‘A Black Lady Sketch Show’ Is a Buffet of Edgy Satire and Sharp Laughs
“A Black Lady Sketch Show” bursts with refreshing enthusiasm and mischievous creativity. It’s almost hard to properly define this new and brilliant offering from HBO. Much of it is iconoclastic, other sections feature fierce social commentary, and a lot of it is simply good comedy. The brainchild of Robin Thede, former host of BET’s “The Rundown,” “A Black Lady Sketch Show” harkens back to an old-school form of TV comedy while engaging with contemporary trends and issues.
There’s almost no point in describing a linear plot because the show functions as a lively showcase of ideas and commentary. At the helm are four particular talents, Thede, Quinta Brunson, Ashley Nicole Black and Gabrielle Dennis. Serving as executive producer is Issa Rae, star of HBO’s “Insecure.” All of this talent combines to deliver a series of “sketches” or scenarios which jab at politics and pop culture with great abandon. A Motown-style singing group croon misogynist lyrics onstage, street thugs have a meeting akin to a corporate gathering (their company is named “Monster” in a wink to a famous gang banger autobiography), and a flash mob wedding proposal turns into an edgy commentary on social media culture.
These are just some examples of what these ladies cook up. “A Black Lady Sketch Show” is a worthy heir to the kind of television satire pioneered by shows like Saturday Night Live, mixing slapstick with political insights. Two storylines in particular run like a thread through the episodes however, one involves the four women as gossips hanging out in a house after an apocalyptic moment known as “The Event.” While the world outside is in ashes they discuss men’s equipment, loneliness, forgetting to pack proper clothes and other topics people will no doubt ponder during the apocalypse. Light yet sharp satire is thrown in when the women discuss if it’s ok to have R.Kelly in one’s phone, or why black women should sleep with scarfs at night. The other storyline is a takedown of the spy movie genre, with Black playing Trinity, a plus-sized spy who has the power of disappearing into crowds because she’s so ordinary nobody notices. When she bumps into her “twin” while on a mission it turns into a hilarious take on the pop aesthetic of action films, and the objectification of women in the genre.
In fact some of the best moments in this first season of “A Black Lady Sketch Show” are precisely when it comments on its fellow pop culture denizens. One sketch riffs on FX’s “Pose,” where “houses” parade down a catwalk posing to themes like clinically depressed millennials or barbecue dads. There’s even a pretty bold wink at the sitcom “227” where Thede does a masterful imitation of Sandra, but also exploiting the sheer, flirtatious goofiness of the persona. African American is satirized with a lovingly irreverent tone. A church service where everyone is invited to share a testimonial turns into shamelessly funny self-promotions for work, match ups and one felon making sure his being there secures an alibi (before a bloodied wrench falls out of his pocket). While out a club a mysterious figure “steals” two of the women’s dance moves with a raunchy jam playing in the background.
“A Black Lady Sketch Show” has the best collection of comedic talent anywhere on television this season. Every artist is an equal match to each other and the material. But what makes it truly wonderful is its combination of light comedy and edgy satire. It’s never stale, even when it does a simple sketch with more to it than one suspects at first, like a scenario involving a co-worker known for always putting on heavy makeup for work. The one day she doesn’t do it she nearly dies, literally after her co-workers realize her face actually isn’t the best without cosmetics.
If it’s been a long and crushing week, sit down and relax with this work of rambunctious dynamite. “A Black Lady Sketch Show” wraps up so many ideas, provocative and downright fun, that it proves you can’t have too much of a good thing.
“A Black Lady Sketch Show” season one premieres Aug. 2 and airs Fridays at 11 p.m. ET on HBO.