SHANTY TOWN: Should you watch the gritty Nigerian movie?

There are just some shows where you look at them and think, “Is there anything positive that we can get out of watching this?”

We don’t ask for much; even if it gives us insight into how people in a certain part of the world live, that might be enough to carry us. But some shows are just grim and bleak, no matter how much we try to find something good to latch onto. A new Netflix series from Nigeria fits this description.

Opening Shot: Sunrise. “Shangisha Community, 2004.”

The Gist: A woman wakes up her twin teenage daughters, but before they can even get a morning prayer out, gangsters invade the neighborhood with automatic weapons. A man busts into the women’s shack and demands that the mom show her “contraband.” We’re not sure if that means something she trades or her body itself. As the family tries to escape the chaos and bloodshed, one of the sisters is shot, as is the man who helped them escape.

Eighteen years later, we see a group of shirtless men and women mixing and packaging drugs for the local kingpin, Scar (Chidi Mokeme). His business in Lagos’ Shanty Town isn’t just limited to drugs, though; he has many women working for him as sex workers, paying off debts that have been incurred by either themselves or their parents.

Meanwhile, Inem (Ini Edo), the twin that didn’t get shot in 2004, is about to be released from prison. She tells the head corrections officer that she’s going to go right back to being a prostitute when she gets out.

One of Scar’s women, Jackie (Mercy Eke), has paid off her debt to Scar and comes to him for her freedom. She celebrates with the other women that night, led by Ene (Nse Ikpe Etim), who acts as sort of a den mother to Scar’s prostitutes. During the party, Jackie encourages her friend Shalewa (Nancy Isime) to pay Scar off early by borrowing money from her. But when she brings an early payoff to Scar, all he does is get angry, threatens to kill her, and shows her that, with all the expenses she incurs (rent, food, payment for abortions and STI treatments), she actually owes him much more than she thinks.

Ene gets a call from Inem, asking her to pick her up from prison. Ene is shocked to hear from Inem, because Scar had told her years ago that Inem is dead. She tries to pay Inem to lay low, but Inem insists that she’s going to get back at Scar in Shanty Town, where she belongs.

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Shanty Town feels like a Nigerian take on The Wire.

Our Take: The word “grim” doesn’t begin to describe Shanty Town, as far as we’re concerned. We usually use that word when we describe apocalyptic shows where people are merely surviving from one zombie or other monster attack to the next. But the grimness here is more constant and relentless, with Scar presiding over a kingdom where violence dominates and the goal is to get as many poor people in servitude to one kingpin as possible.

Perhaps there will be shafts of light on the show, like the kind of new life Jackie will begin now that she is free of Scar’s clutches. And perhaps it’s illustrative of how bleak things are in shanty towns like the one we see in Lagos. But what we’re seeing is a world that’s relentlessly violent, where it seems no one, especially women, has their own say about how their lives are conducted.

There may be a little more to Inem’s return to Shanty Town than we realize. The CO at the prison calls her “Amanda,” and we wonder if Inem isn’t really who she says she is. Then again, that’s not made very clear, and the fact that Ene recognizes her means that the whole “Amanda” thing is about something completely different than what we’re thinking. And it may look like Inem’s twin got killed in 2004, but even that’s not certain. There are a lot of holes in the story that need to be filled, but we’re not willing to work through all the violence and grimness to find those answers.

Sex and Skin: Topless women help package drugs for Scar, and we see one of his minions give him a blowjob when he’s on the phone.

Parting Shot: Inem arrives in Shanty Town after Scar and his crew drive out.

Sleeper Star: We liked Nancy Isime as Shalewa, who shows lots of fear in the deference she has to Scar.

Most Pilot-y Line: Scar wears a knockoff Texas Rangers jersey through the first half of the episode. It’s so completely random it’s almost silly.