Creator Tracy Oliver (“Girls Trip”) has whipped up her brand of magic in the new series “Harlem” playing on Amazon Prime. The PR team sent the entire season (thank you) and I could not get enough of the “unbreakable sisterhood” represented in this delightful series.
The show follows Camille, an anthropology professor (Megan Good), and her close-knit friends who all call the rapidly gentrifying Harlem home. The thicker-than-cornbread group includes the romantic Quinn (Grace Byers), the ambitious, LGBTQ+ up-and-coming tech maven Tye (Jerrie Johnson), and the utterly unique, and unfiltered singer Angie (Shoniqua Shandai).
There will be comparisons to Starz’s very wonderful “Run the World” (also set in Harlem) and let’s be clear, there is more than enough room for two shows (or more) that focus on Harlem. Drama is the key to this series, and anthropology professor Camille brings that dramatic flourish because she’s in denial, thinking that her life is on track in the academic world but the truth is, she’s not bringing her A+ game and has not for years.
The next character that brings another juicy layer of drama is the beguiling Tye, a lesbian who is best described as a “soft-butch” and the creator of a dating app exclusively for queer people of color; she walks with a confident swagger.
One of the most charming parts of the series is how Camille’s voiceovers bookend every episode, focusing her anthropological observation in each episode. One of the funniest episodes is “cuffing season” (i.e. the colder months inspiring single people to search for a partner to cuddle with) which finds the hilarious and complicated Angie lamenting that she’s missed “big nigger season”—her words, not mine.
The writing is first-rate. 10-out-of-10 with Camille’s storylines providing some of the meatier lines especially when she’s acting with Whoopi Goldberg, who plays her new boss.
But the real magic is when Camille, Quinn, Angie, Byers, and Shandai step into their life challenges together. Each of these characters is wonderfully dimensional.
But it’s the diva-with-a-voice Angie (Shoniqua Shandai) who will emerge as the find of this show. After her music contract is canceled and she’s tossed out of the record label plush townhouse, she’s forced to sleep on Quinn’s couch. Desperate to get her career back on track, she accepts a role in the hilarious musical adaptation of “Get Out.” The “Liberal Family” and “Sunken Place” dance numbers and set design are “bad-good” enough to make you feel deeply uncomfortable because it’s not much of a reach to imagine a sanctioned musical version hitting Broadway in the future.
The future of “Harlem” is bright. Four stars and if I could, I would give them more.
The first season of “Harlem” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.