Jul 4, 2018

[TV] Dear White People: Season 1 Review

Honesty Time: I can't claim to have been all that great with "black culture" given my lack of exposure to it. For those of us outside of America, one usually learns more through music (which I'm not that big on either) or popular culture. And it's not like I'm the sort of person who gets into Tyler Perry movies (nor do these movies represent even a fair portion of what black culture is. So it's not that I don't like these sorts of shows and movies but more it's not my natural inclination to watch them.

But there was a lot of good press for Dear White People that helped bring the show to my attention plus you you know how Netflix repeatedly promotes a show when its season starts and tries to get your attention. And I definitely don't regret getting into this show.

This series feels quite fresh and in tune with the times by trying to combine the sort of "woke" online conversations with an actual story about college life, as strange as this college may be.

Synopsis: Dear White People is a Netflix American satirical comedy series created by Justin Simien.  It's based on the 2014 movie of the same name that had also been written and directed by Justin Simien.

The story is set at Winchester College, a rather prestigious school with a predominantly white population but with a distinct effort to maintain some sense of representation with a specific segment of minority students and an all-black house on campus. Then you have Samantha White (Logan Browning), a student who also hosts a radio programmed also called "Dear White People" where she raises the call of outcry against a blackface party held on campus. Naturally this is a big deal given how progressive the college tries to present itself but there's also the somewhat irony of Samantha being revealed to have a white boyfriend in the form of Gabe (John Patrick Amedori).

But this is more than her story alone. There's the young, shy, closeted gay student journalist Lionel (DeRon Horton) who breaks the blackface party story and has a thing for his roomate Troy. Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell) is the poster child for the sort of black guy who plays along well with the white community and happens to be the son of the dean. There's Coco (Antoinette Robertson), who does everything she can to fit in and rise up in the ranks despite her shared history with Samantha. And there's Reggie (Marque Richardson), who is smart and clever in his own right but becomes the victim of profiling by campus security just like any other black man.

What I Liked: This series has some razor sharp wit in the writing and it would be a gross oversimplification to just call this a "black story" or something. It is certainly a tale of racism, but a reminder that racism is everywhere and a times hard to avoid whether you're white, black or something else. And managing to that with a comedic (but thankfully not slapstick) story takes some serious skill. This series entertains and to some degree educates as it holds up a mirror to the viewer to make them question just how "woke" they really are.

And the approach to the episodes both supports strong character development and adds interesting layers of complexity to the overall narrative. Any event can appear differently from the perspectives of various characters in the show and each gets their chance to shine and share their struggles with the viewers. There's a lot to unpack here but the pacing of the show was well-done and utilized the shift from a feature-length movie to an collection of episodes very effectively.

What Could Have Been Better: With this many characters each with their own stake in things, you might get lost at times during some of the earlier episodes in the series. Throw in the larger plots that are tied to challenges in the college as a whole and you have quite a fair bit going on that you need to keep track of. So yeah, one can get a little overwhelmed by the larger narrative if you're not careful. The series is short but take a break every now and then. Pace yourself.

The big finale at the end of this season was interesting but in a way felt a bit rushed. There was a definite effort to make sure there was a big finish to this season after all the different plot twists and revelations but I'm not sure if this was the perfect way to wrap things up. It was somewhat shocking and certainly interesting but could have played out a bit more, I feel.

TL;DR: Dear White People is certainly a brilliant show with a strong message that it wants to deliver. More than that is has some very deep characters that make for great stories and that's a good thing to have in a television show. Thus the first season gets a solid 5 stories of Winchester out of a possible 5.

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