Harlem didn’t reinvent the wheel of situational comedy but improves on the binge-worthy ride.
It’s Black History Month and thank God it is because I get to watch so much Black Excellence. So let’s catch up, season 1 ended with the tea being over-poured. Ian and Camille kiss with Ian’s fiancé watching from the shadows. Season 2 picks up with explosive results based on reaction, resentment, and justifiable rage. Which set in motion a series of events that lead to heartbreak, mutual respect, and an almost Nietzschean set of sliding priorities.
These themes run throughout all of the women’s stories in Season 2. Not only do I get to sing its praises to everyone here at the Illuminerdi offices, but I get to talk about it with the purveyors of such Black excellence themselves. What I mean to say is that I got to speak with the cast and creator of Prime Video’s Harlem (more about that later). Harlem is more than its contemporaries; Sex in the City, Living Single, Girlfriends, and even Insecure. It’s more because it comes from a place that’s personal. Trust me, there are layers to this… Now let’s talk about it.
Let’s Talk about Harlem
Not only is Harlem personal to its creator and showrunner, Tracy Oliver, who gave a unique yet genuine experience of the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans through the eyes of four Black women at various points in their own journeys in 2017’s Girls Trip. It’s also personal for the cast as they embody various aspects of people who live in the wonderous, sometimes faith-testing, dream-crushing, life-affirming reality called America. Harlem follows four Black Women at various points in their journeys as well.
Harlem also shows that being Black doesn’t mean that you are a monolith as far as culture, lifestyle, and the paths in which they choose are more based on how we see ourselves and who we are at our core. The series shows the characters we resonate with make mistakes and choices that we wouldn’t readily do but have indeed chosen; it does it to show us that they can learn and grow, all in an effort to be better.
Somewhere in the show’s core is a theme of self-identity, actualization, and revelation. Not to mention; the vulnerabilities and insecurities of dating, and how it relates to culture and your identity in it, and how that can feel like a tidal wave that repeatedly crashes your mental on the shores of confusion and uncertainty. Simply put it’s the struggle for balance or in other words, the subtle dance that most Black Thirty-somethings are learning the moves for. These themes live in not only the aforementioned characters but every character in the series, it truly is an ensemble piece.
It’s not just the streets that are talking, but Harlem itself
Friendship, family, and finances are indeed driving forces for everything but, one can take priority over the other and sometimes it needs to be “talked out”. There’s something to be said concerning the beautifully rich dialogue and character insight that’s gained with every conversation in the show and how it’s paired with the ugly choices they must make, to grow, survive and even navigate the fierce and sometimes harsh landscape that is called modern life. And it’s addressed in various ways through the eyes of each character in this series. which surprisingly enough is handled with care, and genuine concern which in turn results in repair and joy.
Seeing Black joy celebrated so vividly and stunningly is a welcome change when you consider that usually with the joy comes “Black trauma”. This nuanced effort to depict and display love, self-talk, friendship, success, and a relentless drive for happiness while still existing in a system that is in place to hurt people of color, particularly women of color is brilliant in all its ways. It’s said if you want your work to ring true you have to write what you know. Tracy Oliver must have lived by that creed with this show. She has said that she had lived in Harlem during those years of life where she found an aspect of herself.
So it was best to use it as a setting. “There’s art on every corner; if you know where to look, and there’s history in every brick”. So Harlem wasn’t only a location but, a character. One that was ever present during the story that is being told within this series. it’s a love letter to itself. It’s not afraid to address the depleting Black landscape that made Harlem a creative cultural hub before gentrification made it an apartheid sponsored by Urban Outfitters and Starbucks.
Harlem is the story of not only the women it follows. Harlem is the story of every person who watches it. So They, She, He, Us… can all relate to the journey and experience the growth and buckle up for the ride it takes us on. After all, that’s what storytelling should do. Norman Lear said, “If you can’t see yourself in the story you’re watching, you should be able to learn something and relate to the story being told”. That’s exactly what you’ll get with Harlem.
Harlem gets a 10/10
You can catch Harlem Season 2 now streaming on Prime Video.
Release Date: Season 2 is now streaming on Prime Video
Created By: Tracy Oliver
Executive Producers: Tracy Oliver, Amy Poehler, Kim Lessing, Dave Becky, Britt Matt, Linda Mendoza, Pharrell Williams, Mimi Valdés
Cinematography: Matt Edwards
Editors: Christian Kinnard; Kate Pedatella
Network: Prime Video
Cast: Grace Byers, Meagan Good, Jerrie Johnson, Soniqua Shandia
From writer Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip), our beloved comedy Harlem is back. We continue our journey with our four stylish & ambitious best girlfriends in Harlem NYC, the mecca of Black culture in America. After blowing up her career and disrupting her love life, Camille (Meagan Good) has to figure out how to put the pieces back together; Tye (Jerrie Johnson) considers her future; Quinn (Grace Byers) goes on a journey of self-discovery; and Angie’s (Shoniqua Shandai) career takes a promising turn. Together, they level up into the next phase of their careers, relationships, and big city dreams.
Tell us what you thought of Harlem; you don’t have to spill the tea, just come and sit, sip, and socialize.