“Godfather of Harlem” is a sobering look at what it’s like to be the city’s Robin Hood.
The premiere episode moved very quickly, likely simulating what it’s like to be confronted with change after 10 years away in prison. In the first scene, Forest Whitaker’s drug kingpin character Bumpy Johnson is seen leaving the legendary, loud Alcatraz prison. His loyal wife is there to pick him up, and something funny happens. As they drive by the famous Apollo, he is happy to see it’s still there but has to ask who headliner James Brown is.
His excited wife brings them to her new apartment, where a surprise party awaits. However, the joyous occasion seems to be more about the party goers instead.
Many at the party happily greet Bumpy, but they are quick to mention their issues and ideas— all of which are insinuated to need his funding. In his lifetime, Bumpy would often help residents in Harlem with costs that ranged from Thanksgiving turkeys to putting a child through college. But you can tell he is drained already from the self-serving conversations as he sneaks out the party early.
“Godfather” is a gem in that it gives viewers a historical context of New York in the late 60s. It’s unprecedented for any show or film to explore so much about Bumpy, including what it’s like to coexist in the streets with the Italian mafia. In Episode 1 Bumpy clashes with the Italians over territory they snatched from him during his prison stint. He’ll need better tactics, smarts, and manpower to reclaim what’s his. With so much at stake, the Episode 2 is likely to be very action-packed.
Another dynamic to watch out for will be the introduction of Bumpy’s relationship with Malcolm X. As the head of the Nation of Islam, his old friend Malcolm X seems to want drugs off the streets, and is happy to help fight off the mafia. You’ll have to watch the next episode to see how Bumpy leverages it all. He needs all the manpower he can get.
Watch Godfather of Harlem Sundays on EPIX.