Sunday, January 29, 2023

How Harlem’s Amazon TV Show Beats Sex and the City

HBO’s Sex and the City returns next week with the release of And Just Like That …, a limited-edition reboot of a 90s comedy about four single women making love and careers in New York City. But this review is not about that show — or Girls, Run Peace, or any other show that has transformed “a comedy about four single women making love and careers in New York City” into a familiar television series.

Black Women from Harlem, the 10-episode comedy that premieres on Amazon Friday, is decades younger than Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte — and several zip codes. (Samantha, absent from And Just Like That … apparently landed back in LA) But they still eloquently wander and drunkenly stumble in the footsteps of those 20th century pioneers who drank Cosmopolitan. The question is, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology Camilla (Megan Goode); successful creator of the queer dating app Ty (Jerry Johnson); Quinn Trust Fund Fashion Designer (Grace Byers); and unemployed singer and actor Shoniqua Shandai have something to add to their Sisterhood in the City program.

Answer: Definitely, although the awkward pilot episode of Harlem might make you believe otherwise. The characters at first seem to be cast in the same way that HBO used over 20 years ago: Camilla is a responsible person who thinks too much, yearns for her ex, and makes the wrong choice when she doubts herself. (She’s also on the move, which she can’t help but recall Carrie Bradshaw’s voice acting for the series.) Ty is a disciplined, confident businesswoman with commitment issues. Quinn still openly believes in true love, even in the world of scam dating apps. And Angie doesn’t have an edit button, especially when it comes to men, sex, men and more.

But Harlem, created by Rides for Girls writer Tracey Oliver, ultimately has much more to offer than a modern black overlay on a beloved yet very white series. Each character becomes more interesting as the series progresses through strong character development and poignant writing, and the chemistry between the performers becomes the nexus that keeps the show alive as women become entangled in corresponding disasters in each other’s relationships and work dilemmas. For example, Angie might be a pro freeloader, constantly lounging on Quinn’s couch, eating her food, and using her Uber account. But when Quinn rips off a bad date on Long Island (adding insult to injury), Angie appears as a superhero. (Harlem is also changing the girl in town formula by adding a gay character to Ty’s inner circle.)

Woman Singing On Stage

Shonikwa Shandai at Harlem.

(Sarah Schatz / Amazon)

It also underscores the limitations of SATC’s discolored New York: some of Harlem’s most engaging conversations and scripts involve the characters’ different, but not static, representations of Black – culturally, personally, and comically. And the ennobling of Harlem is also part of the story. Locals get prices outside the area and attractions are snapped up in chain stores: “Do you think we’ll live long enough to see Sephora go back to being a jazz club?” one friend asks another.

But “Harlem” is not drowning in its public consciousness. Camilla is thrilled to have a black woman (Whoopi Goldberg) as the new head of her department in Columbia until she discovers she has to jump through as many – if not more – hoops to impress her. The young professor is organizing an anti-gentrification rally to impress her boss, but before speaking, she must correct the previous speaker’s impassioned statement: “No, black men did not invent food,” she tells the crowd.

Dating provides more of the witty jokes that make this show popular. The up-and-coming romantic Quinn continues to catch felines, so when she finally video-chat with a real flesh-and-blood man, her friends greet her. Then they stop and assess the reason for the joyous outburst: “This is a sad day for society, when all a man needs to do is [to be good] exists. “


Where: Amazon Prime

When: Anytime from Friday

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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