Jun 09, 2021
By Kaveh Jalinous
Photography by Stephanie Mei-Ling/HBO
When Season One of Crystal Moselle’s Betty released in April 2020, it felt like a breath of fresh air compared to the horrors of everyday pandemic life. The show’s simple structure, beautiful cinematography, relatable cast, and emphasis on friendship made each episode feel distinct, lovely and unforgettable. Moreover, the events of March 2020 onward made each of the first season’s six episodes feel like a relic of a different time and a different New York City, a final showcase of what the world used to look like and what the world might never fully return to again.
While the pandemic is most definitely a part of Betty’s Season Two, most obviously with the characters always wearing masks. But, that’s not the only thing that’s changed. Set in late autumn instead of summer, the series continues its focus on the lives of the principal five women, this time focusing on their separate journeys rather than their friendship dynamic. Janay (Dede Lovelace) is looking for an indoor space to host a winter skate park. Honeybear (Moonbear) tries to navigate her relationship with her girlfriend. Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) and Indigo (Ajani Russell) are now roommates at Camille’s father’s apartment. Camille is trying to find her place in skater influencer culture while Indigo is trying to find the money to pay her mother back. Meanwhile, Kirt (Nina Moran) finds a new calling: teaching her male skater friends how to treat women with respectful.
Betty’s move from Season One to Season Two can best be described as a straight line splitting into five separate branches. With each character having their own season-spanning plot lines, the five main ones hardly get the chance, or screen time, to interact with each other. When they do interact, there is always something agenda-driven they are talking about. This is an abrupt departure from the natural free-flowing conversations that made Season One so memorable and unique. Even with the constant comedy and breezy energy that shines through in certain parts of each episode, it’s easy to get lost or even uninterested throughout the constant and tiring perspective switches.
As a result of both how the pandemic is written into the series and how the trajectory of the season goes, Betty also spends more time focusing on the home lives of the five women, a feature that was largely absent in the first season. In some cases, this new lens can be helpful, specifically when it shows the familial relationships between characters or how the pandemic has affected every aspect of life. Going deeper into the characters’ home lives brings additional characters into the mix which made the six 30-minute episodes feel overstuffed.
Even with these setbacks, the performances of this season are as great as always. The principal cast sinks into their new personas with incredible, and believable, ease. There’s also a lot of meaning and relatability threaded throughout the series. Topics such as dating in the #MeToo era, trying to balance natural and influencer personalities, the uncomfortable side of unwilling polygamy, and the dark side of sugar dating are covered with finesse. Moselle’s unique directing style – including her signature smooth-panning tracking shots of skaters doing ollies, jumps, and other tricks – is as satisfying as it always has been.
Still, Season Two of Betty feels like watching an identity crisis unfold. Not necessarily trying to figure out what kind of show it wants to be, or what story it wants to tell, but rather, how exactly to tell that story. (www.hbo.com/betty)
Author rating: 5.5/10
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