When someone is an immortal talent, there will always be vultures. This anthology series could have been much more than the sounds of scraping a carcass. Instead, it is Aretha Franklin as embalmed by her record label. All that’s left of Franklin’s genius, which is what this National Geographic series purports to showcase after all, is a set of postures. Cynthia Erivo spends her performance as Franklin mouthing tepid slogans into news cameras, changing her outfit to signal a series of political awakenings that don’t stick, sassing producers and other gatekeeping white guys before largely doing a version of what they told her to do, and gliding through soulless reenactments of the big hits. The hokeyness of the dialogue hammers home how no one involved with this project must have known what either a musician or an activist does or sounds like. Watching the news with her sister in 1970 moves Erivo to proclaim, “Mass incarceration, racial injustice, it just makes me wanna holler!” Her sister warns her not to get too radical, to which Erivo answers, “I am going to record a protest album.” This is how people talk when they need to keep the plot moving because there are eight hours of it to get through. Each hour-long episode is a hash of stardom-era Franklin quoting her Wikipedia page and disordered black-and-white glimpses back to the singer’s childhood—Shaian Jordan plays “Little Re,” whose singing is presented as a divine blessing so profound that, in one ill-conceived scene, it floods the monochrome auditorium of her father Rev. C.L. Franklin’s church with sudden washes of color. Courtney B. Vance lends the C.L. character a lot of depth; his scenes with Erivo are high points of the series, as so much passes unsaid between the erring pastor and his child. But he does such a great deal of erring and lying and bad-guying that there’s only so much pathos to be wrung out of the relationship.

Because the world can never have enough biopics, there will be another Aretha Franklin movie later this year, Respect, starring Jennifer Hudson and Forest Whitaker. MGM is producing it, who unlike Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment venture don’t appear to have signed a $100 million deal with Warner Music Group to juice the label’s legacy intellectual properties on screen for the rest of eternity. This dud of a show is the first fruit of that partnership. Whether who gets to tell the story should be the same people that own everything or not, this particular outing adds nothing to either our understanding or our appreciation of the genius it portrays, which has to be the point of making such things at all. Unless the point is to chase streams for the Warner vault for a month, which it might very well be.