by Kristin Kurens
Issa Rae started the Awkward Black Girl series on YouTube, where she chronicles a life of being, well, awkward and black. HBO picked up Rae and Larry Wilmore’s Insecure, and Season 1 ran in 2016. Rae and crew take an unflinching and comedic look at life, from infidelity to the gender pay gap to gentrification to everything funny, awkward and salacious about sex. Rae’s personal experience of awkwardness gave her the tools to understand the human condition and write about it—quite well. Roles for women in film and television, especially black women, are often flat and one-dimensional. Rae, cast and crew bring a gravity to the screen that makes the laughs that much funnier and the painful moments that much more real. Season 1 is funny AF, and Season 2, hella honest. Rae and writers keep viewers piqued for more, the soundtrack is tight, and Rae and cast are always on point.
Catch up on Seasons 1 and 2 of Insecure on HBO. Season 3 should hit this summer.
I Love You, America
The streaming service Hulu is jumping into talk-show territory with the notoriously mouthy Sarah Silverman at the helm. With I Love You, America Silverman promises to take a good hard look at America and sometimes does so literally: Episode 1 featured both male and female full frontal nudity. That’s right—penis, breasts, and pubic hair streaming straight to televisions and smartphones. Silverman balances her penchant for raunchy humor with what’s current in America. She’ll absolutely push what she cares for, but she’s also willing to speak to those who aren’t necessarily on the same page in any sense—politically, financially, geographically.
Stream Season 1 episodes of I Love You, America on Hulu.
Orange Is the New Black
Jenji Kohan created Orange Is the New Black based on Piper Kerman’s memoir on serving time in a minimum-security federal prison. The story initially centered on Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) and her on-again/off-again girlfriend (and cause of her incarceration) Alex Vause (Laura Prepon). The beauty in OITNB is its ability to dive into the narratives of the surrounding inmates. Uzo Aduba as Crazy Eyes is outstanding. Danielle Brooks as Taystee leaves viewers wanting more. Laverne Cox, Natasha Lyonne, and Taryn Manning are just a few of the outstanding and deservedly woman-heavy cast. Kohan’s Weeds (Showtime) spiraled into chaos, and Season 5 of OITNB followed the same course. How far is Kohan willing to go with the women of Lichfield Penitentiary? With a few seasons to go (Netflix signed on for seven), Kohan and crew still have some room to play.
Stream Seasons 1–5 of Orange Is the New Black now on Netflix.
She’s Gotta Have It
The stunning DeWanda Wise hits Netflix in Spike Lee’s updated reboot of She’s Gotta Have It. A Brooklyn artist shares her lovin’ bed with a bevy of lovers. Lee missed the mark in a few places in the film version, but is finding a better beat, thanks to the information age and the keen eye of art consultant Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Nola Darling is fleshed out into a three-dimensional human: artist, woman, daughter, lover, teacher. Lee fans will recognize Joie Lee (Lee’s sister) from the original film version (1986) as Nola’s mother. Street-art connoisseurs will recognize the influence of real-life street artist Fazlalizadeh, the creator of “Stop Telling Women to Smile.” Wise deftly plays the Nola Darling of today—all the triumphs and all the trials. The show has been renewed, and Season 2 will hit “as soon as heavenly possible,” according to the show’s official social media account.
Watch Season 1 of She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix now.
Stand-up comedian Maria Bamford’s ambitions for de-stigmatizing mental health through comedy came to Netflix in 2016. Lady Dynamite, created by Pam Brady and Mitch Hurwitz, took inspiration loosely from Bamford’s life (see Bamford’s raw version from the mid-aughts on YouTube). In Season 1, the show split between multiple timelines, giving viewers a trippy, hilarious, strange and heartening look at the struggles of bipolar disorder. In Season 2, the timeline shifts return. Bamford’s mental health is in the spotlight again, along with her love life. The second season also takes aim at the platform of her show: Netflix. The execs at Netflix recently declined to renew Lady Dynamite for a third season. Bamford spoke frankly in an interview with Variety about the issues of making a comedy about mental illness for profit and the grueling hours on set (not exactly prime conditions for someone with mental health issues).
Stream Seasons 1 and 2 of Lady Dynamite on Netflix now.
About the author: Kristin Kurens is a writer, editor, and artist. She thrives on words, music, art, and aiding the verbally challenged. In her free time she writes fiction, paints, travels, imbibes—always in pursuit of the authentic and strange.