Tell me if this is a joke: Five extremely online young women whose sketch series has just died on the digital vine step into the office of a fast-walking, smooth-talking broadcast network exec ready to sign them, on the spot. What once was dead is now alive! #YassQueen! #TimesUp! #TheFutureisFemale! The time for funny women is now, and this legacy network wants in. “Because haven’t you heard?” an almost-too-young-to-be-believed white dude with the power to make or break them asks. “We do comedy now.”
For the ladies of AwesomenessTV’s Betch, a short-form, all-female sketch series aimed squarely at the YouTube-obsessed girls (and dudes) straddling the Gen Z/Millennial divide, it absolutely is. Betch is always back, went the digital series’ unofficial motto all the years it spent toiling away in happy go90 obscurity—obviously when then series’ sixth short season ended with the show-within-the-show getting canceled, the Betches getting plucked from streaming purgatory for a second life on linear television was the ideal Peak TV joke with which to kick off the show’s seventh season.
The thing is, it ended up being not a joke but reality. Right around the same time that series creators Madeline Whitby and Monica Sherer were wrapping their most serialized season to date, word came down that go90 would be shuttering, and that AwesomenessTV was being acquired by linear giant Viacom. This left Betch in a weirdly uncertain position—it was a digital series without a streaming home, a generation-specific sketch comedy making timely commentary on the state of female-led comedic storytelling set indefinitely loose from the moment (and the generation) it was commenting on. Betch, much to its own chagrin, was not #Back.
Until, a full year and almost no fanfare later, it suddenly was (#BetchIsAlwaysBack!), the short-form episodes from its fifth, sixth and previously unaired seventh digital seasons now edited together to fit the half-hour slot it was given as anchor to AwesomenessTV’s new late-night programming block weeknights on TeenNick. Yes, TeenNick, the little-known linear sister network to Viacom’s own Nickelodeon. And obviously the promo spots all but screamed, We do [Millennial] comedy now!
The whole situation, it turns out, is even more meta than it seems on its face—before go90’s shuttering was even on the horizon, Sherer and Whitby had thought that Season Six would be Betch’s last. Thus, the bizarre, Adult Swim-y episode that capped off that season and found the Betches reuniting 25 years after Maddy’s long-threatened terrible Cat Walker sketch got the show immediately and unceremoniously canceled. “We were 101% sure that that was the last episode of Betch ever,” Sherer says. “They’d had us sort of backdoor pilot a couple of things that season, like proof-of-concept for other shows, [and] we thought we were going to go off and make something else a little more linear, so the reunion episode was like our last hurrah.”
But then, of course, they got the surprise news that Awesomeness wanted a seventh season, and they had to come up with an equally surprising way to bring the Betches back. Enter: “Betch is Not Back,” and the fast-walking, smooth-talking broadcast network exec that followed.
“We’d gotten to make so many different, fun episodes of the show, and obviously the sketches are what most people would think are the fun part,” Whitby explains. “And, they are. But in having had all this time to make this show, our characters had come such a long way, and we fell in love with, like, well… we’re in love with ourselves!” There is a brief break in the line as Sherer cackles. “WOW,” Whitby laughs. “You can quote me on that! But really—we just fell in love with the interstitial pieces that took you from sketch to sketch, and we loved getting to grow those characters, so we wanted to exercise that this season and tell a story that way.”
And that’s exactly what Season Seven does. The show-within-a-show gets picked up by a linear network exec (“played by our dear, dear friend John Milhiser, one of the funniest physical comedians we’ve ever seen”) at a fictional joint called TBD; Monica gets a boyfriend (the last member standing of a super-sized boy band); Maddy gets to direct (it’s… bad); Audrey (Whitby) and Lauren (Elizabeth) start a white girl hip-hop beef, and Jessica (Marie Garcia) gets a starstruck assistant (Hunter March) to help manage her virally popular new vlogging side hustle. The sketch vibe is still present—each episode has at least one sketch to break up the more linear story, including Dr. Drey and Lil’ Laurd’s diss track videos and several cameos from old YouTube friends like Liza Koshy (see below)—but for the most part, it’s the Betches’ post-digital, newly linear network journey that the audience gets to follow.
This is all great. As Paste’s own LaToya Ferguson points out in her review of HBO’s new excellent (and all-female) sketch series, A Black Lady Sketch Show, using interstitial scenes to evolve a longer narrative of the “real” actors in a sketch series is a real slick move that can “provide a mission statement for the type of humor and thinking that [the] series aspires to.” In Betch’s earlier seasons, these interstitials let “Maddy,” “Monica” and all the friends they brought on as guest hosts comment on the state of the gender pay gap, gender inequity behind the camera, and the often (though not always) gendered expectations to maintain a certain kind of public persona/personal brand in the age of the social internet. With the comedically heightened versions of themselves shifted in focus in Season Seven, the work all five Betches put into developing the show’s signature, femininity-in-the-age-of-social-media voice throughout those early interstitials finally gets to pay out, giving the whole show the chance to sprawl out and get straight up WEIRD:
Oh, Liza Koshy, you look great!
This would all be excellent news, save for the big, meta punchline to this particular instance of #BetchBeingBack: Unless you have an actual cable subscription and you’re able to turn your actual television on most (but not all) weeknights at 10 pm on the dot, you’re going to have a heck of a time watching the extremely online Betches do anything new. And the irony of that is… well, it is, in its own meta way, something you could easily imagine informing the premise of any future seasons of Betch that Awesomeness/TeenNick/whoever might greenlight Sherer and Whitby to write. I mean! A digital-native series whose newest seasons are only airing on linear television and are otherwise unavailable to binge anywhere? Like, uknowwhatimeeeean?!?
For now, though, that obvious meeting of art and surreality is just a dream. Sherer and Whitby would be happy to make Betch until the social internet implodes—“I mean, that’s been our joke forever, that we are constantly, always making the show even though no one wants it anymore, and we will do it until the day that we die, if people give us the platform,” Whitby jokes—but while they brought the Betches out of retirement late last year to do a one-off digital spot for Viacom neighbor Comedy Central, nothing new is on the official Betch horizon.
Not that this means that the Betches are done putting their particular spin on comedic Millennial/Gen Z pop culture. Recently promoted to series regular, Jessica Marie Garcia is killing it on On My Block; Audrey Whitby is starring in multiple series, including Nickelodeon’s The Thundermans; and Lauren Elizabeth is doing all those social internet Millennial things that get influencers and YouTubers 1M Instagram followers. For their part, Sherer and Whitby are continuing to act in the digital series The Real Bros of Simi Valley, and are also flexing their youth-centric sketch-writing skills in the majority female writers room on Nickelodeon’s recently relaunched All That.
“Oh my god, it’s been amazing,” Whitby says. “I mean, being part of something that was so [big] back in the ‘90s and made us fall in love with comedy and sketch? I don’t even know how to describe it! Like, we walked in on the first day and were like, is this a real thing? That we’re allowed to be doing?? The Jonas Brothers were there on my birthday! Kel sang me ‘Happy Birthday’ as Ed from Good Burger. I don’t think I’ll ever recover!”
“It’s insane,” Sherer says. “It’s a privilege.”
“We were immediately nervous,” Whitby admits. “We were. But it’s been really fun to write for a younger audience, because literally anything goes. You can write that someone shoots through the ceiling while dressed like a gigantic ear of corn, and the next day, it’s happening.”
“Plus, it’s been so cool to watch the kids grow,” Sherer says. “And like, physically grow, before our eyes. It’s only been thirteen weeks and they’re all already three inches taller! But also, such a tight knit group, and so supportive of each other.”
“They’re all genuinely so, so funny,” adds Whitby. “And a few of them auditioned with some really funny original characters that we’ve implemented into the show. Ryan Alessi, he does these great impressions, but he came it with an original character, T@$#!eigh, who we’ve written into a few sketches. She is very basic, so of course we were immediately drawn to her.”
“Very Betch-y!” Sherer agrees. “We were like, oh WE know who T@$#!eigh is!”
So, at least as far as the new class of All That goes, the Betch brand of sketch comedy is in safe hands. That said, it’s never wise to count the OG Betch out. Even knowing that the latest season could easily be their last, Sherer and Whitby ended it on a cliffhanger, and have ideas for a possible Season Eight.
“Obviously they get picked up by TBD and get their own television show this season,” Whitby says, “So I think we’d want to have a sort of Betch version of Entourage, really see what happens to their egos when they actually become successful. That’s one idea. But, like I said, we’re just keeping going with the idea that Betch is never/not/always/forever/will be back!”
So there’s the joke, friends: Five extremely online women once walked into a television studio, and maybe someday soon, eventually, always, #BetchWillBeBack.
Early seasons of Betch are streaming on Hulu. Newer seasons, including Season Seven (repackaged for broadcast under a new numbering system), are available weeknights on TeenNick, usually at 10 pm. As of publication, the next block of Betch, starting over with the first batch of Season Five episodes that ran when the AwesomenessTV spot launched in July, is set to air from 10 pm-midnight ET this Friday, August 9.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibiliophile whose writing has appeared on Forever Young Adult, Screener, and Birth.Movies.Death. She’ll go ten rounds fighting for teens and intelligently executed genre fare to be taken seriously by pop culture. She can be found @AlexisKG.