HBO’s ‘Betty’ Is a Seriously Underrated Look at Women Who Skate
When HBO released Euphoria, they dipped their toes into a demographic that they previously ignored. While the premium cable juggernaut has decades of original series to keep the masses entertained, most of them aimed toward adult audiences. Their latest attempt to cater to a younger audience with the skating series Betty, however, could build on the momentum that Euphoria started.
What is ‘Betty’?
Betty tells the story of six female skaters as they make their way through the male-dominated skating scene in New York City. The name doesn’t invoke one of the main characters. Instead, it derives from a skating slang that male skaters often use to discourage female skaters or demean their male counterparts.
The show is set in New York City, although its exact location might not be well-known to those who don’t know the skating scene.
The show spun off from the massively successful skating film Skate Kitchen, in which the lead actresses from Betty played fictionalized versions of themselves. While other productions may have hired big-name actresses to skate on-screen and employ stunt doubles for all the hard work, Betty uses actual skaters to give the film a sense of realism.
Skating has seen a recent resurgence thanks to social media and reincarnated franchises such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, but female skaters have rarely had the spotlight put on them.
By creating Betty, HBO is not only giving a younger audience a chance to see their shows; they are offering a skating demographic the type of spotlight that it never had before.
While Betty is not the new Game of Thrones or even Euphoria, it is the type of small-budget programming that can make or break a project. Fail, and the network would have to go back to the drawing board.
Art imitating life
Including real skaters adds an air of authenticity to the skating scenes in the show. The show speaks on several hot-topic issues outside of the female skating scene.
One character, Indigo, who is played by Ajani Russell, finds herself at a racially insensitive photo shoot. This event wasn’t a random concept thought up in a writers’ room, but a snapshot into Russell’s real-life struggles as a black woman in the skating world.
Rather than hide these feelings, however, Russell uses them to present stories like her to the audience.
“That was wild to see it manifested, and also scary in how similar it felt to the actual experience,” Russell told Nylon.
“It is a little traumatizing going to those places, but I’m motivated by the fact that these are stories that need to be shared and perspectives that haven’t been given this platform before. It’s important that we are sharing our stories, ourselves.”
This dynamic, which came about from a chance meeting, drove the show’s creator Crystal Moselle to make it. All of these skaters had a story that could not be adequately portrayed by someone else.
“The girls in the film are not actors; I met them on the train. And I just had this intuition about them,” Moselle told Express.
‘Betty’: the reviews are in
Upon release, Betty received acclaim from around the world. Robert Lloyd of the LA Times praised the show’s nuance, saying,
“It’s a show about being young. It feels innocent, which is not to say naive. And it is appropriately, almost casually exhilarating. The strength of Betty is not in its plotted moments, but its more existential ones.”
Caroline Framke of Variety offered similar praise, saying that the actors helped sell the show.
“Every actor is the kind of good that’s harder to absorb at first. They’re so immediately comfortable in their roles and rhythms that the show often feels more like a documentary than a scripted show.”
While the show did not resonate with some older viewers, those in on Betty fell in love with the low-key aesthetic and gritty look at youngsters in the New York skate scene.
In a television world that is increasingly repetitive, Betty provides younger audiences with a different type of show about a group that they have seldom heard about. That may be its greatest strength.