FF2 Guest post by Isabella Marie Garcia
It’s been a year since the premiere of the first season of Betty, the tv spin-off of director Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen (2018), which follows a collective of women-identifying skaters and details the complexities of their inner lives and outer networks throughout the hub of New York City. Casting real-life skaters from a collective that the film is aptly named after, Moselle chose to originally follow the life of “Camille” (Rachelle Vinberg) as she befriends the group and strives to find where she belongs in a male-dominated skate scene. The actual title of the movie came from ill-fitted jokes found in the comments of the group’s YouTube skating videos about where women truly belonged but later emerged as a tool in which the fictionalized personas fight back against this widespread misogyny. Delving into a broader exploration of the collective and reworking another traditionally derogatory term hurled at women hanging at skateparks, Betty emerged two years later and seeks to expand on the everyday joys and obstacles that affront all the women featured as the main characters, from open relationships to educating male skaters on the proper etiquette of talking to ladies. Coincidentally, it also happens to be the one-year anniversary of a prior analysis written by yours truly on the first season of the show, dissected into three parts: sexuality, race, and gender.
Following a quarantine-driven obsession to learn how to skate, I fell into rhythm with the inauguration of Betty and its six-part structured narrative when it initially aired on HBO during COVID-19’s initial summer. The reality of a female-fronted series airing that was set within NYC’s skating community had a gleam to it that had many, both in and outside of the skateboarding world, raving about its presence on television. The second season of the show is shrouded in the pandemic’s effects, as masks are introduced as fundamental fashion statements and later disregarded for the majority of the show. Picking up right where season one leaves off, Betty season two immediately dives into storylines and character-driven plots that closed the first season, from “Indigo’s” (Ajani Russell) struggle to survive financially after her mother cuts her off, to “Honeybear’s” (Kabrina “Moonbear” Adams) exploration of queer sexuality.
There appears to be a greater interest by the show’s writers in expanding each of the five leading skater personalities and fleshing them out beyond definitive character traits that could be likened to aliases of The Spice Girls. Who’s to say you can’t be sporty and posh? However, rather than intensifying viewer connection to the series’ characters, the second season just further perpetuates the same message established by the show’s breakthrough season—that of everyday women existing in problematic situations and challenging narratives that try to teach them a lesson that they superficially react to but don’t truly internalize. Nothing sticks in the end.
Repetitive behavioral cycles and patterns that resemble little to no personal growth are apparent in pretty much all of the characters. Honeybear’s queerness is pushed to its limits through Ash wanting to introduce a third person into the relationship, but her sense of discomfort with these new sexual experiences from the first season is even more palpable and uncomfortable to watch in the second season as she gradually becomes a third-wheeler in this supposed three-way. Rather than working through the situation in a way that can productively aid her own growth and sexual identity, Honeybear resorts to retaliation tactics by hooking up with a stranger she meets in the middle of the city. After the hookup and making out with the man in front of Ash and Victoria, Honeybear’s acting out eventually leads to her getting back with Ash in a way that seems rushed and lacks a constructive conversation about her initial discomfort. The only possible hint of this is Honeybear’s admittance in bed with Ash that she is “bad at emotional conversations,” but the actual return to their relationship at the end of the second season’s finale is a superficial band-aid that is placed over deeper issues reflecting a lack of communication within their romantic dynamic.
In the case of Camille, a prior desire to belong with the male skaters and gain the approval of Bambi (Edmund Donovan) is replaced by the journey to becoming sponsored by a popular skate brand as a result of her friend Tai’s (Lil Dre) initial attempts to be sponsored by the same brand. Ignoring at first how her growing success with the sponsorship hurts Tai and leads him to distance himself from Camille, she later realizes the mistake she’s made in trying to become a skating influencer when the brand turns her passion into a superficial modeling gig. Ill-fitted attempts to model for the brand are sprinkled throughout the season, another action on behalf of her character that goes against her personality.
The only character that moves on past their first season struggles and towards productive growth is Janay, as seen through her hard-working antics of converting a run-down factory into a new gathering spot for the skating community and not even bringing up at any point the first season conflict she had with Donald, her ex-boyfriend when it’s found that he’s been accused of sexual assault. Aside from the gradual romantic tension that is built with a skater named Sylvester (Andrew Darnell), Janay develops into a character that has learned and moved on from her past without resorting to old antics and behaviors that wouldn’t fit with this season’s arc and path for her character.
There’s an argument to be made about whether it’s the structure itself of the series that proves to be a disservice to character development, as opposed to bad writing on the part of the show’s staple and guest writers. Rather than a traditional ten-part episodic series created by Netflix, HBO’s choice of six episodes for this specific narrative results in a worn-down sense of community between its leading characters, as it tries to pack in so much in so little time. As a result, it flimsily resolves many of the key plotlines that made the show interesting and worth following, making it frustrating to watch characters resolve problems in a matter of days and especially on their own. Due to the nature of how the writers chose to structure each of the six episodes and the central plots, each of the five skaters is separated into their own worlds in a way that counteracts the first season’s building together of a collective. Other than interspersed scenes of the five joined together in camaraderie, the emotional rollercoaster that comes with organic friendship comes to a halt.
What comes next for Betty? With HBO’s announcement that the show has been canceled and will not be renewed for a third season, it’s worth mentioning that the series never strives to be something it’s not. The authenticity of its personalities, as stunted as they are, shines through the most, without the pretense of everyday life needing to be overly dramatic or climactic. It’s purely a show about women skaters and fulfills its objective in carving out a space in the media for women within the sport and hobby whose leading champion has always been Tony Hawk. It feels like now, more than ever, with Instagram Reels and TikTok For You pages filled with skateboarders promoting their abilities and tricks, one can catch a glimpse of the diverse skating communities actually present in the world in the form of skateparks, branded streetwear promotion, and grassroots-born social media followings. While flawed in lacking the necessary substance required to propel the simple mini-series into one of profound storytelling value, Betty’s right as a media entity can have its own measure of personal success in allowing women skaters of all ranks, identities, and backgrounds to feel championed and seen.
© Isabella Marie Garcia (10/01/21) Special for FF2 Media.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Janay (Dede Lovelace).
Top Photo: The cast of HBO’s Betty: Moonbear, Dede Lovelace, Ajani Russell, Nina Moran and Rachelle Vinberg (2021).
Bottom Photo: Honeybear (Kabrina “Moonbear” Adams), Ash (Katerina Tannenbaum), and Victoria (Rad Pereira).
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF HBO (WITH PERMISSION FOR USE BY FF2 MEDIA. Kudos to photographer Stephanie Mei-Ling.