Betty will make you want to shred | Small Screen | Chicago Reader

Betty will make you want to shred 

The new HBO series dives even deeper into the world of the Skate Kitchen collective.

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click to enlarge Betty



I first found out about the Skate Kitchen collective in 2018 from a series of events at the House of Vans encouraging women to pick up skateboarding. The women of the Skate Kitchen exude a near-impossible balance of extreme confidence and radical encouragement—just watching them in their element will make you want to pick up a board and give it a try

Later that year, the all-girl skate crew would be the center of Crystal Moselle’s narrative feature film Skate Kitchen, a sun-kissed and easygoing look at the lives of contemporary young women skating and getting high in New York City. In HBO’s Betty, Moselle’s newest adaptation of that story, the girls of the Skate Kitchen are given room to breathe and explore themselves more fully.

Over the span of six half-hour episodes, Betty follows the everyday antics of a robust ensemble: Kirt (Nina Moran) is a charming stoner who leads the group but acts on impulse, her best friend Janay (Dede Lovelace) is loyal but stubborn to a fault, Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) is one of the boys until she finds herself in the crew, Honeybear (Kabrina “Moonbear” Adams), is an aspiring filmmaker who dons kitschy pasties and mismatched kicks to compensate for her shyness, and Indigo (Ajani Russell) balances her weed-dealing lifestyle with her upper-class reality.

While the cast is made up largely of nonactors, it manages to make Betty feel far more authentic than amateurish. The laissez faire nature of Betty often feels like someone picked up the camera simply to capture the small moments of life as they happen, whether it be a cool trick Camille just nailed down or a FaceTime with Janay, who is not on her way like she said she was, or Kirt discovering something about herself in a drug-induced revelation.

Betty’s strongest assets are its characters. Every member of the eclectic crew is fully developed in a way that could not have happened in the 90-minute film, and not one member feels more important than another. Because of the range of young women, Betty is able to examine the inner dilemmas of women of various experiences: not just dealing with sexism, but how it intersects with racism, homophobia, and class status. But it’s not a show that incessantly harks on the gender politics of skateboarding in a faux “girl boss” way. Rather, it honestly depicts the ways young women have been trained to deal with these things for their entire lives.

What’s remarkable about Betty is the importance it puts on friendship. Sure, there are romantic relationships sprinkled in the series, but almost every plot point leads back to the theme of friendship as vital and wholly transformative. There are moments that put a strain on old friendships—Janay finds out an old friend isn’t who she thought he was, Kirt has to own up to her mistakes and apologize to those she let down—and others that welcome the honeymoon phase of what could be lifelong platonic partners in crime.

Some may find Betty to be meandering or even boring at times, but when there’s an onslaught of media that requires all of your attention and brainpower, sometimes the shows we need most are the ones that force you to take it easy and soak it in. And with a soundtrack of Arlo Parks, Kali Uchis, Wajatta, Tony K, and more, Betty has a lot of style under its snapback.

Betty feels like a breath of fresh air on a hot summer afternoon. It’s the perfect hangout show with real heart—and it might make you consider getting on a board and joining them. v

Betty airs Fridays at 10 PM on HBO

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