‘Emperor of Ocean Park’ Review

'Emperor of Ocean Park' Review

The Big Picture

  • Judge Oliver Garland’s legacy is explored posthumously by his children in the new MGM+ series
    Emperor of Ocean Park
    , unveiling hidden secrets and dark truths.
  • Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Garland shines amid lackluster performances by the rest of the cast.
  • The series delves into racism and justice but struggles with pacing due to unnecessary subplots, making it too lengthy.

“Honor, duty, and justice.” These are the three pillars that Judge Oliver Garland (Forest Whitaker) enforces as a parent as well as the main principles he vows to uphold as a federal representative in the legal system. Yet, throughout the course of Emperor of Ocean Park, it becomes clear that these three words aren’t as reflective of the renowned (and controversial) judge or his family. Especially in the wake of Oliver’s sudden death, as the deceased leaves behind the key to unlocking all of his darkest sins. Based on Stephen L. Carter‘s best-selling novel, this MGM+ production has hints of Greenleaf and Tyler Perry thrillers, balancing family melodrama and race inequality with an ongoing mystery. Entertaining to an extent, the series soon loses its spark due to its prolonged runtime and its less compelling subplots involving Oliver’s three surviving children.

Emperor of Ocean Park (2024)

The Emperor of Ocean Park is a mystery thriller series based on Stephen L. Carter’s novel. It follows law professor Talcott Garland, whose life is disrupted by his father’s sudden death. Former journalist Mariah Denton suspects foul play, believing the judge, a failed Supreme Court nominee, was murdered.

Release Date
July 14, 2024

Main Genre


Stephen Carter

What Is ‘Emperor of Ocean Park’ About?

After a failed attempt to secure a spot on the Supreme Court given his relationship with a former war criminal named Jack Ziegler (Torrey Hanson), Judge Oliver Garland decides to venture out of the legal system to display his conservative beliefs as a commentator on Fox News. By the end of his life, the character’s legacy becomes a mixed bag, with some remembering him for his qualities and others celebrating his demise. Upon his death, Talcott (also known as “Tal,” played by Grantham Coleman) finds a handwritten letter from his father leaving him in charge of “the final arrangements.” Uncertain what these arrangements might be (or why so many people, including Jack, are after them), the character must investigate Oliver’s belongings and reminisce on moments that they’ve shared, hoping for clarity. While Tal is busy trying to balance his own family drama and carry out his father’s dying wish, his sister Mariah (Tiffany Mack) suspects that the judge’s death wasn’t due to a heart attack like the autopsy led them to believe. As a former investigative journalist, she utilizes some of her skills for finding sources and proof to help her understand whether her conspiracy theory has some truthfulness to it.

Forest Whitaker Outshines ‘Emperor of Ocean Park’s Ensemble

For a production that has Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker playing a character that is dead from Episode 1, only appearing in flashbacks throughout the season, it is incredible to see how layered his performance is here. Throughout his life, Oliver harbored strong opinions and was adamant about keeping his family upright, despite his children always questioning his blunt advice and occasional interventions. Like Tal and Mariah, who are only now finding out who their father truly was behind closed doors, viewers also get to pick apart this complex character and what motivated his wrongdoings. From a family man to a strong-willed judge to a public figure with a shady track record that has yet to be disclosed, Whitaker effectively taps into Oliver’s multiple facets, making his performance deep and purposeful.

Whitaker’s presence also outshines the cast playing the judge’s offspring, who do what they can with a script that doesn’t favor their characters to the same extent. Coleman’s Tal is an insecure law professor at the University of Chicago whose marriage is hanging by a thread. Although it is later explained why he becomes entitled to the “final arrangements,” the character doesn’t grow at all from his father’s funeral to the finale. The same can be said about Mariah, a wealthy mother of five who resents giving up on her career after getting married. Although this investigation allows her to go back to a profession she missed dearly, Mariah’s individualistic nature and sense of entitlement make the character hard to root for. The least compelling of the bunch is Addison (played by Henry Simmons), Oliver’s eldest son, who is as shallow as can be and tries his best to push back on helping his siblings with their quest for answers. When these three occupy the screen, their personalities seem dim in comparison to the force that is their father.

‘Emperor of Ocean Park’ Poses Important Discussions, But Overstays Its Welcome

Despite the fact that Tal, Mariah, and Addison do not have the same level of construction as the Garland patriarch, Emperor of Ocean Park does have a strength worth noting. As the story unravels from past to present, the discourse on racism brings substance to a plot that isn’t groundbreaking. While pressured to find the arrangements, Tal faces discrimination in several instances, even dealing with police brutality and getting wrongfully accused of crimes he didn’t commit. At the beginning of the series, Mariah even has to clap back at the school principal after a student calls her son “Jim Crow” and isn’t punished for his actions. Through these moments of prejudice and injustice, the show questions the world’s flawed notions of what is and isn’t fair. A particular flashback of Oliver and Tal as their younger selves at a chess competition speaks volumes on this topic.

However, aside from this, the series’ length does become tiresome. Whereas some network TV shows are able to craft seasons with 20+ episodes that feel engaging from start to finish, this 10-episode MGM+ original feels prolonged by subplots that deviate from the focus on the mystery at hand. The best moments in the show are toward the end when the truth starts to come to light through longer flashback sequences, and we get to see the main reason why Oliver took a dark turn. Although a novel has the space to focus on tapping into several side stories and character studies, an onscreen adaptation can be negatively impacted if it tries to include more than what is necessary when making a thrilling murder mystery. Emperor of Ocean Park is an example of adding more to what could’ve easily been reduced to eight episodes.

Powered by Whitaker’s performance and pertaining commentary on racism, this series is enjoyable at times and too lengthy at others. That said, if you don’t mind a slow-pacing mystery with a few twists and turns that don’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, Emperor of Ocean Park will make a good companion. The adaptation created by Sherman Payne is an ideal watch for those who aren’t necessarily seeking a mind-blowing thriller, but rather something entertaining enough to hit play on when unsure what to queue up next.



Emperor of Ocean Park (2024)

Emperor of Ocean Park’s mystery is bettered by Forest Whitaker’s performance and racism discussions, but its slow-burn pacing drags out more than necessary.


  • Forest Whitaker brings nuance to his portrayal of Judge Oliver Garland.
  • The series tackles racism in a way designed to create post-watch conversation.

  • The main trio of siblings do not compare to the force that is their father in the show.
  • The series could’ve been condensed to eight episodes, instead of 10.

Emperor of Ocean Park will premiere in three parts, with the first arriving on MGM+ in the U.S. on Sunday, July 14.

Watch on MGM+

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