Four friends sitting around the living room, playing Never Have I Ever, sipping wine and waiting out the apocalypse. It’s one of the sketches on HBO’s new show, A Black Lady Sketch Show, but you also get the feeling that it’s possible that’s the setting in which the show was conceived. Because, in a way, the creators, writers, and producers have been writing this show their entire lives.
There has never been a show (that I can recall) that is written and performed by an all African-American female cast. The sketches draw humor from the real experiences of their lives, experiences that are rarely, if ever, represented on mainstream television. And I can’t think of a much better way to introduce it to broad audiences than this show. It’s fresh for people not raised in the culture, and the representation and presentation makes it fresh for the people whose culture this reflects.
In the premiere episode (streaming now), the four actresses show strong versatility. Robin Thede, Quinta Brunson, Gabrielle Dennis and Ashley Nicole Black play everything from a crazy self-help/conspiracy theorist to a male doo-wop Motown group from the sixties. Most of the sketches are only two to three minutes, though we come back to some of them again in the show.
The kiki where the girls are sipping wine keeps us in suspense about “the event” until the last installment of the sketch. But you feel like you’re really watching a group of friends who just happen to be waiting out the end times.
There are lots of guest stars including Laverne Cox and Miss Angela Bassett. In fact, the first episode is titled Angela Bassett is the Baddest Bitch. While a great name for an episode, it is also a truism for any situation in life. Angela is a Bad Bitch in all the best ways.
She plays the leader of a support group for Bad Bitches, and I found myself screaming at the TV going ‘Yes! Yes!’ I would join that group but even on my best days, I’m only a Basic Bitch.
Each skit has some social commentary, some more than others. My favorite was when Ashley Nicole Black plays a CIA agent who is successful because she is ‘invisible,’ ie everyone ignores her so she gets in wherever she needs to go. The sketch exposes how we marginalize people based on looks while playing it for laughs and simultaneously making a point.
Come Back Anytime
I get the feeling a lot of the characters will be recurring beyond this episode. I really hope we can hang with the Bad Bitches Support Group. The show reminds me a lot of The Kids In The Hall from thirty years ago. That was Canadian and goofier, and didn’t have much social impact beyond Scott Thompson’s over-the-top gay character Buddy Cole.
A Black Lady Sketch Show may sound basic and may be intentionally dismissive, daring skeptics to watch. Everyone should watch. There are only six episodes coming, and I hope to cherish each one.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
A Cosmo, in the spirit of the ladies of Sex & the City. These four funny ladies are a natural successor to the strong, powerful, self-determined women.