Starz’s ‘Blindspotting’ Was an Unexpected Bright Spot

If you see two formally daring television sit-com about a woman’s grief at the loss of her lover, one of them can certainly be WandaVision. If you watch only one, though, it should be Blindspotting.

The eight-episode Starz series is a sequel to the 2018 comedy-drama film of the same name. The movie is about an Oakland man, Collin Hoskins returning to his old haunts after being released from prison. Daveed Diggs played Collin, but he doesn’t appear on screen in the television show. Instead, the narrative starts with Collin’s friend, Miles (Rafael Casal) being arrested for drug possession. As a result, his longtime girlfriend Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and their six-year-old Shaun (Atticus Woodward)  are kicked out of their home. They move in with Miles’ hippie mother Rainey (Helen Hunt) and his sister Trish (Jaylen Barron.)

Courtesy of Starz

A show about the costs of incarceration could easily feel claustrophobic and grim. Blindspotting does have a lot of heartbreaking moments: Shaun starring in horror on his first visit as his dad is pushed around by guards; everyone melting down when they hear the length of Miles’ sentence. And the characters are in fact trapped in numerous ways. Miles is in prison. Ashley is stuck in the house with her in-laws; in one funny and painful scene, she discovers she doesn’t even have privacy to masturbate. Earl (Benjamin Earl Turner), a guest in the house next door is on parole. His ankle monitor is plugged into an extension cord and everywhere he goes he trails the long orange line behind him, like his own personal police state.

But despite all its walls and tethers, the show also feels remarkably open and free. It moves seamlessly, and lovingly, from character to character. Trish, for example, who is introduced as a spoiled oversexed sister-in-law from hell, quickly gains depth and nuance. She rescues Ashley from a robbery by getting up in the robber’s face the way she gets up in everyone’s face. She struggles to extricate herself from the strip club where she feels exploited, frustrated, and humiliated. One of the series’ best small moments is when Earl mocks her by saying she looks like Doja Cat, and she replies with genuine delight, “Wait, you think I look like Doja Cat?!” The best part is that Earl responds by trying desperately not to admit that he does.

The show also opens itself up by refusing naturalism. WandaVision’s non-realistic elements seal you inside Wanda’s head; the sitcom pastiche is a meticulous, lined box, a tiny suburban world in a tiny space inside her skull. In Blindspotting, too, the spoken word segments, dream sequences, and modern dance intrusions by choreographers/performers Lil Buck and Jon Boogz show Ashley’s fears, anxieties, and sadness—as in a stunning, painful segment in which she sits, waiting for visiting hours in the prison, with boredom and grief etched on her face, while people behind her speed through their routines on fast forward, like time is leaving her behind.

Courtesy of Starz

Such sequences, though, are so virtuosic, and so filled with sympathy for the character’s plights, that they feel like they almost burst out of the screen. Ashley grieves, and the show grieves with her. The dancers who crouch in the corner, listening to her explaining to her son that his dad’s in prison, look wounded and hopeful. They’re six-year-olds, and they’re Ashley, and they’re viewers. They bear physical, imaginary witness. You’re not supposed to matter, they say. But you do.

It’s too bad more people don’t agree that the show matters. Blindspotting has gotten positive reviews, and enough of an audience to secure a second season. But the cultural conversation about it has been muted. Maybe the show’s oblique, difficult to capture grace has doomed it to niche attention. Or maybe Starz didn’t give it enough of a marketing budget. Or maybe it just got unlucky.

In any case, apocalyptic superhero battles at Disney+ and the devious machinations of the ultra-ultra rich in HBO’s Succession have been much more touted and discussed than this street-level, small-scale story about struggling people whose hearts and dreams refuse to be policed. Black people, as one obnoxious wealthy woman tells Ashley while she’s working as a concierge, are supposed to perform on command—fetch drugs for white people, go to prison for using drugs themselves, pop up when a bell rings and disappear when they’re inconvenient. But in Blindspotting, Black people and Black imagination keeps escaping from their designated, weary groove. The cops can lock Ashley’s love away. But her love gets out and dances.

Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.