TV review: ‘Dear White People’ cleverly satirizes tough subjects

Logan Browning drops knowledge in Dear White People.
Photo: Netflix / Courtesy

Three and a half stars

Dear White People Season 1 available April 28 on Netflix.

Justin Simien’s 2014 film Dear White People was a bit episodic and scattered in its depiction of race relations on an upscale university campus, so turning it into a TV series makes both structural and narrative sense. Netflix’s 10-episode Dear White People series, created and produced by Simien, picks up more or less where the movie left off, although it features a mostly new cast and discards or modifies a few key elements. What remains is Simien’s deft balance of satire and seriousness in exploring the tensions between and among students of various ethnic backgrounds at the fictional Winchester University.

Logan Browning ably steps in for Tessa Thompson as main character Samantha White, a biracial campus firebrand who hosts the radio show that gives the series its name but also dates a sort of doofy sensitive white guy. In a refreshing move for the era of serialized, binge-friendly television, Dear White People shifts its point-of-view character from episode to episode, giving each of the major players time to shine and saving the show from feeling like a really long movie broken up into 10 parts. The open-ended format gives Simien and his collaborators the chance to flesh out some supporting characters who were a bit one-dimensional in the movie, and the more serious moments have room to breathe as well.

It’s still sometimes jarring when the occasionally broad humor transitions into the heavier political themes, but Simien is mostly good at balancing the two, using the humor (which is more clever than laugh-out-loud funny) to strengthen the social commentary and to show how even the most righteous characters have flaws and make mistakes. The show has a point to make, but part of that point is simply to depict the lives of people who are too often relegated to the pop-culture background.

Tags: Film, Television
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