Season Two of Betty, the warm and irresistible HBO dramedy about a group of female skateboarder friends, was filmed and takes place in those cold, harsh New York months when the city was largely shut down due to the pandemic. On the one hand, this turn of events clears out the streets for the women to skate together, and the show’s creator and chief director Crystal Moselle takes full advantage, filming the city with just her characters rolling through it like it’s their own playground. On the other hand, life during Covid makes it even more complicated for each member of the group to find what she’s looking for — especially since so much of what these skaters care about exists in spaces controlled by men, now more than ever.
It’s a messy state of reality that former documentarian Moselle is well-equipped to capture. Parts of Season Two are a bit more plot-driven, showing the women chasing various goals: Indigo (Ajani Russell) is hustling to pay off a debt to her mother; Janay (Dede Lovelace) is searching for a new indoor spot for them to skate; Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) is seeking more respect for her skating by making social media videos for an apparel company. But a lot of it is as before, too — a vibe rather than a story, where we’re simply enjoying time with the group’s rambunctious id Kirt (Nina Moran) as she unexpectedly becomes a guru to their male friends, or seeing Honeybear (Moonbear) struggle to understand why her girlfriend wants to bring a third person into their relationship.
Most of the character arcs are on some level about the spiritual perils of selling out, particularly in a system stacked against these women, but the world and the characters are so finely etched that what happens almost always takes a back seat to the experience of it. (You can take the documentary filmmaker out of the nonfiction world, but you can’t always take the nonfiction feel out of her work — which here is a very good thing.)
As before, Betty remains a mix of gentle comedy and unexpectedly potent drama. Kirt is still the primary source of laughs, particularly as her lessons to the skater boys about how to treat women better go off the rails. (“You think anybody wants a dick pic?” she lectures them indignantly, before pausing to admit, “Actually, some people do.”) But there’s also a storyline where Indigo attempts to become a “sugar baby” — a young woman who spends time with rich men in an unspoken financial arrangement that does not necessarily require sex — that impressively walks a knife-edge between absurdity and darkness. And Janay’s quest to find an indoor skate space is mostly played for only-in-New-York humor, yet has a lovely payoff that also turns into a hat-tip at Skate Kitchen, the 2018 film where Moselle and her ensemble cast of nonprofessional actors first introduced versions of these characters. For the most part, the stakes remain incredibly low, yet the emotional moments can sneak up on you. As Kirt puts it in a rare serious moment, “I’m just a person who has emotions that make me feel so damn much.”
“I’m over feeling like I have to prove myself to these people and to everybody,” says Camille, the member of the group who most cares about skating for its own sake. She and her friends have nothing to prove after two incredibly charming seasons.
Season Two of Betty premieres June 11th on HBO. I’ve seen all six episodes.