In this age of reboots, revivals, sequels, retreads and resets, it’s rare to find a project that meets the measure of its first version. But Dear White People is just such a rarity, and incredibly funny too. As I say in my video review above, the crisp comedy of sorts about Ivy League activism, discrimination and identity discovery is highly recommendable.
Launching tonight on Netflix, the 10-episode small screen version of Justin Simien’s big-screen satire is actually better than the movie it derives from – and that pic was one of the best things I saw at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. The stories laid out in the movie clearly find deeper foundations and greater heights when given the larger landscape of TV.
Executive produced, partially written and directed by Simien, the Lionsgate-produced series picks up with many of the same characters and even a few of the same actors from the movie (like a tremendous Marque Richardson and also Brandon P. Bell), and it has time to focus on one particular character in most of its episodes. That strategy pays off in more ways than one repeatedly, especially as you go deeper into the season with episodes directed by the likes of Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins.
With a wonderful Logan Browning as Sam White, the conflicted college radio show host of the title (and played by Tessa Thompson in the movie), life, race, love, the politics of the personal and the personal of politics are all played out in the dorms, classes and relationships of the fictional and self-consciously forward-thinking Winchester University. Plus, Steve Jobs, post-racial America and Obama, biracial contradictions, Quentin Tarantino, and sexuality itself all take a shellacking in this world that may or may not be as woke as its participants think.
What is very lit is just how witty and piercing the dialogue is from Simien, Chuck Hayward and Jack Moore, with a narrative that moves from humor to horrors sometimes in a single sentence and right back. It seamlessly juggles the silly, the dangerous, the absurd and the very serious elements of modern America.
You can see more of what I think of this Giancarlo Esposito-narrated series also co-starring Antoinette Robertson and DeRon Horton above. There’s a lot of good television out there this week alone, but Dear White People is a show you don’t want to miss.