Interiority, Defensiveness, and ‘Awkward Black Girl’ and ‘Girls’

The second season of Awkward Black Girl is here:

Watching, I was struck by something I hadn’t quite put together before: unlike most other sitcoms, the show is really wholly dependent on whether you can get inside J’s head. The show is clear on the fact that she’s an unreliable narrator, and that the interactions we see are presented to us as J sees them, which makes them less naturalistic and warm, and more cartoonish and brittle (this at times also seems like a reasonable workaround for the supporting cast’s limitations). In a way, it’s a much more directly challenging show than Girls to which it’s regularly compared: unlike Lena Dunham’s sitcom, Awkward Black Girl doesn’t really give you a break from J’s head, and doesn’t regularly call out J’s anti-heroic tendencies, her prickliness, her slackerdom, her self-absorption, with the same force as the other characters on Girls do.

There’s something fascinating at work in the way these shows challenge you to like characters who are, flaws and all, essentially reasonably likable people. They’re both doing the thing that Hannah tells Marnie that she does in their big dust-up: “No one could ever hate me as much as I hate myself, okay? So any mean thing someone is going to think of to say about me, I’ve already said to me, about me, probably in the last half hour.”Girls and Awkward Black Girl put their characters’ worst sides front and center constantly, and then if folks make it through that hurdle and insist they’re still interested in knowing J and Hannah, get access to their kindness, humor, and smarts. It’s the exact opposite of the slacker dude meme, where Judd Apatow and company present the most charming bits of their manchildren before showing the damage they can do, and forcing them to change when they face the consequences of that damage.