A Black Lady Sketch Show‘s New Season Packs in the LaughsPhoto by Ali Paige Goldstein, courtesy of HBO Comedy Reviews A Black Lady Sketch Show
See, see, see HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show is back for Season 2, and the variety sketch series’ comedic flourishes, recurring characters and distinctly Black subject matter make for a hilarious watch. As with the first season, it’s primarily helmed by Robin Thede, the show’s creator, showrunner and one of its main stars. Thede is joined by fellow comedians Ashley Nicole Black and Gabrielle Dennis in a series of sketches written by the show’s group of Black women writers. Sadly first season standout Quinta Brunson wasn’t able to return for Season 2, but Laci Mosley and Skye Townsend fill out the new season’s ensemble cast with grace and undeniable comedic chops.
One of the greatest features of A Black Lady Sketch Show is the room it makes for the nuances of Black life. Sketch shows like Saturday Night Live and even Mad TV in its heyday have struggled to consistently and intentionally center Blackness in a way that doesn’t set up elements of Black life and Black people themselves to ultimately be punchlines. Even the classic SNL sketch “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood,” a parody of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, features an exaggeratedly ghettoized young Eddie Murphy remarking on the rough and tumble consequences of living in his neighborhood. The joke is hinged upon the stark contrast Mr. Robinson highlights between Black and white neighborhoods, but also upon the notion that Black people live in decrepit, violent environments. Therefore specific elements of some Black lives—like the challenges of living in a dangerous neighborhood—are made monolithic and conflated with Blackness itself, Blackness is subtly, implicitly rendered the joke.
A Black Lady Sketch Show again and again manages to find ways to comment on the nadirs, nuances and particularities of Black life in ways that do not make a mockery of Blackness itself. Season 2’s revolving door of guest stars—including Gabrielle Union, Omarion, Amber Riley, Yvette Nicole Brown, Wunmi Mosaki, Ryan Michelle Bathe, Miguel, Skai Brown, the show’s executive producer Issa Rae and more—play characters who may be rendered ridiculous but are never themselves the joke. It’s refreshing, it’s sharp and above all it’s actually funny. The show is undeniably rewarded cool points for offering new life to the legacy of actually funny sketch comedy shows helmed by Black creative teams (In Living Color, Key & Peele, etc.) but its relevance isn’t grounded in its release during a moment in popular culture where calls for increased representation are made. A Black Lady Sketch Show stands on its own two feet as a meritorious, well-crafted variety program.
In Season 2’s opening episode Robin Thede reprises her role as Hertep Dr. Haddassah Olayinka Ali-Youngman, a pseudoscience spouting, ankara wearing woman who talks about the importance of Black women buttressing their Black kings. In every Dr. Haddassah performance, Thede hilariously begins every mountingly absurd ponification with “see, see, see.” But this time she moves on a Spike Lee dolly, referencing the heralded Black director’s snubbed Da 5 Bloods and suggesting that the proverbial “they” place so many “z’s” in the title of Verzuz—a popular music battle program in which Black musicians go song for song—because “they” want to put us to sleep.
These clever one-liners and quintessentially Black references are peppered gracefully throughout Season 2’s six episodes. In a sketch starring Thede and newcomer Laci Mosley, Thede is an unhappy woman who learns from a psychic that everything went wrong during a childhood game of M.A.S.H. This is the reason she doesn’t have a Lambo with the suicide doors and did not in fact marry B2K singer Omarion. In another sketch Mosley tries desperately to hide her half-unbraided hair from a booty call. In yet another a group of women reunite on vacation and excitedly greet one another in ridiculous ways—chloroforming one another upon arrival and unveiling masks to reveal that they have arrived. The joke is that Black women are often so excited to reunite with one another that they squeal, sometimes shimmy and laugh when seeing one another. This sketch takes that interpersonal social culture and makes light of what others might recognize as disruptive but what the sketch depicts as hyperbolically joyful.
Season 2’s sketches have the classic last minute twists that A Black Lady Sketch Show has become known for. Often sketches will end in surprising ways which cast an entirely new light over the situation which has just unfolded or reinforce particularities in intriguing ways. An additional signature of the show is the way sketch transitions are signaled through these tableaus, including visual freeze frames or animations which reveal the title of the sketch and are crafted in a way to reinforce the sketch’s themes. For example, a Biblical sketch in which Thede, Townsend and Black sit at a kiddie table apart from Jesus’ disciples and lament about the gendered ways they are treated differently ends with a clever snapshot of The Last Supper. Small visual choices like these and callbacks that are woven throughout the season elevate the show into its own distinct atmospheric place.
Season 2 of A Black Lady Sketch Show is a success. Although Brunson’s physical comedy and knack for comedic delivery are missed, Thede, her fellow leads and the writing team effectively craft a second season which further asserts the show’s ethos. Overall it’s a proud and well-earned victory lap. And make sure you look out for the latest installment of last season’s “Black Lady Courtroom,” a sketch in which a judge, bailiff, lawyer, and jury are all delighted to find that they are in a room full of Black ladies.
Adesola Thomas is a screenwriter and culture writer. She loves talking about Annette Benning’s performance in 20th Century Women and making lasagna. You can follow her on Twitter.