TV: The Other Black Girl (Season 1)

A unique melange of quirky comedy, social commentary, and skiffy horror propels The Other Black Girl, a stylish series that deserves more attention. Based on the novel by Zakiya Dalila Harris, it chronicles the career of ambitious editorial assistant Nella Rogers (Sinclair Daniel). Nella is the only Black employee at Wagner Books, a New York publishing house where she’s been struggling to advance her career. Work is upended by the arrival of Hazel-May McCall (Ashleigh Murray)—”the other Black girl,” a new assistant. Initially, the two become fast friends, and Nella is thrilled to feel less alone in an otherwise racially homogenous workplace. But even as Hazel’s arrival coincides with momentous career opportunities for Nella, it also delivers unnerving mysteries about Wagner, its founder Richard (Eric McCormack), and the company’s legacy as the publisher of a groundbreaking novel called Burning Heart, written by Nella’s idol Diana Gordon (Garcelle Beauvais).

The Other Black Girl has a jaunty cross-genre vibe, equally effective in multiple modes: drama, comedy, mystery, or campy science fiction. It joins a welcome, growing trend of shows that repurpose conspiracy thriller tropes in a speculative context, to render literal the systemic injustices of our society. Shows that do something similar might include Creamerie and The Consultant, but perhaps the key touchstone might be the clever horror film Bad Hair, which has a strikingly similar set-up. As Nella’s friendship with Hazel first threatens and then enhances her career, the mundane workplace micro-aggressions at Wagner take on a surreal, supernatural bent, so that what initially feels like mere office politics develops into a full-blown, X Files-y investigation. Daniel and Murray are both terrific as the key duo, and there’s great comedic support from Brittany Adebumola as Nella’s best friend Malaika, Hunter Parrish as her sweet boyfriend Owen, and Bellamy Young as her neurotic boss Vera, among others. While the commentary lacks subtlety on occasion, the series does a fine job balancing the opposing points of view as it considers Nella’s options: compromise in the name of incremental influence, or blow it all up. Should the series not continue, the finale should serve as a satisfyingly ambiguous ending, but hopefully this one gets picked up, because it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

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