The Wu-Tang Origin Story on Hulu Ain’t Nothin’ to Fuck With
Four months ago, Showtime aired the superbly-titled Wu-Tang Clan documentary Of Mics and Men. Now Hulu is dropping the first season of a dramatized Wu story, Wu-Tang: An American Saga. There was room for both Ali and When We Were Kings back in the ‘90s, so why not a Wu-naissance? Hulu’s kicking it as old school as a streaming service can, releasing an episode per week, on what they’re calling Wu-Wednesdays. Like most good hustlers, Hulu kicked out the tasty first three episodes to hook people.
While “Wu-AAS” promises to eventually tell the tale of the entire group, it centers on mastermind producer RZA. The real-life RZA is the first-season showrunner and co-wrote the first three episodes with Superfly”rebooter Alex Tse. At the beginning of the show, RZA is still Bobby (Alton Sanders, sensitive as Chiron in Moonlight, calculating but still sensitive here), a teen too distracted by dreams of a music career to effectively deal drugs with his brother, Divine (Julian Elijah Martinez). RZA/Bobby is loyal to childhood friend, Sha/later Raekwon (Shameik Moore, trying his best not to be too pretty), but Sha’s in a crew that’s beefing with Dennis/later Ghostface Killah (Siddiq Saunderson) and RZA’s own brother. (For Wu fans, finding out that Sha and Raekwon were enemies almost feels like a weird retcon.)
Sha does a drive-by on Dennis, stores a Tec-9 in a crate of RZA’s records, and the fuse is lit. The symbolism may be a bit clunky but we have our set-up: pre-music biz, teen Wu-Tang members try to survive the streets, come together, and find a better life. It could be called “Wu-Tang Babies.” RZA, if Hulu’s handing out that Disney money, make “Wu-Tang Babies” happen.
If you didn’t get all that, don’t worry. You don’t have to like or care about Wu-Tang to enjoy the show. They plunge into 1980s Staten Island without stopping to explain who each character is or will be, but it doesn’t really matter. After all, you didn’t have to actually know the name of the mayor of Baltimore to get The Wire.
While “AAS” is trying to tell the Wu’s whole backstory, they’re taking their time covering a lot of ground. If you wondered what a Wu-Tang version of The Silmarillion would be like, here it is. After three episodes, GZA’s just shown up, no Inspectah Deck, and only a little bit of Method Man. It’s mostly a crime show, but it’s invigorating when it transforms into a music show. The filmmakers might feel it, too. The camera is most alive in RZA’s basement studio, circling the space, cutting angles as he works a turntable or a mixing board. It’s also an origin story, and I’m always impatient for those to get to the real work.
“Wu-Tang: AAS” takes you back to a pre-stage name time when the Wu were just trying to scrape enough together for a Casio drum machine. These days, for roughly $2,000.00, Raekwon and Method Man will sweat on you in San Antonio. That’s the going ticket price for a pair of orchestra row seats close enough to smell the bringing of the ruckus for the 25th Anniversary Tour commemorating the release of “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).” Cash rules everything around me, indeed.