The “Sex and the City” revival titled “And Just Like That” is just around the corner, but in the meantime, we have the Amazon Original series “Harlem,” which has obvious parallels to “SATC” but carves its own unique, hilarious, smart, sexy way as we follow four Black women living in Harlem and leaning on each other as they navigate their respective personal and professional paths.
Created by Tracy Oliver (“Girls Trip”) and with Pharrell Williams and Amy Poehler among the executive producers, this is a celebration of Black culture in America and specifically in Harlem, as the longtime friends have reached that point in their lives when traditional society expects them to have attained certain career achievements and perhaps even romantic commitments, but let’s just say life is still a Work in Progress (to name-drop another terrific series) for all four. This is a beautifully photographed, crisply written, tightly edited series, with crackling good performances from the four beautiful leads and some wonderful guest-star supporting turns from comedic legends Whoopi Goldberg and Andrea Martin. (It also contains more than a sprinkling of frank and raunchy dialogue and explicit sex scenes.)
Throughout Meagan Good’s career, she often has risen above some not-great material, but she’s given a great vehicle here and delivers the performance of her career as Camille, a promising and well-liked anthropology professor at Columbia who serves as our narrator and tour guide, often drawing upon her vast knowledge of the dating practices of various cultures to add texture to her love life as well as the romantic and sexual escapades of her three closest friends:
- Tye (a screen-commanding Jerrie Johnson), a pioneering queer businesswoman who has created a successful dating app but insists on always being control of her short-lived relationships, as she prefers hooking up and moving on over true and lasting intimacy.
- Quinn (the endearingly vulnerable Grace Byers), a trust-fund fashion designer and hopeless romantic whose business is struggling, in large part because she wants to save the world and give back nearly all of her profits.
- Angie (a hilarious and confident Shoniqua Shandai), a larger-than-life presence and aspiring singer-actor who has no social filters and is living rent-free with Quinn and takes full advantage of the situation — but Angie is the first to admit that, so that somehow makes it OK with Quinn. (Angie is also a fiercely protective friend who WILL be there when Quinn needs her, and that also goes a long way.)
The storylines in “Harlem” aren’t particularly groundbreaking, but they’re relatable and real. Camille talks the talk about being an independent, socially committed, stand-alone force — but when she sees her dreamy ex-boyfriend Ian (Tyler Lepley) on the street after a year, she practically melts and essentially turns into a rom-com character from the 1990s. Quinn feels guilty about her privileged upbringing and really wants to make a go of it on her own, but she’s constantly turning to her mother (Jasmine Guy) to replenish her funds. Meanwhile, Tye is stunned by a visitor from her past in a plot turn straight out of a soap opera.
Still, even when “Harlem” is relatively predictable, the dialogue is sharp, and the performances are excellent. There’s also plenty of social commentary, but it’s often served in hilariously absurd (yet somehow plausible) circumstances. The great Andrea Martin of “SCTV” fame does a brilliant comedic turn as Camille’s mentor, an esteemed and ultra-liberal educator who speaks at a rally and says one thing that is deemed offensive by a certain segment of the crowd, which leads to her saying ANOTHER thing and then ANOTHER thing, and just like that, she’s canceled. We also get a greatly amusing subplot about Angie getting cast in “Get Out!” the musical, which is as ridiculous as it sounds and wasn’t exactly sanctioned by Jordan Peele.
The best part about “Harlem” is that cast. Within a handful of episodes, we find Camille, Tye, Quinn and Angie to be every bit as likable and potentially as enduring as Carrie Bradshaw and friends.