What to expect from Betty, HBO’s brand-new “exquisitely natural” series
For six half-hour episodes, HBO’s series Betty sure packs in a lot, from negatives like toxic masculinity to positives such as the power of the matriarchy. It combines a lot of talking and discussion about these and other weighty topics while at the same time presenting breathtakingly beautiful sequences of young women taking possession of the male-dominated sport of skateboarding in an urban environment.
The title comes from the derogatory term used for female skaters (previously applied to surfers, the sport that spawned skating), and using it as the title of a show that celebrates these incredible women is a statement right there as to how they are inserting themselves into this culture, and better yet, owning it.
Betty is billed as a teen comedy, and in this case you have to make the distinction between that, and sitcom. It is not silly and vacuous humour; there are some laugh-out-loud moments, there are sweet moments, and heartwarming moments, but I’m hesitant to pin the comedy label on it. It feels way too restrictive.
At the core of the series is a group of friends, most of whom appeared in some version or other of themselves, in Betty creator Crystal Moselle’s acclaimed 2018 film Skate Kitchen. You don’t have to have seen the movie; the series is apparently more of a companion piece, containing different events and sequences.
Betty begins with Kirt (Nina Moran) snapping pics of the epic bruise on her butt (this is a reality, and totally Insta-worthy) before heading off to the skate park with her buddy Janay (Dede Lovelace) for an “all girl sesh” they tried to arrange.
It seems to fall flat on its face, but it’s here they meet Honeybear (Moonbear) and Camille (Rachelle Vinberg). While Janay sets off on a mission to help Camille find her stolen backpack, the others bump into Farouk (Reza Nader), the friendliest local dealer of weed and knockoff designer gear you can imagine.
This scene introduces Indigo (Ajani Russell), and she is seduced by the skateboard sisterhood, and encouraged to give it a try. Art imitates life, with Betty being semi-scripted. Moran and Russell went to school together, and Moran did teach Russell to skate. Once you’ve seen this video and the series, you’ll get a deeper understanding of how exquisitely natural Betty is.
Critics, myself included, are loving the series, which represents inclusivity on several levels without ever feeling gratuitous or strained. Even if we’re outside the ideal demographic, Betty can be savoured for its joie de vivre.
The Guardian calls it a beautifully shot and emotionally cathartic hangout of a show. “Not much happens in the stoner world of Kirt, Janay and their skateboarder friends. But that’s part of the charm of this breezy comedy-drama … Its loose, free spirit won’t be to everyone’s tastes. There is a lot of footage of skating, which comes with the territory. And there are moments for viewers beyond the featured age group that may feel like being a teacher at a school disco. Still, as a tribute to youth, and to these young women in particular, it is as invigorating as it is sweet.”
If I didn’t already know from experience that I have zero skateboarding skills (even back when I was young and reckless enough), I’d also be tempted to embrace the freedom with which Betty is imbued. “But there’s more to the show than just skating that’ll make you consider heading to the nearest park when self-isolation is over. With its Instagram-famous cast and a feature film, Betty has its own small-scale mythology that’s worth knowing about before you dive into its world,” says GQ.
“The reviews for the show are glowing, with critics praising its realistic portrayal of the skating subculture and its stellar cast of non-professional actors. Some have even called it an improvement on the film. Count us in.”
Betty looks like how being a teenager feels, says Variety’s review. “Shot during a vibrant New York City summer, the show zips alongside its characters as they weave through traffic, across parks, over bridges on their skateboards. When it slows down, it’s to take in the view, have a laugh, shoot the shit. But within minutes it’s inevitably off and running into the blinking sun again, winding down the city streets with such visceral verve that you can practically feel the wind whipping through your own hair through the screen.”
“But there’s more to the show than just skating that’ll make you consider heading to the nearest park when self-isolation is over.” – GQ
From the opening scenes to the closing, Betty creates a perfect circle that perhaps one could find a bit cheesy depending on how much of a hardboiled cynic you are, but it put a huge smile on my face – a fabulous Sunday afternoon binge.
It’s great news that HBO has renewed Betty for a second season. “It’s been a joy to ride through the streets of NYC with the inspiring women of Betty, and we’re grateful to them and to Crystal for sharing their stories and friendships with us,” said Amy Gravitt, Executive Vice President, HBO Programming. “We can’t wait to watch where our beloved Bettys go next.”
Betty had a feeling to it that reminded me of another cool show set in New York City, in terms of its “chattiness” and seemingly random threads that eventually get stitched together. So in the last minutes of episode 6, when this very show is referenced with a split-second crossover, I was delighted and filled with glee. No spoilers – because it really will ruin the moment for you if I say it outright – but if you are tempted, this is the one.