Hulu’s Queenie Is a Sweet Coming of Age Story Without Much Depth

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Hulu’s Queenie Is a Sweet Coming of Age Story Without Much Depth

Adapting a beloved book into a television show or movie is never an easy task. Fans expect the character to match the book’s descriptions perfectly, the plot to stay true to the source material, and the final product to exceed expectations. Hulu, no stranger to book-to-TV adaptations, has experienced both hits and misses. While they struck gold with 2020’s Normal People, they often fall into the same pitfalls as other adaptors. 

Hulu’s Queenie is an eight-episode series adapted from the acclaimed novel of the same name by British author Candice Carty-Williams. The show follows Queenie Jenkins (Dionne Brown), a young Jamaican British woman navigating the aftermath of a tumultuous breakup in London. The breakup leaves her grappling with self-esteem issues, feeling lost, and making questionable sexual choices. Dubbed the “Black”  Bridget Jones’s Diary, the novel garnered widespread acclaim, earning Carty-Williams the prestigious Book of the Year award at the British Book Awards, making her the first Black author to achieve this honor. While the book received high praise for its nuanced portrayal of modern Black womanhood, the series, though funny and engaging, falls short in capturing these subtleties. 

The universal experience of enduring and recovering from heartbreak guides much of Queenie. Throughout the series, our emotionally stunted main character, a social media assistant at the newspaper The Daily Read, learns she’s had a miscarriage hours before an outburst at her white boyfriend’s mother’s birthday dinner ultimately leads to their “break.” The couple’s relationship has been strained for months as Queenie’s reluctance to open up about her feelings leaves boyfriend Tom (Jon Pointing) feeling pushed away. After moving out of their shared apartment into a rundown space with strangers, Queenie experiences a mini quarter-life crisis that drives her to hook up with a string of random guys—sometimes a little too close to home—on dating apps, lose sight of her work ambition, and begrudgingly reflect on the childhood. As the series progresses, Queenie feels pressured to go to therapy after an incident at work leaves her vulnerable. In therapy, she uncovers the source of her relationship anxiety, abandonment, and anger issues, allowing her to begin piecing her life back together.

Her village of friends and family makes her journey of self-reflection endearing. The series brings to life richly drawn characters from the book including Darcy (Tilly Keeper), her friendly and solution-oriented co-worker; Kyazike (Bellah), her baddie friend who’s undoubtedly “Black girl goals;” and the ruthless Cassandra (Elisha Applebaum), a cold-hearted university friend who often psychoanalyzes people unsolicited. However, none compare to Queenie’s boisterous and God-loving aunt Maggie (Michelle Greenidge), grandmother Veronica (Llewella Gideon), and cousin Diana (Cristale De’Abreu). Their witty quips towards Queenie and strong chemistry as a cast hold the story together. 

As with most adaptations, Queenie deviates from the source material when necessary, sometimes for the better. For instance, the series adds a new character, the handsome Frank (Samuel Adewunmi), and fleshes out characters like Diana, infusing them with more depth. However, some changes are perplexing, one being how the show modifies Queenie’s relationship with co-worker Ted (Tom Forbes). In the novel, the relationship feels more one-sided, adding a puzzling new dynamic to this relationship in the show. Frank’s presence, while visually appealing, makes Queenie’s romantic choices seem inconsistent. In the book, Queenie doesn’t date Black men, a theme that remains underexplored in both versions. Seeing her flirt with Frank but not pursue their relationship further is confusing, to say the least, especially with that vital storyline underdeveloped. 

Another significant change is downplaying the breakup with Tom. The series offers only brief moments of their relationship: we never see their first meet-cute encounter. We never see the first time they moved in together. We never see how excited Queenie is to join Tom and his family for the holidays for the first time. In the book, a pivotal scene involves Tom’s uncle making a racist remark, which Tom fails to defend Queenie, leading her to storm out. The series changes this to Tom’s grandmother poking fun at Queenie’s appearance. While the racism by way of featurism is still there, this change ultimately only diminishes the impact of the breakup. These changes prevent the viewer from seeing the necessary world-building to understand its main character and why the break-up sends her down the path it does. 

One unexpected highlight of the series is its handling of family trauma. New backstories for Grandmother Veronica and Queenie’s mom help viewers understand how unresolved trauma has shaped this central character. The supportive stand of Queenie’s grandparents towards her decision to attend therapy pleasantly defies the stereotype that “Black people just don’t do therapy.”

While Queenie handles some storylines with care, it does little justice to the other poignant themes touched upon in the book. It only briefly touches on systemic racism and microaggressions, with Queenie’s drive to write about police brutality for the newspaper reduced to fleeting moments, replaced by a desire to write about “strong Black women”—which wouldn’t be a problem if this shift didn’t undermine the book’s exploration of Queenie’s struggle with being “othered” as a palatable version of a Black girl. 

From Queenie’s humorous escapades in online dating to her struggles with self-worth, belonging, and mental health, the series attempts to capture the essence of Black womanhood with honesty and authenticity. At times it does, but ultimately, it delivers a rushed, light-hearted story of self-discovery that does not fully explore Queenie’s journey. But fear not, Queenie is still an enjoyable watch, offering moments of laughter and reflection on one’s place in the world. While book aficionados may wince at occasional portrayals of the story, the show overall proves to be a captivating watch, appealing to both avid readers and those new to the narrative.

Queenie premieres Friday, June 7th on Hulu. 

Precious Fondren is a freelance culture reporter based in NYC. When she’s not rewatching episodes of “One Tree Hill” she’s talking someone’s ear off about music. You can follow her @precius1otus

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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