25 June 2020
Betty is “a spunky, infectious tale of community and agency”, say critics
Betty, #21 on Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the Best TV Shows Of 2020 So Far, is now streaming on Showmax, with new episodes at 22:30 every Monday after it airs on 1Magic.
Based on Crystal Moselle’s critically acclaimed feature Skate Kitchen, HBO’s new six-episode half-hour series Betty follows a diverse group of young women navigating their lives through New York’s predominantly male-oriented skateboarding scene. Dede Lovelace, Kabrina Adams, Nina Moran, Ajani Russell, and Rachelle Vinberg, who all starred in the original film, return for the series, which has already been renewed for a second season.
Betty has a 95% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where the critics consensus is, “Earnest, audacious, and effortlessly cool, Betty captures the spirit of skating and friendship with style.”
Crystal’s debut documentary Wolfpack earned her the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Best Documentary at Edinburgh, and a Cinema Eye Honors Award, as well as an MTV Movie Awards Best Documentary nomination, while Skate Kitchen earned Crystal a Best of Next nomination at Sundance and an Honourable Mention at Outfest.
Skate Betties claim their name
“The term ‘Betty’ in the skate world has gone through these different transformations,” says Crystal. “At one point a ‘Skate Betty’ was a girl who skateboarded. Then it was a girl who hung out with skateboard dudes. We’re reclaiming the term and making it our own.”
“At one point a ‘Skate Betty’ was a girl who skateboarded. Then it was a girl who hung out with skateboard dudes. We’re reclaiming the term and making it our own.”Crystal Moselle
She met Nina and Rochelle on the train, asked them if they wanted to be part of a film project, took them to coffee, and then went skating with them. “That group of girls formed a collective called the Skate Kitchen, which then became a movie, also called Skate Kitchen,” she remembers.
“That’s where everything started,” says Nina, who plays Kirt. “It got so much attention that it led to this TV show.”
While Skate Kitchen and Betty are fiction, they’re still heavily based on the actors’ lives. “I like to shoot everything to feel like a documentary,” says Crystal. “Where you’re with these people and you’re living with them in this world and it’s imperfect – because that’s what life is like.”
“I really love to collaborate,” she adds. “For me, it’s my favourite thing. The girls are consultants on the show so they are able to put their point of view into the writing that we do.”
This approach has paid off in the performances. As Variety says, “Every actor is the kind of good that’s harder to absorb at first; they’re so immediately comfortable in their roles and rhythms that the show often feels more like a documentary than a scripted show.”
The cast wish they’d had a show like this growing up. “It’s all girls and they all have skateboards,” says Kabrina, who plays Honeybear. “I’ve never seen that on TV.”
Fighting the patriarchy
It’s not just the female skateboarding angle that feels fresh. As Crystal puts it, “I haven’t seen a show on television that shows a group of women fighting the patriarchy in a very authentic male-dominated subculture.”
Not that bingeing Betty feels like watching a fight. “Betty looks like how being a teenager feels,” says Variety. “Shot during a vibrant New York City summer, the show zips alongside its characters as they weave through traffic, across parks, over bridges on their skateboards. When it slows down, it’s to take in the view, have a laugh, shoot the sh*t. But within minutes it’s inevitably off and running into the blinking sun again, winding down the city streets with such visceral verve that you can practically feel the wind whipping through your own hair through the screen…”
As Crystal says, “It’s almost like a dance movie, but it’s skateboarding.”
If you’ve never picked up a skateboard before, don’t be put off. “Skateboarding is the backdrop but really it’s about relationships and women supporting each other,” says Crystal.
“Skateboarding is the backdrop but really it’s about relationships and women supporting each other.”Crystal Moselle
Or as AVClub puts it, “Above all else, the show is a spunky, infectious tale of community and agency. Moselle and company continue to find an undercurrent of youthful innocence amid the inherent rebellion of their freewheeling lifestyle (casual drug use and all) that makes these figures just as true and well-rounded as their real-life counterparts. Brazen and delightfully gruesome at times, Betty transcends the subculture it centers to provide a story of strength for all girls.”
“It’s Larry Clark’s Kids without the rebel fetishism and suffocating nihilism,” says Rolling Stone. “Mostly, though, Betty is a tribute to these women who Moselle adores, and who wants you to adore as much as she does.”
As Ajani Russell, who plays Indigo, says, “We just want to inspire the girls the way we inspired each other.”