The first season of Justin Simien’s amazing Netflix show, “Dear White People,” was one of my personal favorites from Netflix last year, and after binge-watching Season 2 eariler this month, I can safely say that it not only continues the conversations that the first season started, but it expands on them with sadness, mirth, courage and even mystery. My expectations weren’t only met, but they were, frankly, blown away. In a lot of ways, Season 1 was kind of like an introduction to each of the key characters of the show, along with their major issues, trials, flaws and motivations. There’s the brave Samantha White, the creator and host of the Winchester University Radio program, “Dear White People,” the shy school journalist Lionel, the tough-guy comp-sci geek Reggie, Samantha’s smart-yet-second-fiddle pal Joelle, the savvy and ambitious Coco, Sam’s on-and-off white grad student filmmaker BF Gabe and lastly, uber-polished school president Troy Fairbanks. This is ensemble TV at its finest, and if you thought Season 1 did wonders with these characters, wait until you see Season 2.
However, the cast’s evolution couldn’t have happened without challenging circumstances, and that’s really the heart of what makes this season so special. Season 2 begins with the aftermath of the Hancock protests where Samantha is forced to confront both a relentless troll named AltIvyRight, and a new conservative student radio show sarcastically named “Dear Right People.” Little by little, our band of heroes are challenged left and right by trolls straight outta 2016, but the shadow that looms largest for this season is the legacy of Winchester. While the main episodes focus on each character like last season, each is tied with a lengthy introduction featuring how this Ivy League school historically supported the institution of slavery in America, with our narrator ending each intro with the two most important words in the show, “Watch Closely.” This not only gives the show a connective thread to each episode’s separate narratives, but makes our characters’ quest for truth against the burgeoning alt-right forces on campus much more global, with greater mystery and higher stakes. If anything, the show not only provides sharp social commentary, but a nuanced look at interracial family dynamics, loads of soul-searching, a mysterious hunt for an online racist and even the unraveling of a secret society on campus. Yes, this is ALL in Season 2.
But that’s not all. Justin Simien and his list of directors provide each episode with a surreal yet probing cinematic flair that slams us into the lives of everyone at Winchester. These touches range from the long, winding shots of Sam’s studio, to the lonely shots of Lionel trying to fit into a very white Pride Day mixer (loved his defense of Asian peoples BTW), along with Sam’s talk with Gabe in black and red lights and the gothic spookiness of the bell tower. And let’s not forget Troy’s Fear and Loathing in Winchester as he truly goes out-of-body all over campus, where the camera just creeps and swerves along his ‘shroom-induced joyride….complete with a talking dog! With all this in mind, I think it’s safe to say that Season 2 is not only food for thought, but it’s an absolute feast for the eyes. While we were watching, my wife said that each episode was like watching a movie, and you know what? She’s right. Every episode is LITERALLY a love letter to the cinematic tradition. Furthermore, these lovely visuals are punctuated by an amazing jazz score that’s very hard to miss, where each piece provides a quaint but purposeful drive to the events of each episode. With sounds and sights like this, who the hell needs network TV? Especially when it’s too afraid to cover subjects relevant to our generation?
In a world where being Black in America means being kicked out of a coffee shop, a shared dorm space or even your own fucking BBQ, shows like Dear White People couldn’t have come sooner. With astounding visuals, an amazing score, and a cast of characters who are all seeking to find their place in a world that has harmed, shackled and silenced their existence before they were even born, Season 2 of Dear White People is a triumph of what T.V. could be when diverse individuals are allowed to speak their truths both in front and behind the lens. The conversation has finally begun folks. Listen well, and watch closely.