropey territory. It’s ok to just let them be.
The series was created and produced by Ava DuVernay, and it shares some narrative and stylistic sensibilities with her other OWN series, Queen Sugar. But Queen Sugar also gives us time to know its Bordelon family in between explanations of the past and a clear desire to comment on current events, whereas Cherish the Day does too much hand-holding in terms of what it wants us to feel and where it wants us to be when it comes to particular emotional beats. It also flattens out the show’s other characters and even some of Gently and Evan’s big moments as well. While Gently’s relationship with her “uncles”—who took her in after her father was killed and her mother took off—is unique, funny, and heartwarming, Evan’s stuck-up family is all incredibly rote. And neither Gently’s best friend nor Evan’s sister or brother-in-law make any kind of impression.
What helps the series is that its leads are very charming, which is essential. Though we’re too often told and not shown the reason for this intangible bond between Gently and Evan, Roquemore and Miller provide believable chemistry—in between each episode’s many pointed narrative stops, not all of which feel earned. The show is at its best when it slows down and relaxes, like in an extended sequence of the couple at Evan’s apartment listening to music, or flirting at an arcade. Seeing the two of them doing simple things together—their hands brushing against one another during an impromptu bowling trip, or them imitating a Jamaican couple in a fight—feels genuine and grounded, as do some of their arguments. But too often, the story seems forced to comply with the concept of the show (of each installment only lasting one day, which is reinforced with time stamps) rather than letting the show be a series of vignettes, or even taking bigger time jumps that might have shown more growth or change with the characters at different stages of life.
Though Cherish the Day is interesting, it’s also messy. The show opens with extended sex scenes of Gently and Evan casually hooking up with others and not wanting to stay the night, as if to suggest they are two people who are uninterested in relationships. But that’s not true at all, especially in Evan’s case, and they don’t meet directly after that. It’s a very sexy but odd way to start the show, because it doesn’t ultimately reveal anything special about our leads. It does, however, speak to the series’ uncertainty with how much it wants to show versus how much it wants to tell.
Still, there are two moments in a crowded fourth episode (one that takes some odd detours), that highlight the series at its best. One is Evan having an unplanned breakfast with all of Gently’s uncles, as they talk about caring for her as she grew up. “It takes a village,” they note, and the exchange reads as both warm and informative just by observing the nature of their friendships. The second is when Gently admits to Evan that she was pulling away because of her trust issues, which is one of the (if not the) first times Gently actually admits vulnerability. Both are meaningful exchanges that the show could have used more of. Like Evan overthinking a short hike by packing every conceivable thing, Cherish the Day tries too hard to guide us in how we’re supposed to feel, instead of—like Gently—letting us run headfirst down the path to admire a splendid flower, discovering it on our own.
Cherish the Day premieres Tuesday, February 11th on OWN.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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