Television icon Oprah Winfrey returns to the small screen tonight in a drama, Greenleaf, debuting on her network OWN. The series is about the various scandals and affairs of a bishop’s family in a Memphis megachurch, and it’s the media mogul’s first major scripted TV role in decades.
In the series, which was created by former Lost and Six Feet Under writer Craig Wright and executive produced by Winfrey, the former talk show host plays a recurring character, named Mavis McCready, who owns a music club.
For the most part, critics so far are loving Greenleaf. Though only a handful of critics’ reviews appear on the website RottenTomatoes, those that do are uniformly upbeat, giving the show a 100% “fresh rating” on the site as of Tuesday afternoon. In its review, the Los Angeles Times said Greenleaf “deserves high praise,” while Variety writes that the series “treats themes of faith and redemption with earnest intelligence.”
Here are what other critics wrote:
Entertainment Weekly: “[Greenleaf is] fresher, wiser, and more relevant than most shows that tackle spiritual matters, and it brings more people of color in more unique roles to TV. It’s provocative and progressive as religious pop but disappointing as wickedly delicious melodrama.”
The Hollywood Reporter: “It’s no surprise that Keith David, he of the unparalleled voice and the reliable ability to keep even theatrical performances from going too big, is perfectly cast as Bishop Greenleaf.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Oprah Winfrey is not the star of Greenleaf . . . But, she has the juiciest part, among a lot of juicy parts, in this soapy new drama series about a black megachurch in Memphis, Tenn.”
Variety: “[Greenleaf is] a classic nighttime soap, so all the staples of the genre are there: infidelity, substance abuse, a love triangle or two, greed, resentment, and vengeance.”
Meanwhile, in its positive review of Greenleaf, the Los Angeles Times also went out of its way to call out Winfrey’s five-year-old network for waiting until now to dip its toes into the realm of so-called “prestige television.”
According to the Times, Winfrey “wasted years and millions mucking around with all manner of ‘uplifting’ reality shows” before turning to an established show-runner like Tyler Perry for help (Perry created several series that have aired on OWN).
With Greenleaf, though, Winfrey appears to be putting more of a personal stamp on the content on her own network. Meanwhile, Winfrey’s return to the small screen is set to continue beyond Greenleaf, as OWN is also developing a series with Selma director Ava DuVernay called Queen Sugar, in which Winfrey also reportedly has an acting role. That series does not yet have an official premiere date.
Greenleaf debuts on OWN (short for the Oprah Winfrey Network and a joint venture between Discovery Communications (DISCA) and Winfrey’s Harpo Productions) on Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET, though the rest of the 13-episode season will run on Wednesday nights.
While OWN is reportedly the highest-rated cable network among African-American women, another new show that debuted on the network last fall, the documentary miniseries Belief, drew disappointing ratings.