Hulu’s The Other Black Girl Is a Thrilling and Funny Adaptation Despite Its Tonal Imbalance

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Hulu’s The Other Black Girl Is a Thrilling and Funny Adaptation Despite Its Tonal Imbalance

Balancing drama and comedy isn’t an easy feat for TV. There’s a reason that the majority of television falls into one realm or the other, and while there are shows that have a foot in both camps like The Flight Attendant and The Bear, straddling the line is not something everyone can pull off.

Hulu’s new dramedy thriller The Other Black Girl doesn’t quite succeed in keeping those scales even, but it’s still a good time. Based on the book of the same name by Zakiya Dalila Harris, the 10-episode season follows Nella Rogers (Sinclair Daniels), an assistant to an editor at Wagner Books, as she befriends Hazel-May McCall (Ashleigh Murray), the only other Black woman who comes to work in her department. Despite Nella and Hazel seeming like perfectly-matched friends, Nella and her best friend Malaika (Brittany Adebumola) begin to realize that something is off about Hazel, and Nella has to balance trying to progress in her career and investigating what’s going on.

Nella’s experience is that of so many Black women who work in majority-white spaces. She has been in the same entry-level assistant position under her boss Vera (Bellamy Young) for two years and is constantly overlooked, while simultaneously having her ideas swiped and being the number one runner for everything at the office. The only thing keeping her going is her ambition to become Wagner’s next Black female editor, a feat that no one has managed to achieve since Kendra Rae Philips in 1988. When Hazel arrives and takes over the cubicle next to her, Nella is immediately excited to finally have a support system in the office. To her, Hazel is a chance for her to finally have backup against the overwhelming whiteness of the publisher. 

When Hazel encourages Nella to criticize the blatant racism in Wager’s best selling author’s new book, Nella ends up publicly humiliating herself and slowly becomes reliant on Hazel’s sweet, bubbly, outgoing personality to help her get ahead. She gains confidence she didn’t have before, becomes less awkward, and starts dressing better, but Malaika hits her with the hard truth that she’s not doing anything but becoming an imitation of her new work bestie. Initially, Nella is angry with Malaika for not accepting the changes, but she slowly begins to realize that maybe Malaika was right.

The Other Black Girl makes quite a few departures from its source material, and while it seems like that might be a mistake for the first half of the season, you’ll be completely sold by the end. The core of the story is still there, and the show does what I wish the book had done and really expands the backstories of the characters surrounding Nella with the help of the series’ outstanding cast. Sinclair Daniels and Ashleigh Murray play off of each other perfectly for the entire show, and it’s wonderful to see Murray shine and show off the range of her talent after being underserved on Riverdale for so many years. Daniels’ portrayal of Nella is just as effortless and effective. It isn’t easy to create an awkward character that is convincing and not cringey, and she pulls this off perfectly. Brittany Adebumola’s Malaika carries the majority of the comedy alongside Bellamy Young’s Vera, and while the transition between the funny and the serious doesn’t always work in the sense of the narrative, Adebumola and Young are always at their best. 

When it comes to the lesser elements of The Other Black Girl, the core problem is the lack of tonal harmony. Separately, the comedic elements and thriller-drama elements play so well, but it’s almost jarring to go from a really funny joke to Nella’s deep psychological mistrust of Hazel and the world around her. It’s like watching two different shows with the same cast and subject matter—it’s pretty weird. That said, the mystery of the show is more than enough to keep you hooked. It might take the first half of the season to really pick up, but the episodes are all under 30 minutes long, and the wait is absolutely worth it.

The best episodes of the show do all fall in the back half of the season, and if the writers are able to continue with the stride they hit, The Other Black Girl could give us a wonderful second season. There have been a lot of book-to-screen adaptations that have proved to be letdowns over the last few years, but this is far from one of them. Whether the show is better than the book is up to the individual—looking at the two holistically, I think the show has a pretty strong advantage—but not everyone is the kind of person who is going to sit and read a book just so they can judge a TV show. The average person will see an ad for this series and put it on because they think it looks interesting, and they will more than likely finish their binge having had a good time. 

The Other Black Girl is far from perfect, and it never really finds a good happy-medium with the tone it wants to take, but it has more than enough potential to be better than it already is if it’s given another season. It is solid, good television, and that’s more than appealing in a world where every other show still on the air falls on the far sides of the Poorly-Written-Mess-That-Isn’t-Even-Fun-To-Watch to Traumatic-Prestiege-Drama scale. The casting is incredible, the lead characters are two very complex Black women, and when the show is funny, it’s really funny. Even if there is no second season to be had, things wrap up well, and these days, nothing is more satisfying than an ending that can either sit as it is or be expanded upon later.

All episodes of The Other Black Girl premiere Wednesday, September 13th on Hulu. 

Kathryn Porter is a freelance writer who will talk endlessly about anything entertainment given the chance. You can find her @kaechops on Twitter.

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