Otis Williams, founding member of The Temptations, wears chucks in this TV miniseries.
The 1960’s were a revolutionary time in America. This era saw the rise of soul music from artists like Aretha Franklin, The Spinners, Sam Cooke, and more. However one behemoth of a label rose above the rest and became the standard for what we call R&B and Soul music. The melodies and harmonies of Motown Records have stood the test of time and have made household names of acts like Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, The Jackson 5, The Four Tops, and of course, The Temptations. The TV miniseries The Temptations follows the lives and careers of one of Motown’s most successful groups. Based on the book of the same name, the two part series chronicles the groups early struggles, rise to fame, infighting, lineup changes, and subsequent fall. Originally airing in 1998 on NBC, the show stars Charles Malik Whitfield, D. B. Woodside, Terron Brooks, Christian Payton, and Leon Robinson as the “Classic Five” lineup of The Temptations.
An early version of The Temptations sings “Earth Angel” to a group of girls.
The show opens on a teenage Otis Williams (Whitfield) and Al Bryant (Chaz Lamar Shepherd) going to a show that features one of Otis’ favorite groups, The Cadillacs. After seeing this show, Otis decides to dedicate his life to music, and vows to be a performer like the ones he just saw. Six months later, Otis has a doo wop group, but they’re having trouble getting noticed. They soon enlist the talents of bass singer Melvin Franklin (Woodside), and change their name to Otis Williams & the Siberians. This five piece group sings around their high school, catching the eye of Johnnie Mae Matthews, the owner of a local recording studio. She declares herself the group’s new manager and producer, also changing their name to Otis Williams and the Distants. The group enters the local talent show, where they encounter Paul Williams (Payton) and Eddie Kendricks (Brooks), aka The Primes. They also meet The Primes’ sister group, The Primettes which consists of the future members of The Supremes. The Distants and The Primes/Primettes all perform for a crowd that includes Motown CEO Berry Gordy, and Motown legend Smokey Robinson. Gordy offers Otis a tryout for Motown, but most of The Distants quit after not getting paid for the night by Johnnie May. This leaves Otis, Melvin, and Al to join up with Paul and Eddie to form a supergroup for the Motown audition. They change their name to The Temptations, and are signed after a successful performance of “Oh Mother Of Mine”. However, success does not come quickly for the group. They soon gain the nickname of The “Hitless” Temptations around the label, and their lack of success leads to Al leaving the group. He is soon replaced by fellow Motown singer David Ruffin, which creates what would come to be known as the “Classic Five” lineup. The group records their first hit, “The Way You Do The Things You Do”, and begin to find the success that has long been alluding them. The group starts going on tour and recording hits like “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”, many of which feature Ruffin on lead vocals. This leads to David getting a massive ego, along with an addiction to drugs. Eventually, he pushes the group to far, and they vote to have him fired. The first part of the miniseries ends soon after Ruffin’s exit.
So many great stories in music start with singing on a corner.
The second part of the miniseries picks up with the addition of the newest Temptation, Dennis Edwards (Charles Lay). This is the beginning of the groups “Psychedelic Soul” Era, with them winning their first Grammy for the song “Cloud Nine”. However, David Ruffin has been appearing at shows unannounced and jumping on stage, stealing the show by singing his old songs. The group tells him that they’re not taking him back, and he goes off on his own solo career. During this time, Paul develops a drinking problem and Melvin is diagnosed with arthritis, both of which becoming increasingly debilitating over the coming years. This eventually leads to the group wondering if Paul should retire, at least for a while. Eddie is vehemently against this, as he believes that they would be turning their backs on Paul when he needs them most. Paul becomes well enough to sing again, and the Temptations record a new song called "Just My Imagination". Eddie quits the group after recording the song, when Paul is forced to retire from performing live. Soon after that, Paul tries to convince Otis that he is ok to rejoin the group, but Otis refuses when it becomes clear Paul is in no shape to perform. This leads to Paul falling into a depression, drinking again, and commiting suicide in a parking lot. The rest of the show follows the downturn of the group’s career, their move from Motown to Atlantic Records, and the subsequent 1982 Reunion Tour. The Classic Five’s final performance of “My Girl” is a touching and fitting conclusion to the show, with Otis saying the groups credo to close it out: “Temptations forever”.
Al and Otis look to spice up their look with a new hairstyle.
Taking place in the late 1950’s and 60’s, the show features plenty of good moments with chucks. The show opens on Otis running out of his house in a pair of black chucks, a pair which he wears throughout the group’s journey to get discovered. We also see Al and Melvin wear chucks during the same time period, with all three of them wearing chucks in a scene where the group performs the doo wop classic “Earth Angel”. This helps set the time and place of these characters in lats 50’s Detroit. The show is wonderfully acted by all five of the main Temptations, with Leon’s David Ruffin being a standout. The actors all have the moves and the vocal chops to pull off their respective roles, and that is a major reason why this miniseries works. The music itself is also a highlight, with the show covering the groups entire catalog, including some deep cuts. So if you're a fan of classic Motown and one of the greatest vocal groups of all time, The Temptations is a definite must watch.
Otis sneaks back into his house after attending a show.
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