Harlem Season Two Focuses on Black Women’s Joy, Creating a Little Joy of Its Own

The following review contains light spoilers for Season Two of Harlem

When I found out that there would be a second season of Harlem on Prime Video, I was excited. I genuinely enjoyed season one; it was a quick and easy binge at a time when I really needed it. The easy sisterhood between the four Black women at the heart of the show was something I didn’t realize I was missing. I love TV shows where friendship is at the heart: Living Single, The Golden Girls, Sex and the City. I’ve never had a core group friendship like that, especially not one with three other Black women. Harlem is an easy show to insert myself into. I also loved that there was a lesbian who wasn’t just the gay best friend, even though she did fill that role well. In fact, I loved season one so much that I begged our Editor-in-Chief Carmen to let me write about season two.

Season two of Harlem picks up where season one left off — with best friends Camille, Angie, resident lesbian Tye and baby queer Quinn navigating life and love in the heart of New York City. As the weather warms, things heat up in the lives of our fierce foursome. Love is in the air as the cherry blossoms bloom. Black joy, and more specifically the joy of Black women, is one of the major themes of the season, and it is a delight to take part in.

Tye (Jerrie Johnson) starts out the new season finding out she’s been listed as a repeat offender on a website called “She Be Toxic.” Sometimes we have to sit with the consequences of our actions, and it sets Tye on a course to find deeper connection in her life. As she stumbles along, she meets guest star Rachel True (of The Craft and Half & Half fame, who is a delight!). The chemistry between True and Johnson is wonderful to watch as their relationship goes from slightly adversarial to warm and comforting, and True’s character is a departure from the typical guest stars on the show. Her character is a soft place to land for Tye, even though she forces her to really think about what she wants. When I compare her to say, Whoopi Goldberg’s character, Dr. Pruitt, a mentor to Meagan Good who is mostly quite direct (if not a little mean) — it’s a juxtaposition that is unexpected but necessary.

Another source of joy is watching Quinn figuring out her sexuality. At the end of season one, she meets Isabella, a character portrayed as the queer AOC-type — a young political force — and their chemistry is undeniable. By the fifth episode of the new season, “Pride”, Quinn is decked out in full rainbow and glitter. It’s a little over the top, but it made me smile even if I rolled my eyes. Are her attempts at relating to the queer community a little cringey? Absolutely. But it’s also so perfectly indicative of the character. Quinn is the definition of cringey, but endearing.

There’s a lot more I wish I could talk about, but I am legally not allowed to, so we’re going to have to make due with what I can talk about.

One of the things I noticed about season one of Harlem is that it’s pleasant without doing too much hard work or heavy lifting. One of the reasons I watch TV is to relax, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much. Season two sails along that same river. The problem is: the show introduces topics that go beyond casually pleasant. So A LOT of deep conversations are missed because Harlem never gets too deep for more than a minute. It’s a shame too, because it misses the opportunity to have some real conversations.

Towards the end of last season, we found out that Tye has a husband no one knew about. The whole thing screamed “we need to create tension for the character” and while it was a solid choice, it just fell really flat. It was written off as a youthful choice turned mistake for Tye and that was kind of it. Her husband, Brandon is still a problem that she has to deal with in season two — I think there was a missed opportunity to delve deeper into how compulsory heterosexuality affects queer women’s lives. I had so many questions about their relationship, and none of them got answered. Not gonna lie, I was a little disappointed. Their relationship is such a huge part of Tye’s season two arc and deserves a little more care and attention. I felt similarly about a storyline centered on Quinn’s mental health.

Harlem doesn’t need to dwell on the hard parts (especially in a season focusing on joy) but it would be nice to at least do more than merely acknowledge them! Mental health is a big topic to tackle, even more so within the Black community and amongst women; a little more nuance would have been great. Is a kernel of examination beyond acknowledgment too much to ask for?

Honestly, the show shines the best when it focuses on the relationship between the four main characters. Whenever Camille, Tye, Quinn, and Angie are on screen together, you can’t help but smile. They show up for each other every time, giving each other a good natured ribbing or a little tough love when needed. A girls’ trip episode later in the season is the perfect crystallization of what series creator Tracey Oliver (She is literally the woman who created Girls Trip) is best at: making you fall in love with a group of Black friends. Am I a little cynical that a group of women in their 30s all live in the same city and seem to always have time for each other? Yes. But only because I wish my besties lived close enough to have regular Sunday brunches.

This is a small thing, but I do need to shout it out before I wrap this up. Another of my favorite moments is when one of the characters makes a trip to Staten Island. That’s my hometown, and it often gets neglected on shows that take place in New York City. Either that, or it’s the butt of the joke. I couldn’t figure out what neighborhood it was supposed to be, but I was really happy to see it represented.

There are a couple of big reveals in the season finale episode that perfectly set up drama and tension for a third season. I hope we get one, because I genuinely do enjoy watching Harlem. These characters have become dear friends and I want what’s best for them. I just also want them to dig a little deeper next time.


Harlem begins streaming Friday February 3rd on Prime Video.

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Sa'iyda Shabazz

Sa'iyda is a writer and mom who lives in LA with her partner, son and 3 adorable, albeit very extra animals. She has yet to meet a chocolate chip cookie she doesn't like, spends her free time (lol) reading as many queer romances as she can, and has spent the better part of her life obsessed with late 90s pop culture.

Sa'iyda has written 122 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. The trailer for Harlem Season Two is still one of the funniest things I have seen in a long, looong time. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Season One but I’ve been genuinely looking forward to season two? I agree, the friendship between the core four is really special and a joy to watch. Plus I want to see how Quinn and Tye interact, now that Quinn is out, that’s going to bring a whole new dynamic between them as friends. Lots to look forward to!

  2. So I haven’t read the above article because I don’t want to be spoiled… but the full show hasn’t been released completely, right? I only have the first two episodes so I’m guessing it’s being released weekly?

    I enjoyed the first two episodes. It’s good to have these ladies back. I do love the friendships between the girls. The show makes me laugh which is so needed. Looking forward to more episodes and reading the above article!

  3. So I wanted to come back to this review now that I’ve seen the season… sorry for the delay, I’m weird when it comes to spoilers and it was so tempting to plow ahead and just read it when it first came out.

    But just wanted to say that this review was excellent. I’m gonna bookmark it when I need to share with friends why they should watch the show. You described what I felt when watching s1 which was relaxed joy. It’s just a fun watch and the friendships come so effortlessly off the screen.

    I agree with you about Tye and Quinn’s stories feeling a little rushed in some ways. I enjoyed them, especially Quinn’s as I haven’t seen depression explored in that way in comedies so it was interesting to watch it unfold.

    I do wish they had more time to explore a little deeper, especially her relationship with Isabella, but I’m reminded of what Jerrie said in your interview with her and the discussion about how 8 episodes just doesn’t give you a lot of room the flush things out. I really wish streaming services would allow shows to expand their episode counts as sometimes it’s just needed.

    Crossing fingers for a s3! Would love to see more of this friendship group.

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