The TV landscape is full of shows that feature friends who act as each other’s family, however, a lot of them don’t focus on the support that Black women provide for one another.
Harlem on Amazon Prime Video follows Camille (Meagan Good), Quinn (Grace Byers), Tye (Jerrie Johnson) and Angie (Shoniqua Shandai) as they balance careers, love and race while surrounded by the inspiring and uplifting Black history of the neighborhood.
We can’t lie and pretend Harlem is a perfect season of TV. One or two episodes are misses. Normally, that wouldn’t matter, but in a 10 episode run, two rough outings become a lot more noticeable.
However, it’s a fun show that knows exactly what it is, and who its audience is, putting it ahead of many other shows out there. We also see the potential in it, where if there’s a Season 2, it may come back stronger and more self-assured.
The chemistry between the four leads invites viewers in, and makes us feel like one of the girls. We are invested in all their crises and mistakes, which keeps us watching through the five seconds Amazon gives us to have a life.
Their bond is joyous and authentic in the way they always have each other’s backs, even when delivering hard truths. The group scenes in particular showcase how authentic their friendship is.
While Camille is presented as the lead, Tye is absolutely the most interesting character. She’s a Queer Black woman in tech, and has the best character development throughout the season. From the moment she’s introduced, she’s unapologetic about her success and her relationships, making Tye someone we love spending time with.
In Harlem Episode 8, “Five Years Ago” Johnson painfully reveals that all Tye’s confidence and emotional walls have come at a heart-breaking cost. She ran away from a marriage she forced herself into. This would’ve been much more shocking if it didn’t feel like a distraction from more important and interesting storylines.
She’s such a cool, confident woman that the marriage drama the show gives her feels out of character. We wish Harlem spent more time focused on her health issues, because that’s a story many Black women definitely relate to.
We’ve all had awkward first impressions with a new boss, but the way Camille can’t get it together around Whoopi Goldberg’s Dr. Pruitt borders on incompetent. Seriously, who has an all night hook up the night before a huge career changing morning meeting?
At a certain point, if your love life is as messy and complicated as Camille’s, it’s time to take a break and focus on yourself. It gets hard to watch after a while.
If we’re being honest, Harlem wastes way too much time on Camille and Ian’s failed relationship. First he moves back, then she’s still in love with him, then he’s engaged, then they work together, then he’s still in love. It’s exhausting. And the whole time they have other partners, so it feels totally wrong, and makes Camille unlikable.
It’s obvious to everyone they need to make a clean break and move on, so the constant back and forth doesn’t help Camille, Ian, Mira, Jameson or the audience.
Byers and Shandai make the most of Quinn and Angie’s moments in the spotlight, but the series definitely needs to tell more nuanced stories about the pair. In “The Strong Black Woman” and “Five Years Ago” we finally get to understand their motivations better, but it shouldn’t take until Episodes 7 and 8.
Despite a few storyline and character missteps, Harlem is a strong showcase for creator/writer Tracy Oliver, its four stars and Harlem itself.
Also, why hasn’t Bravo made “Weather Wives” an actual show yet?