Words by Angela Sells
Photos via Stage13
The new Netflix series Marching Orders shows what it’s like being in a drumline—sort of.
The 12-episode 2017 Netflix docu-series Marching Orders showcases the life of those in a marching band from Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college in Florida. The show is a great idea, in theory, but its execution leaves something to be desired. Each episode is barely over ten minutes long, so, as writer Mark Dolan states in his Common Sense Media review, “the viewer [gets] little context about the band to keep . . . invested.” A consequence of this is that there is little time to develop sympathy toward any particular character and his or her musical journey. Though we are told within minutes of the first episode that the band was featured in the 2002 film Drumline, we are not told why; the legendary and historical talent of Bethune-Cookman is never explored.
That doesn’t mean the series is entirely without intrigue. There is a compelling competitive atmosphere, especially when the all-female dancers reach Bring It On proportions of drama during tryouts. While all of the drummers on the drumline are male, it is refreshing to see black men celebrated for their dedication, passion, and chops. Still, the scene editing is so quick that we are left with montages and quick-spliced images of other groups within the band to fill in the gaps.
Also, there are hundreds of moving pieces in the band, but we are rarely able to fully comprehend the impact that marching has on each student’s personal or collegiate life. Perhaps if each episode focused on one particular person’s experience at Bethune-Cookman, or one particular “activity” within the band, the series could shine.
One thing is for sure—in this marching band, there is an inspiration and unparalleled energy, and a commitment to the craft that pushes players’ bounds — mentally, physically, and emotionally.
This review is featured in Issue 35. Purchase a copy here.