The first season of She’s Gotta Have It did a pretty good job of staying true to Spike Lee’s 1986 film while giving us a Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) for the modern age. In its second season, the show creates its own narrative by diving into Nola’s career and artistic authenticity, rather than focusing on her love life. It’s a gamble that doesn’t pay off, since love, romance and the people Nola dates provided some of the strongest material in the show. Removed from their source material, Nola, Opal, Jamie, Greer, and Mars—and the season as a whole—flail, as they have no real connection.
These new episodes seem unsure of how to portray Nola’s newfound success. After being pushed into the spotlight after her “My Name Isn’t” campaign, everyone wants to work with Nola. A brand approaches her for sponsored work. An artists retreat offer her a stipend to come create with them. However, the usual moral issues apply: The brand wants final creative control, and the retreat is funded by an incredibly problematic white man. Where the first season was filled with monologues that had Nola look directly into the camera and tell us her beliefs and desires (which didn’t always work), season two doesn’t really let Nola define her artistic morals outright. This makes it seem hollow and naïve when Nola takes a stance against those who seemingly want to support her.
It also doesn’t help that Nola’s artwork comes off as something a high schooler would find edgy. The season culminates with Nola doing her own show, a success that stirs up controversy because it features a piece that references lynching. Instead of showing us the piece, we see the reactions to it. We see Nola’s friends telling her that it’s wrong and should be taken down. We see people protesting her, but Nola stands firm. When the piece is finally revealed to viewers, it is comical how uncontroversial the work really is. Nola’s stance as an artist isn’t that interesting, and making it the focus of the entire season makes for uninteresting TV.
Season two picks up about two years after the events of season one. Nola and Opal (Ilfenesh Hadera) are together, which ends up being the best payoff of the season, mostly because of Opal’s daughter. She’s the only character who looks Nola in the face and holds her accountable for what she’s done wrong and how she’s hurt people. It also makes sense for Opal and her daughter to be in the show since Nola is actually dating Opal. The same cannot be said of Nola’s former lovers.
Greer (Cleo Anthony) remains to feed Nola’s ego and act as a sounding board for whatever cultural conversation the episode feels is important. There’s really no reason for him to still be around, but he’s there to talk about interracial relationships over coffee and remain the show’s worst character. Mars’ (Anthony Ramos) presence makes more sense since he’s been kicked out of his apartment and has to crash with Nola for awhile. Mars is made a more central character this season, which works since he’s always cared the most about Nola. Yet the show seems unsure of what to do with him. Left to his own story, he’s mostly annoying until a plot late in the series forces him to mature. When the season ends, it feels like Mars’ story is just getting going.
Jamie (Lyriq Bent), on the other hand, does not need to be here. He has no interest in Nola, and Nola wants to stay away from him. He wants his wife back, and the season focuses on him repairing his relationship with his family. We watch him stalk his ex-wife and attack her new boyfriend. It’s inexplicable, and has nothing to do with anything else on the show.
The second season fails to be an interesting look at the dynamics between men and women, unlike the film. And while the first season did create an interesting group of women around Nola in Shamekka (Chyna Layne) and Clorinda (Margot Bingham), it fails to capitalize on the dynamics of female friendship this season. Shamekka is a main character this season, but the show barely dives into her plot or develops her. We never see how her family or daughter felt after her near-death experience, and her biggest moment of glory comes and goes with no build-up or afterthought. It’s too bad, because her plot was one of the best last season. Clorinda is relegated to the category of “artistic sell-out,” so she and Nola spend most of the season apart.
A lot of things happen in the second season of She’s Gotta Have It. There may not be a reason for them to happen, and they may not develop a character or serve as a real plot point, but things happen. Some are beautifully shot and are accompanied by a great score. Some are well-performed. But overall, it’s hard to say why any of it is happening or if we really needed this extension of She’s Gotta Have It to happen.