The marching band at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, the Marching Storm, knows how to put on a show. If only March, The CW documentary series that follows them, did too.
I know how well they perform because I’ve watched some of their performances on YouTube. There are only the briefest of clips in the first episode of the show, the only one of the eight episodes I’ve seen.
Yes, March has access to one of the country’s best HBCU marching bands and it just does not seem all that interested in the actual marching band.
That episode includes a few scenes of practices, where there’s undeniable athleticism and hard work happening. But what, exactly, are they practicing, and why? The show doesn’t explain much.
People do tell us about the competitiveness between HBCU bands, how the drum majors’ performances are different from other marching bands, and why there’s pressure to perform during their impending homecoming performance.
The problem with March (The CW, Mondays at 8), as a TV show, is that we rarely see any of this. We just watch people—mostly the bands’ members, all college students—talking about it.
Thankfully, they’re compelling enough to make for a watchable first hour.
Some of the students we meet in March’s first episode are student leaders, while others aspire leadership positions, and a few are trying to find their way back into band.
They’re introspective and open about their challenges—and they’re also college students, some of whom walk around wearing their masks on their chins.
They joke and tease and challenge each other. Nehemiah, who wants to be drum major, has taken a direct approach by screaming his disappointment at his fellow band members (“Go full out! I’m not going to say this again: go full out!”) so a friend tries to help him understand what he needs to do if he wants to be a leader. “You have to learn how to talk to people,” Aaron says.
Kaylan, a senior who’s captain of the dance squad, the Black Foxes, tells one of her friends and fellow Black Foxes that “no one really, truly understands what I go through until you’re in my shoes. Ya’ll not getting phone calls at 4:00 saying, Kaylan, why does the team look like this?, or you think you’re doing a good job but then you’ve got the coach and your directors in the back of your head and in your ear five minutes before practice starts,” she says. “That’s stressful. And then on top of that, you’ve got school, you’ve got a long distance relationship that’s out of the way, just being in this world. And it takes a toll on somebody.”
As moving as that conversation is, I wish March would surround it with more: more about who Kaylan is, more time actually showing Kaylan leading the Black Foxes, more that illustrates the toll it takes on her.
Later in the episode, Dr. Zachery, the director of bands, meets with a student, Martayvia, in his office, and she asks if she can rejoin the band. It’s an emotional conversation that shifts into quasi-therapy.
“I think that your sacrifices for band are more than things that you sacrifice for you,” Dr. Zachery tells her. “If you would put that energy in you, guess how different your life would be. At some point, you’re going to have to find some value in self—the same value that you find in the Marching Storm.”
It’s quite a powerful moment, but again, one that would land more if we knew more about Martayvia, and Dr. Zachery, and what happened and when and why.
Of course, it’s impossible to show us what happened prior to the cameras arriving, and they undoubtedly don’t have 24/7 access to all 300-something members of the band.
But it’s hard not to just want to spend more time with the characters and to get to know them. And I’m curious if March will eventually develop an overarching point or argument about what we’re seeing.
A recent show that was also set on a college campus, Netflix’s Deaf U, spent more time with its characters living their lives, although it was mostly interested in the soapy interpersonal drama.
I suspect March wants to be more like two Netflix shows that follow college athletes, Cheer and Last Chance U, which both excel at craft and storytelling in a way that March just does not. Perhaps that’s a budget or time issue, or access, or network directives, or some combination of those things.
That marching band at an HBCU has its own broadcast reality TV series is outstanding, and the cast members we meet in the first episode are compelling and talented people. They and their fellow band members deserve a stronger showcase than March gives them.
The students who are part of PVAMU’s Marching Storm are compelling and deserve a stronger showcase for their work in the band. B–
What works for me:
- The scenes of students helping their fellow band members and friends
- The show’s selection of characters to focus on
What could be better:
- The show’s editing
- More development of the characters
- More time showing us the band’s craft, and helping us understand what they’re doing