In the spirit of full disclosure, my first pass at “Asbury Park,” the story of a young man’s life after being released from jail, left me lukewarm, puzzled, and somewhat disenchanted. Producer/director/writer Al Thompson serves up a three-part narrative, yielding what could be viewed initially as a very unsatisfactory conclusion, ending on a final note that hits like an unintentional press of the stop button. A second view of this drama gave me a different perspective, allowing me to understand the depth and layers of this short, yet powerful, drama.
Thompson, whose ValDean Entertainment creates and distributes webisodes created by African American artists, successfully delivers a story that speaks frankly to issues of family, forgiveness, and second chances. Colin, fresh out of jail following a two-year sentence for vehicular manslaughter, returns to his home in Asbury Park (that’s in New Jersey, by the way) where he attempts to come to grips with the real-world aftermath of his crime. My first viewing left me with far too many unanswered questions and vague inferences. However, on second sight, much of the plot subtleties clicked into place, resulting in a greater understanding of Thompson’s message. While “Asbury Park” focuses on the plight of a family in a distinctly urban setting, its impact should resonate with audiences from all walks of life.
Al Thompson has developed a fascinating venture with his production and distribution company — one that speaks to the emergence of a medium that offers frictionless opportunities for new “TV” projects that appeal to underserved audiences. ValDean Entertainment is focused on giving voice to African American writers, directors, and producers. A number of their offerings are generally targeted to ethnic audiences, while others are more universal in their appeal. One series that features Thompson as an actor is “Lenox Avenue,” a heavily-promoted, risqué soap opera about a group of friends who live in Harlem. Some episodes feature nudity and implied sex; all of the ones I sampled contained coarse language. Is Thompson using stereotypical behavior of urban young men as a plot device or is it his way of “being real?” To be honest, I am undecided.
Web series, such as “Asbury Park” are proof positive that next-generation TV programs will give new talent a showcase to entertain audiences and provide content for diverse tastes. Thompson is to be admired for his pioneering spirit, but I caution him to avoid confusing exploitation with creative vision.