Betty (HBO, Fridays at 11 p.m.) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, June 4th, 2020  

Betty

HBO, Fridays at 11 p.m.

May 01, 2020 Web Exclusive
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The rumble of skateboard wheels on concrete is one of the most soothing sounds in the world. This is the both the underscore and overlay for HBO’s six-part series, Betty. On the surface, Betty—which is a spin-off of the feature film, Skate Kitchen, created by Crystal Moselle—is about a group of skater girls in New York City. But the beautifully shot series is so much more.

Betty revolves around slightly tweaked versions of the same characters in Skate Kitchen, in a shifted timeline. Alternating between expert cinematography and Instagram stories-type hand-held shots, the five main characters’ world is painted wonderfully realistically. Moselle’s nuanced direction at times feels more like a docu-series than a scripted one. As a Generation Z-centered series, Betty is obliged to touch on current issues in that sphere, and it does, but it does so with natural dialogue and unaffected portrayals by the eminently likeable Dede Lovelace (“Janay”), Moonbear (“Honeybear”), Nina Moran (“Kirt”), Ajani Russell (“Indigo”), and Rachelle Vinberg (“Camille”).

Moran and Vinberg are the two real-life skaters Moselle overhead speaking on a subway train in New York, around whose lives she built Skate Kitchen and now, Betty—a negative-connotation nickname for girl skaters, smartly reclaimed by the series. Non-professional actors, they learned the art of playing fictionalized versions of themselves in Skate Kitchen and are settled into those roles on Betty. Friendships, relationships, family, loyalty, queerness, sexual assault, and drugs are explored in the half-hour episodes. But nothing is resolved in a formulaic way, wrapping up each episode in a predictable moral summary. Instead, the messages are subtle and delivered over the course of two or more episodes with a gradual unfolding that gives the viewer time to digest it, unrushed, in sync with the characters. 

While the multicultural and socially stratified characters themselves tick some requisite boxes—Kirt: queer tomboy girl, Camille: shy girl with glasses who shred on the board, Janay: outspoken girl, Indigo: rich girl who is hiding her financial status from her friends, Honeybear: quiet queer girl who hides behind a camera—they are still entirely unique and highly distinctive. This shows in their inventive hairstyles (including bleached out eyebrows), their sometimes wild makeup (think green mascara), their delightfully artful, possibly homemade accessories and colorful, personalized outfits, and in their distinctive ways of speaking.

Other than the stunning way it looks, there is nothing obvious about Betty. There is no agenda. There is no desperate attempt at virtue signaling or displaying wokeness. There is no misinterpretation of non-Zoomers trying to get into the heads of that generation and putting words in their mouths or misdirecting their actions. For a show that is so queer-friendly there is no man-bashing or overemphasis on girl power. There is no blocking of the girls by the boy skaters—although the girls do block Tony Hawk (who appears in a hilarious cameo) from being invited to their “All Girl Skate Sesh.” And it’s not about who has the best tricks, but about the joy that skating brings and the community that develops around it.

You don’t have to be a skater, know anything about skating, or be a Zoomer to enjoy Betty. Virtually flow with the boards on Betty, absorb the scenery and let the sound of the wheels on concrete sooth you. (www.hbo.com/betty)

Author rating: 8/10

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