Harlem Review – Girls Trip Creator’s Amazon Series Is A Mixed Bag | Television


I I don’t want to start this review by talking about Insecure, Issa Rae’s flagship comedy on HBO about four black teens 20-30 in LA that paved the way for black female friendship onscreen and built a pipeline for black creatives. Amazon’s Harlem, a 10-episode four-thirty-something black series set in legendary New York City created by Girls Trip writer Tracy Oliver, should be measured on its own merits.

But it’s hard not to match each other, from the animated soundtrack to sleek wardrobes and similar themes – the lingering question of an ex who has maybe or maybe not being evolved, dating apps, annoying white people, parental pressure. Insecure echoes in the dynamics of the Harlem group: the engaged but endearing protagonist, the careerist afraid of being vulnerable, the neurotic romantic, the saucy and shameless police of comic relief.

Which isn’t to say Harlem is just a reset from Insecure in New York; the half-hour series is an easy, sometimes fun, and sometimes intriguing watch that treads the still undervalued ground of single women in their 30s. But with characters whose songs wear out, punchlines that often boil down to excitement, and explanations of racist dynamics that seem like they’ve pulled from an Instagram slideshow, Harlem often tests the limits of representation as justification.

The show’s quartet, like the group on Insecure, are best friends from their college days (swap Stanford for NYU) over 10 years ago. Camille (Meagan Good) is a beautiful, headstrong but chronically awkward assistant professor of anthropology at Columbia eager for a permanent position, validation and another photo with her ex, Ian (P Valley’s Tyler Lepley), who unexpectedly returns to the neighborhood after several years abroad. Tye (Jerrie Johnson) is the most financially secure of the bunch, the lesbian mascot founder of a dating app for queer people of color whose icy exterior protects an intense aversion to vulnerability.

Quinn (Empire’s Grace Byers) struggles to keep her sustainable fashion line afloat, going to great lengths to find a man and avoid asking for more money from her rich and mocking mother (Jasmine Guy); Like Tiffany from Insecure, she’s the Type A fashionista of the group, whose demanding standards and desperation (going to Long Island for a disastrous 11pm date, in one episode) provide a ridiculous contrast to her friends. . Quinn financially supports Angela (newcomer Shoniqua Shandai), trying to revive her singing career after being sacked from a recording contract five years ago; Like Insecure’s famous Kelli, Angie is taller, louder, more brash than her friends – perpetually horny, perpetually seeking, the scorching and gloriously self-confident delivery girl of punchlines with relatively less development of punchlines. character.

Over the season, the group navigates tribulations that are universal – dating, career setbacks, communication issues – and neighborhood-specific: the gentrification of Harlem, the limited availability of single black men, the tense dynamic of interracial dating. in a predominantly black neighborhood. . The show can be enjoyable – the contagious quartet chemistry, the intriguing if at times overkill twists, the many reliable and sexy men, the hip soundtrack, and the never-boring outfits. Lepley and Good’s chemistry is more than enough to root a reunion that would sure cause a lot of trouble for a lot of people, especially his British fiancée.

But the show sometimes feels puzzled by what to do beyond calling its representation policy. There is something to be exploited in the “shortage of men in real life”, but the points come together in an awkward comparison with a tribe of women in Asia studied by Camille, and the “queen yassss” literally. Harlem is most interesting when the easy assumptions of righteousness are complicated: when Camille learns of the gentrification bistro she protests (only to impress her new boss, played by Whoopi Goldberg, who despises Camille’s fame on social media) has hired Ian as his chef. Or when Tye’s just worry about dating a white woman collides with her fear of emotional intimacy, or Angie’s desperation to be a singer meets the reality of a Get Out Broadway musical. (Sunken Place song and dance included).

A scene from Tracy Oliver’s new Harlem series on Amazon. Photography: Sarah Shatz

As a white critic, I am wary of evaluating a shameless show’s politics for and about black women. But the show’s didactic handling of racism – from Camille’s monologue about the strong black woman’s trope to Tye’s struggle for callous white doctors to take her abdominal pain seriously – seems oddly aimed at white audiences, and, in fact, in particular, to white liberal guilt. Regardless of intent or effect, the show’s overt representational goals don’t cover characters who, for most of the ten episodes available for review, get stuck in the rut of a few largely sketched characteristics.

The eighth episode of the series, which takes place five years in the past, explores the decisions that refract the rest of the season, providing a welcome backdrop to every woman’s constant snags and regrets. At the end of the season, there’s a lot of material to grow up on and from, and good reason to give Harlem a second season to do so.

The answer to “how could portrayal get better in Hollywood” is often more – more characters, more shows, more scripts, more opportunities. It’s undeniably a good thing that characters like Camille, Tye, Quinn and Angie are messy, by turns boring and attractive protagonists, for female friendship to be the backbone, for a show like Harlem to exist. and evolves. I just wish the character development would keep pace with the gradual founding of the series.


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