Monday, February 9, 2015

REVIEW. SABC1's new Uzalo telenovela is light on soap, heavy on conflict as a more 'mature' Soul City that's less preachy, more dramatic.

An eye-popping incident taking place on 11 February 1990 right at the beginning of SABC1's new local telenovela Uzalo - the SABC's and SABC1's very first foray into this soap-with-an-ending TV genre - will have viewers instantly hooked.

The proof of its power will however be whether the story can sustain viewer interest and viewership.

Uzalo starts tonight on SABC1 at 20:30 and the Stained Glass Pictures production set in KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal and filmed entirely in Durban pulls out all the stops and wastes no time in drawing the viewer in by quickly setting the convoluted scene and introducing the characters.

TV with Thinus was shown the first half hour episode of Uzalo which already ends on a cliffhanger and leaves you wanting to see more - the right end to the right beginning of a new prime time TV drama.

If anything, Uzalo was hyped and sold a bit wrong. It plays more like Skeem Saam than "powerful rival families fighting".

At its core Uzalo is the story of two young men who are the catalysts of the people's actions and the events unfolding around them.

Watch closely: The older people, grown-ups and others all react and respond to what the two young men in Uzalo are doing. Almost everyone of the older characters are "props" to a younger generation taking them to hospital, making shock announcements, asking difficult questions, behaving badly and canoodling in church.

A lot of Uzalo has somewhat of a grainy quality to it - fitting for the environment and setting of KwaMashu.

Although the telenovela has a religious element, there is another mystical element - almost supernatural - which forms part of another mystery that's introduced very early on in the premiere episode and which may or may not captivate viewers.

Will that secondary medical mystery be solved when the main "family secret" - a switcheroo - is (eventually, if ever) discovered?

Newcomers Khumbulani "Kay" Sibiya playing Ayanda and Naymaps Maphala playing Mxolisi are both suitably impressive.

The biggest surprise is however Nompilo Maphumulo, giving a very convincing performance as the sheltered daughter Nosipho Xulu.

The adult characters and the actors who portray them - some of them so-called "big names" like Leleti Khumalo - come across as flat. These one-dimensional, almost "clingy" characters might perhaps be fleshed out in further future episodes for which there's simply not time in a 22 minute first episode.

The interesting thing about Uzalo is that you cannot help but feel for some of the characters - perhaps the main thing that will bond viewers to keep watching. 

The overriding feeling the first episode of Uzalo leaves you with, is that you feel sorry for some of the characters. You're going to watch because you want to see them get better and get to a better place.

The debut episode of Uzalo has some breathtaking "scene stealing", scene-setting scenes outside and in the hills of KwaZulu-Natal. While there's some lighting oddities, none of the interior set scenes feel or look like soap sets (which they are). It feels real. 

There's also an unexpected, violent and bloody scene which makes Uzalo not suitable for younger viewers.

Uzalo's first episode (with subtitles) setting up the premise and a lot of tension and secrets as well as introducing pivotal characters feels solid. 

In a sense Uzalo is a more "mature" Soul City that's less educationally preachy and more dramatic - one that can hopefully be sustained for the over 300 episodes it is supposed to run.

ALSO READ: Uzalo set visit reveals some on-set secrets behind the scenes of SABC1's new KwaMashu telenovela.
ALSO READ: Uzalo, SABC1's new local telenovela says its not Generations: "We have a specific story to tell."