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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A Black Lady Sketch Show returns for another season of exhilarating comedy

Image of Robin Thede in HBO's A Black Lady Sketch Show
Robin Thede stars in A Black Lady Sketch Show
Photo: Ali Paige Goldstein/HBO
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Robin Thede’s A Black Lady Sketch Show represents several firsts. The HBO series is the first sketch comedy show made by and starring Black women, who also make up the writer’s room and the directing roster. In 2020, A Black Lady Sketch Show became the first Black women-led sketch comedy series to be nominated for an Outstanding Variety Sketch Series Emmy, while season-one director Dime Davis made history as the first Black woman to be nominated for Outstanding Directing In A Variety Series (to say nothing of the ground Thede previously broke in her career). That discussion of impressive firsts should also include A Black Lady Sketch Show’s superb inaugural season. The series’ debut in 2019 was as assured as it gets, combining twisty storytelling and gut-busting premises with more than a hint of magical realism. Rarely has a show arrived so fully formed yet prone to experimentation; not just radiating potential, but delivering on it.

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Season two of A Black Lady Sketch Show, which premieres April 23, has an air of reinvention, from the opening credits to new cast additions Laci Mosley (of Florida Girls and Scam Goddess) and Skye Townsend (8 Days A Week). Three new writers—Kindsey Young, Shenovia Large, and Kristin Layne Tucker—join Brittani Nichols, Rae Sanni and Holly Walker in the room led by Lauren Ashley Smith, which also includes cast members Thede, Ashley Nicole Black, and Gabrielle Dennis (scheduling issues prevented Quinta Brunson from returning this year). Lacey Duke (Insecure, Queen Sugar) and The Rundown With Robin Thede producer Brittany Scott Smith take over for Davis in helming the six new episodes. But the series retains the cohesion, rapid-fire energy, and mix of culturally specific and universal humor that made the first season uproarious and a joy to watch. All of the show’s strengths are on display in its second season: crack timing, excellent cast chemistry, surprises both whimsical and profound, and a knack for esoteric jokes (who knew the Eucharist could be so funny? Thede, Black, and Townsend, that’s who).

Viewers can look forward to new outings for season-one breakout Trinity, The Invisible Spy (created and portrayed by Black), as well as Chris (one of Thede’s many guises), a young man whose devotion to his wife Lashel (Brunson) is the one of the few things he willingly communicates. Absent a lectern, Dr. Hadassah Olayinka Ali-Youngman settles for a table (where she’s joined by Gabrielle Union). The progressive, highly organized Reefs return, swaddled in numerous shades of pink, and there’s even another momentous opportunity for a “Courtroom Kiki.” A Black Lady Sketch Show brings back your faves while introducing several new ones, including one relentlessly, almost dangerously optimistic friend and a SoulCycle instructor who wants you to exercise your relationship demons.

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Ashley Nicole Black
Photo: Ali Paige Goldstein/HBO

The sketch show’s interstitials continue to tell a story within story (or stories), and allow for some tantalizing dynamics to emerge within the expanded core ensemble. The heightened personas of Thede, Black, and Dennis are more than matched in their ludicrousness by Townsend’s laid-back dilettante and Mosley as the wild card. There’s a compelling sense of intimacy as their figurative armor erodes. These chapters, which Thede has described as a chance for audiences to catch their breath between outlandish sketches, could easily stand on their own as a story of women exploring their friendships in adversity, as well as an endlessly pithy exploration of the many expectations projected onto Black women. Seemingly the most straightforward elements of the show, the interstitials actually feature some of its most subversive moments.

Just as in its first season, A Black Lady Sketch Show pushes the boundaries of its sketch premises. As reliable as the show’s humor is, there’s also a powerful sense of anticipation as you wait to see just how far Thede and co. will take an idea. A motivational seminar can venture into the horrific, while some flirty twerking becomes a heroic last stand. A surprise ending can reframe the decidedly funny story that preceded it, or just add a new layer of meaning to it. These rug pulls, which vary from unexpected punchlines to poignant reveals to biting last-minute commentary, often evoke a common Twilight Zone theme: Be careful what you wish you for.

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It’s a bold direction for a comedy show, particularly a sketch series which already darts through themes as well as another exciting array of guest stars, including Wunmi Mosaku, Gabrielle Union, Miguel, and Laz Alonso. But what makes A Black Lady Sketch Show’s many deft turns possible is its wonderfully versatile performers, who can embody the righteous and the ridiculous, often at the same time. Each actor finds her own groove, too. Thede makes flawed leaders seem lovable and risible. Competence is never as amusing as when Black, as the CIA’s top agent, puts her co-workers to shame. Dennis’ intent gaze imbues each of her characters with a distinct power. Townsend’s gameness always scans, whether she’s playing a goofy courier or a woman with a remarkable ability to hold a grudge, while the vibrant Mosley takes physical humor to the next level.

When they selected the title for their show, Thede and her collaborators, including executive producer Issa Rae, intentionally left room for many such shows made by Black women to follow in their wake. While we wait for that wave—given the show’s three Emmy nominations, other networks should be trying to recreate HBO’s success—A Black Lady Sketch Show offers another exhilarating season of trenchant comedy and absurd setups. As its ambitious storytelling grows, the show remains a love letter to the Black women who create so much of the culture that’s consumed (and repurposed, often to undesirable effect) by everyone else. Despite its universal humor, A Black Lady Sketch Show doesn’t so much as invite the rest of us into its world as it does compel viewers to acknowledge this world and its stories and creators have always existed—all while making viewers laugh their asses off.

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