Created by Crystal Moselle
Original Air Date: 11th June 2021-16th July 2021
I always get this weird feeling of anxiety when it comes to second seasons, especially with series that come along unexpectedly and which hit you in a way that you never expected it to.
Some series can hit the ground running and expand upon what it was that made its first year so good; others can run into trouble and end up hitting a wall that might make you doubt that the series can ever get back to doing what it was that made it so good in the first place.
I guess one of the best (or worst) examples of the latter is Friday Nights Lights, which ended up devoting itself to one of the worst plotlines in its history in season two and which felt like a lot of that season had been mandated by studio notes. It being cut short by the WGA Writers Strike that year was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to it and, thankfully, season three rebounded brilliantly. On the other hand, Heroes.
Not that I was worried about that going into Betty’s second season, but its first season was so perfectly formed and lovingly put together that if it had been a one-and-done, you would have been happy with where it concluded, it was six perfect episodes that simultaneously stood in their own and yet added up to a glorious whole piece.
Going into season two, one can feel the series opting for more overt dramatic beats and story threads compared to its first year; relationships we rooted for during season one have to overcome more dramatic obstacles (or as dramatic as it gets here) and characters that we love and care for have new stakes to deal with.
Honeybear and Ash’s problems with introducing a third party into their relationship and Indigo’s journey into the world of dating ‘Sugar Daddies’ in order to make money (also a plot thread in the recent Shiva Baby) on paper potentially feel like a descent into contrivance compared to the first season, but Crystal Moselle and her writers amazingly never lose sight of that naturalistic tone that made season one such a brilliant draw for the viewer.
The emotional stakes are upped for sure, but never to the point where it feels like it’s intruding on the tone that the series has so brilliantly sketched for its world. It would have been so easier for the series to fall into the realm of soap opera with the story arcs that are opened up here, but it brilliantly avoids any potential traps with ease.
Best of all, Moselle retains the more stylistic spark for those skating sequences which feel as epic and brilliant as ever. That’s where the filmmaking always feels more self-consciously stylish; all those low angle sweeping shots of Betty’s characters navigating their way through the streets of New York or over the sweeping ramps that they skate over still makes this most naturalistic of shows feel quietly epic, while stories of love that could be lost, and emotional navigations of life that could so easily fall into contrived or soapy in other series feel all too real and raw here.
The same goes for its approach towards more comedic sub-plots such as Kirt’s quest to educate the male skaters on how to emotionally engage with women. That it eventually leads to a party where all the males dress up as her is perhaps one of the funniest moments of the series, made even more so by Nina Moran’s ability to downplay the comedy in a deadpan, yet wide-eyed way.
The cast retain an build on their work from the first year and while the ensemble may not spend as much time together on screen as a group as they did in season one, it makes the moments when they do come together such in that lovely final scene of the finale all the more precious, and at this rate Betty is precious.
While other recent HBO heavy hitters such as The White Lotus, The Undoing and Mare of Easttown attract so much attention from viewers and critics (I will admit to adoring Mare of Easttown, its status as one of the best of the year is much deserved), Betty is perhaps the quiet underdog of the cable giant at this stage, and yet one cannot help but want it any other way.
It’s subtle approach to storytelling, character growth and documentary-style makes it an underrated gem in the HBO crown, and yet for it to be under the radar in terms of its success and audience awareness seems all the more apt. It would almost feel wrong for it to be a Game of Thrones-style massive hit.
These are stories and characters that are easy to care for and love. The ensemble cast is perfect, the performances are wonderful and the series’ brilliant ability to evoke a laid back atmosphere and world is hard to look away from. It ends up approaching something of a quiet, brilliant masterpiece.