The third and final installment of BET’s The New Edition Story miniseries was certainly the most heartbreakingly vulnerable. The first two parts were filled with entertaining drama, but Thursday night’s (Jan. 26) two-hour finale showcased the lowest moments for Ralph Tresvant, Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Johnny Gill and Ronnie DeVoe.
Amid onstage brawls, inflated egos that led to the platinum-selling group’s official breakup and their struggle to regain financial footing, the most shocking reveal was Bell’s drug addiction.
Played by Elijah Kelley, Bell first displayed his battle with substance abuse during the Home Again album cover shoot in 1996, where he washed down two pills with brown liquor. On the album’s accompanying tour in 1997 — during which the entire group was in debt — his addiction spiraled. Then, once New Edition splintered midway through the tour, Bell hit rock bottom, losing his house and other assets. “They’re garnishing my publishing,” he told his distraught wife. “There’s no more money.”
Bell eventually found support in a sobriety program, where he revealed that New Edition’s notoriously unresolved tension and constant in-fighting — a departure from their early glory days — was the root of his drug problem. “I’m addicted to a feeling, a feeling that I don’t think at this point in my life is coming back,” he said. “I guess that’s why I’m here. It’s to try to live outside that feeling.”
Relationships between the guys took an upturn when DeVoe (portrayed by Keith Powers) wed Shamari Fears (one-third of the R&B girl group Blaque). “I put y’all through a lot of s–t,” Brown told DeVoe at the reception. “We both know I’m the good, the bad and the ugly of New Edition, but you’ve always been the glue.”
Though New Edition patched up their tumultuous bond on-screen by the time they performed at BET’s Silver Anniversary Special in 2005, some underlying conflict still existed between some of the band members. And while those issues may not have resolved completely, Bell Biv DeVoe remains solid. The three-man crew released their long-awaited fourth studio album Three Stripes today (Jan. 27).
The vulnerability of Bell’s storyline in part three — along with the highs and lows of each NE member — is a testament to the film’s warts-and-all accuracy and the group’s real-life legendary status as survivors in the music industry. Rising above three decades of discord, the members were still able to produce an outstanding collection of hits, both individually and as a unit.
Already a bonafide ratings hit for BET, The New Edition Story easily stands up to such classic biopics as 1998’s The Temptations and 1992’s The Jacksons: An American Dream. Like New Edition’s music, the film will outlive this generation and the next.