Rating by Sean Boelman
A reboot of her narrative debut film Skate Kitchen, Crystal Moselle’s new half-hour HBO series Betty gives audiences another chance to see the real-life all-women skate group that inspires and stars in the series. And while it is entertaining to get to hang with these characters again, the premise arguably worked better in a feature-length format than a serialized one.
Loosely based on the experiences of its stars, the series follows the members of a group of friends as they try to break into the typically male-dominated world of skating. Although this is similar to the plot of Skate Kitchen, there’s a lot more room for subplots in this expanded format, and as a result, viewers will be able to form a greater connection with the characters.
However, the biggest mistake made by Moselle and co-writer Lesley Arfin was to make this a reboot rather than a continuation. Although it is understandable why Moselle felt the need to tell this story again (Skate Kitchen is an indie gem that didn’t quite break out into the mainstream — although that will hopefully be remedied soon), one can’t help but feel like this is ground that has already been covered.
One of the issues with the series is that the chemistry between the actors is so strong that it almost isn’t believable. Viewers are supposed to believe that these characters are meeting for the first time, yet the relationship that forms between the characters immediately feels lived-in. Of course, by the end of the season, this is no longer as substantial of an issue, but it is distracting for the first couple episodes.
Perhaps the thing that the series does the best is allowing the audience to spend time with each of the characters on an individual level. Whereas the feature followed Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) as the protagonist and Skate Kitchen served as supporting characters, she is more of an equal in this show, all of the other women having their characters explored in more depth.
This show should definitely be praised for being unlike anything else on television right now. (It seems to be trying to recapture the lightning in a bottle that was HBO’s Euphoria, albeit to an even more abstract extent.) Moselle and Arfin have created a nuanced character study, and while the absence of a strong overall series arc may alienate some, the episode and multi-episode mini-arcs are very compelling.
On a technical level, Moselle has a definite style about her filmmaking, and while the series isn’t as slick and gorgeous as Skate Kitchen, there’s still a lot to love here. Gorgeous skate sequences abound in the six-episode season and are enough to make sports fans want to watch the series alone. And as expected, the soundtrack is filled with catchy and modern tunes that give the show a lot of character.
Betty may not be the win it had the potential to be after the underappreciated masterpiece that is Skate Kitchen, but it’s still worth watching for the film’s dedicated fans. Now that the introductions are out of the way (again), the door is wide-open for season two to be the feminist portrait of counterculture that is so desperately needed.
Betty debuts on HBO on May 1 at 11pm ET/PT, with new episodes airing subsequent Fridays at the same time. All six episodes reviewed.
Dedicated to unique and diverse perspectives on cinema!