Issa Rae And ‘Awkward Black Girl’ Are The Future

In our conversation about non-white manic pixie dream girls, a couple of commenters recommended that I give Issa Rae’s web series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, a try. It’s a suggestion for which I’m deeply grateful (and as a thank-you, if you’ve got questions for Rae, toss ’em in comments: I’ll be interviewing her later this week) — I would love to see this expanded as a network show. Part of what’s great about the series is that the main character, J, is allowed to be less than completely pleasant all the time (she vents her considerable spleen by writing really, really angry rhymes), and though there are guys in her life, she has concerns other than landing her cute coworker.

But I think the central genius of Awkward Black Girl is in the title. As Rae writes on a Kickstarter proposal to keep the show going, “at its core, it’s about being ‘awkward,’ which is a unifying and universal thing that we all have experienced in some capacity.” That’s absolutely true, and Rae’s great at getting at the little things, like whether you talk to a coworker you don’t know well when you get stuck walking down the same endless hallway multiple times a day, or how to feel when you learn that a party invitation doesn’t mean what you think it means. But I appreciate that the show isn’t neutral about the awkwardnesses of conversations and interactions across race. How do you handle an expansively racist coworker of whose ethnicity you’re uncertain? What happens when an otherwise close friend starts talking like a Hollywoodized slave at a party, claiming “black guys love it when I talk this way”? In one of my favorite scenes in the series, J, the main character, meets a cute white guy with the same name at a party in the fifth episode. Riffing on the JJ coincidence, he attempts a Good Times joke — but rather than dismissing him as an ignorant racist white dude, the series lets him walk it back, acknowledges that the moment is awkward for both participants, but from very different places.

We’ve had conversations in this space about the kind of female comedian who could, if given the opportunity, replicate Louie, handling everything from script to edits. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl is a gentler show, but I think Issa Rae might be the woman who could do it. FX, or somebody, should get her some of that Louis C.K. money.