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Hulu’s British-Jamaican Quarter-Life Crisis Drama

Hulu’s British-Jamaican Quarter-Life Crisis Drama

When Tom (Jon Pointing) dumps her in the premiere, Queenie (Dionne Brown) is taken aback. So much so, it takes her hours to realize that’s what’s happened, and weeks more to understand that he’s not coming back. What doesn’t surprise her, however, is his reasoning. “You’re too much, Queenie,” he sighs. “And there it is,” she thinks.

But if Tom fails to cherish her flaws and all, Queenie very much does. The most charming thing about the half-hour Hulu drama is how much care and compassion it holds for its heroine, no matter how disastrous or self-destructive her choices get — or how occasionally uneven its storytelling becomes.

Queenie

The Bottom Line

An endearing, messy portrait of an endearing, messy heroine.

Airdate: Friday, June 7 (Hulu)
Cast: Dionne Brown, Bellah, Samuel Adewunmi
Creator: Candice Carty-Williams

And things do spiral quickly. Over eight episodes, Queenie makes one ill-advised decision after another in her attempt to move past heartbreak. She drinks too much to blunt her feelings. She has a bunch of gross, unsatisfying sex, much of it with dudes she doesn’t particularly like. She’s an unreliable employee, showing up late and hungover to her social media job for a London newspaper, and frequently a bad friend, ignoring her buddies’ advice or flaking on their plans. In her darkest moments, Queenie is visited by fractured memories of her estranged mother that she tamps down by any means necessary, as if simply thinking about her might infect Queenie with the same shortcomings that derailed her upbringing.

Queenie‘s gift to her, and really to anyone who can relate to the tumult of being 20something and lost, is to allow her the space she needs to sort herself out. “Maybe that’s the kind of thing I like?” she wonders to herself after an unexpectedly kinky hookup. It doesn’t seem to be, going by a facial expression that betrays more ambivalence than excitement. But creator Candice Carty-Williams understands that sometimes the only way for a gal to figure out what she does enjoy is to realize what she doesn’t — and that sometimes, the only way for her to realize what she doesn’t want is to feel it out a few times first. Likewise, Queenie will face her childhood trauma in her own time on her own terms, even if it’s evident to us from the start that she’s a lot less “fine” about it than she claims to be.

So it’s odd that as intimately as it understands Queenie’s difficulties, the show struggles to articulate who she is outside of them. Moment to moment, the series errs on the side of over-explaining her thoughts, in lines presumably lifted from Carty-Williams’ novel of the same title. “Physical touch is not one of my love languages,” she tells us unnecessarily, when we can already glean as much from how she shrinks from a relative’s friendly embrace. But the show cannot seem to pull together a big-picture idea of what she’s like. When Queenie rants to a therapist about how the world treats girls like herself — “loud, brash, sassy, confrontational, bitchy” — it’s not obvious whether she’s describing how she sees herself, how she believes the world perceives her as a Black woman, or how we’re meant to have seen her all along.

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This crisis of identity is evident as well in Queenie‘s stabs at humor. Some of Queenie’s internal monologue is plainly meant to be comic: “Isn’t it enough that she can see inside me? Does she need to know about my day job as well?” she wonders as a gynecologist tries to make small talk during a vaginal exam. And she can be wry about herself, as when she corrects her own declaration that her New Year’s resolution is “fuck all men.” “Not literally,” she hastens to add; she means she’s done with them, not that she wants to screw more of them.

But amid the generally serious, if not downbeat, mood, the jokes sink without making a splash. Although the source material has been touted as the “Black Bridget Jones,” the show lands too heavily to evoke a similar lightness, despite obvious homages like the Playboy costume Queenie dons for a party.

If Queenie‘s idea of Queenie could stand to be sharper, though, it’s touchingly resolute in the idea that she’s worthy of love — ours, her own, her community’s. To that end, it surrounds her with warmth. Carty-Williams has a knack for building believably close, comfortable rapport between characters: a snarky comment from her teenage cousin Diana (Cristale De’Abreu) is all we need to understand the sisterly bond between them, and a playful, knowing grin from her childhood bestie Kyazike (Bellah) telegraphs their dynamic in an instant.

And while Queenie barely bothers to dwell on Tom’s appeal (somewhat to its detriment, since it renders her pining for him more theoretical than visceral), it spins an entire rom-com fantasy from the way Kyazike’s cousin Frank (Samuel Adewunmi) smiles at Queenie — delighted, bashful and a bit awed, as if the basic fact of her presence is a blessing. Because, in Queenie‘s tender view, it is.

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