On 1 June Betty will be streaming to Showmax. The HBO show follows a group of teenage girls who live in New York City and love to skate. HBO gave me access to the show before release so I could share my thoughts with you and… here they are.
Betty follows 4 young women as they spend their New York summer skateboarding. I expected the show to dissect the skating culture while giving us a glimpse at the world of those “cool” girls who seem to have their sh*t together and effortlessly roll through life on their boards, seeming to have found their way. The show consists of 6 30 minute episodes and is created by Crystal Moselle who also directed a well known skateboarding film called Skate Kitchen. Skate Kitchen followed a bunch of female skaters and was basically a movie about the lives of these skateboarding women Moselle met on the subway. Betty is an extension of this film. Many of the actresses in Skate Kitchen were skateboarders first and actors second. They actually had to learn to act. The skaters/actresses from that film are now in Betty.
I haven’t seen Skate Kitchen so Betty is all I have to go on.
The show is beautifully shot. From the opening scene I was just pulled into New York City (I’ve been lucky enough to visit twice and it is easily one of my favourite places in the world). I think the show immediately captures the gritty cool of the city and it truly shines in the way it rolls down the street with girls on their boards or showcases something as simple as the tiny grocery stores on the corner. When one of the characters is shopping the claustrophobic lacking floor space is so well translated on to the screen. I was hooked by the visuals and, obviously, the skating. The skateboard park shots are also a thing to marvel at. Even if you know nothing about skateboarding (me!) you’ll love watching and you’ll feel transported to this world, as if you’re simply leaning against a pillar watching these girls roll.
And then it falls a bit flat
While there is a real beauty in the gritty and encompassing cinematography, Betty never really gets out the gate with the story. We’re thrown in to the world of the 4 girls we’re following but I felt like the writers didn’t really do a lot to build their stories. You’ll sometimes get a drop of sincerity that allows you a look into who they are as people but it is few and far between. There’s no plot to this show. It feels like an over the shoulder ride through the city and for the first few episodes I really just found myself confused as to where it was going… And then I started wondering if that was the point and it wasn’t supposed to go anywhere? I spent more time trying to understand the idea then actually following the writing and that wasn’t fun. Every so often the show will touch on issues that I think effect all young women, but it does just that: there’s a touch, a brush and it quickly moves on. The characters themselves are awkward, which is likely because the girls filmed are not actors, they’re skaters. It’s fine when you’re watching the shy HoneyBear find her space because it works but it becomes somewhat difficult to watch when Camille is having a conversation with a boy in his flat – it’s stilted. Once again, I found myself trying to figure out if that was the point – because conversations with boys ARE stilted and cringe when you’re younger. However, I think this was a happy accident on the part of the show. It misses the mark when it comes to grabbing you or convincing you to feel an attachment to any of the characters featured.
Overall though? I still watched the whole thing
While I spent most of the show debating how I felt about it, I didn’t stop watching and, usually, if something doesn’t grab me, I will. Betty’s story didn’t grab me but the incredible visuals of New York and a small peak into the skating world did. The story itself was background noise. I ended up watching for the visuals and the soundtrack alone. The truth is I don’t know how I feel about this show. On one side it’s not great, if you want a story to follow you’ll be sorely disappointed. On the other though, it’s a feast for your eyes and ears. My gut tells me it isn’t going to be a big winner and most people won’t like it, but my heart felt a certain joy just watching for the vibe. Use that as you will.
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