August 18, 2019 | 81° F

'Random Acts of Flyness' darkly humors intersectional struggles

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Since its inception, variety programming has been a stalwart format for TV. The genre contains some of the most celebrated shows in TV history, like the various late night programs or sketch comedies like "Saturday Night Live" and "Chappelle’s Show." But, the rapid change of how we process information and entertainment has made the form – while still classic and enjoyable – seem dated.

From the way late night hosts format their programs (i.e. monologues first, musical performances last) to the way Key and Peele wrap up a sketch in a tidy 4 minutes, it feels familiar. "The Eric Andre Show" flourished through its eccentricity yet, the structure of the show is undoubtedly similar to the late night shows it parodies. Thankfully, HBO’s new series "Random Acts of Flyness" is venturing into a radically new territory, flipping the variety program on its head and crafting one of the most experimental shows on television.

Having just wrapped its first season, the show is the brainchild of Director Terence Nance and his team of writers and collaborators. The A24-produced sketch comedy is an imaginative representation of life in America. While labeled a comedy, its humor is often dark and absurdist (the belief that humans exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe) at its root.

In the show’s pilot episode there’s a segment featuring actual clips of police brutality while bright Christmas music cheerfully plays over the cries of victims. The second episode features a musical number, sung in both English and Spanish, about toxic masculinity and homophobia in communities of color. Episode four starts inside a "Grand Theft Auto"-esque video game mired in misogyny and respectability politics. Nance and company leave no stone unturned when it comes to their methods of storytelling, often reaching sensory overload near the climax of each segment.

Intensely political, the show thoroughly references and clearly subscribes to intersectional feminists thought with a focus on people of color. Think Audre Lorde, not Ayn Rand. Unlike almost every other program operating through this lens, it’s not trying to coax people into understanding intersectionality, it’s starting point is already intersectional and explores issues within the ideology. Suffice to say, not everyone is fawning over "Random Acts of Flyness."

There have been complaints that the show is blatantly racist against white people, and one user review on IMDb reads, “It's just another dose of White guilt that is specifically designed to normalize forced diversity.” (Well, that’s ... interesting.) For every complaint of reverse racism, though, there are rave reviews from critics. It has a 100 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, and HBO has quickly renewed it for a second season.

Something that may stunt a viewer’s appreciation would be its blunt handling of traditionally sensitive topics. Nance posits that we’re already desensitized to systematic oppression, and makes no bones about confronting it head-on. When the president can be exposed for participating in blatant tax fraud without anyone blinking an eye and the hashtag #JusticeFor seemingly ending with a different name every year, Nance’s assumption doesn’t seem too outlandish. Still, even if you agree with the show’s politics, it’s not for the faint-of-heart.

Episodes feature special guests like Jon Hamm, Solange Knowles and Whoopi Goldberg, who play roles that you’d probably never expect from them in their brief appearances. The soundtrack is amazing, utilizing the music of eclectic artists like Jon Bap, Moses Sumney and more. Controversy aside, odds are you’ve never seen something like "Random Acts of Flyness" before. It catches variety programming up to where culture is in 2018 by being relentlessly inventive and thorough. You’ll either love this show or hate it because it simply doesn’t allow for fence-sitting. Regardless of whatever side you come down on, it’s worth a watch.

Jordan Levy

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