Betty Returns to HBO for Yet Another Effortlessly Cool Season of Skate

Dept. of Kickflips and Wallrides


Created, directed, and executive produced by Crystal Moselle, and spun out of her 2018 movie Skate Kitchen, Betty on HBO follows a group of effortlessly cool young women who just want to skate. At first glance, and depending on your level of interest in skate culture, you may think that this show isn’t for you. That said, if you put in the time, you might just find yourself caught up in this beautifully crafted and totally authentic deep dive into a truly fascinating subculture.

Umapagan Ampikaipakan: First of all, I feel it important to say that this isn’t a series about a character called Betty. The title is actually a reference to a pejorative term that male skaters would use to describe female hangers-ons at skate parks who didn’t usually skate…

Bahir Yeusuff: … they would call them bettys.

UA: Absolutely. They used to be called “pro-hoes” at first, and then “skate bettys,” and what this series does, specifically what the women in this series do, is reclaim that word for themselves. Because these girls can skate! 

As a kid, there was a time when I tried my hand at skateboarding but it was incredibly short lived as I very quickly discovered my complete and utter lack of dexterity. Beyond that, my only real exposure to that “skater life” was from watching Khai Bahar’s Kickflip. And maybe playing some Tony Hawk on my Nintendo 64. I’ve never been to a skate park. I don’t know any women skaters. Needless to say I had absolutely no interest in the subject matter whatsoever.

At least  until I put on the first episode of Betty. I can’t quite explain why, but this series had me hooked from its opening credits. Maybe it’s the music. Or the choreography. Or just the way it was shot. But watching Nina Moran’s Kirt freewheeling through the streets of New York city just made me feel free. 

Maybe it’s a side effect from being locked down again.

BY: There is something about the aesthetic and the way it’s shot that makes you long for “something.” Be it the freedom these girls feel, the ability to skate, or that New York state of mind. HBO’s Betty is a mood and although as a series it doesn’t quite work for me, as a look, I am totally on board.

I think a big part of why this show just didn’t do it for me is because I feel like I’m at that age where the world has just worn me out. The series doesn’t really have a storyline. It just follows these girls as they go about their day skating. No one is trying to find a job or fall in love. No one is falling out of love. They are just doing what they want to do, and what they want to do is skate.

Betty reminds me a lot of an old HBO series from 2010 called How To Make It In America. Also set in the non-famous parts of New York, it tells the story of two guys hustling to set up their own denim company. 11 years ago a 20-something Bahir could really relate to that. This show, however, feels so far removed from my day-to-day that I just could not get into it.

But I will agree with you when you say that the show has a great “look.” The slow motion beats of life. The carefully filmed sequences of Honeybear just dancing by herself. None of that feels gratuitous or for show. It works within the world of these characters and the world of this series.

That New York Slice of Life


UA: I’ve always been a sucker for these sorts of slice-of-life stories. You know, where no one is really trying to change the world, they’re just trying to make their way through it. The stories where we’re so embedded into these lives that we get an insider’s perspective on what it’s like to live it. Betty was a completely immersive experience for me in that sense. And having it play out through six, incredibly breezy episodes, meant that I wasn’t just all in, it also left me wanting more.

A lot of that has to do with the girls themselves. None of them are actors with a capital “A.” They’re skaters first and foremost, and here, they’re playing loose versions of themselves. This lends a sort of documentary feel to the whole series and that went a long way towards bolstering my enjoyment of the show. 

I don’t think I would have liked this as much if it didn’t make that specific creative choice. Whenever movies or TV shows take on these sorts of subcultures, there is always some sort of forced conflict. There is this need to expound on how these individual’s lives are impacted by this passion that they have. For better and for worse. 

In Betty, Crystal Moselle has such confidence in these girls’ stories that she just lets them speak for themselves. Whatever drama we get, and there is some, seems to come about organically. All of it feels incredibly natural. And I liked that a lot.

BY: You’re absolutely spot on with the girls. The people we follow are not characters. They feel like real people and that is mostly because they are real people. They aren’t caricatures of people the writer knows. Watching the show feels immersive. And you’re right, it feels like watching a documentary. 

Betty doesn’t really feel like the show to introduce audiences to this subculture of a subculture. This show IS for that subculture. And I think that is why Betty just didn’t resonate with me. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good show. Everything about it is good. Even the non-story storylines play out in a true fashion. It is shot incredibly well and if I think that this is a show a friend might like, I would most definitely recommend it. There’s no fluff here. No “rah-rah” girl power stuff. But Betty is nevertheless very powerfully feminine. This show passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. I really wanted to like it more. But I just couldn’t get into it.

Skating in the Time of Corona


UA: One of the things I did love from Season 2 was how the show tackled the pandemic. The writers just leaned into it and didn’t bother pretending it was something that didn’t happen. A subculture that is rooted in community and the outside world would be undeniably affected by lockdowns and social distancing, and I liked how this new season gave me an opportunity to experience another version of what we’re all collectively going through right now. 

Many TV shows spend a lot of time and money creating a version of reality that’s detached from this one, but I for one am always appreciative of the creative gymnastics involved in trying to reposition fiction into our current circumstances. So far I’ve seen some medical dramas take on the pandemic. And I remember you saying that the final season of Shameless did it as well? (I am way behind on that show!)

BY: Yeah absolutely. There’s always this thing about how audiences want to escape from reality, and that may be true, but sometimes an escape from this reality is all we really needed. Shameless did a great job of dealing with the pandemic without dealing with it. The pandemic struck between seasons, so when the show came back on air for its final season, everyone was just wearing masks and we just accepted it as part of what life is now. I recently finished Superstore as well, and they did the same. Set in a big box superstore, the workplace comedy just dealt with it the way we all dealt with it. First it was confusion, then excessive and extensive cleaning, and then it was just masks. They did dialogue in their masks, they had a socially distanced break room, they did Zoom calls. It was fine.

I haven’t gotten to the second half of the second season of Betty yet, but in the three episodes I’ve seen, they haven’t even discussed it. They just wear masks and make an occasional joke. I think 18 months into the pandemic it’s easier to deal people wearing masks on your favourite TV shows. Heck, this almost feels more normal than to have six guys just showing up at someone’s house.

These Gals Ain’t No Skateboard Bettys


UA: So, after watching the first season of Betty, I went back to check out its progenitor, Skate Kitchen.

BY: I have to admit I am very curious to check that out now mainly because it has the same cast. Was that also by the Crystal Moselle?

UA: Yes. It was. And there is an interesting origin story to all of this. Crystal Moselle apparently overheard a conversation between Nina and Rachelle while riding the subway and immediately felt compelled to learn more about the two of them, their skate crew, and tell their story. That gave birth to this semi-fictionalized coming-of-age pseudo documentaries that we got with Skate Kitchen and now two seasons of Betty

After watching Skate Kitchen I could see why HBO would want more of something like this. It’s rare to see a story like this told from an entirely female point of view, let alone with such compelling characters. The female skating experience is so different from the male skating experience that it more than justifies this show’s reason for being. 

But what I really appreciated from this series is that it doesn’t try to detach itself from the male world. It exists within that culture, calls out the things that need calling out, while still giving credit wherever it’s due. Making it a very mature and nuanced work.

BY: I think HBO does that very well. It deals with characters without ever resorting to tired sitcom tropes. HBO does the big stuff like Westworld and Game of Thrones, as well as the big ticket dramas like I Know This Much Is True and Bad Education, but also make space for the smaller, character driven shows, like Entourage and Girls, or How To Make It In America, High Maintenance, and Betty.

Not all shows need to be big swings with big budgets, and I really like that. Betty isn’t about skater girls in New York. It’s about a group of skaters, that happen to be girls, that happen to live in New York. This show is feminine, powerful, and in your face, without ever really trying to be any of those things. Betty may not be the show for me, but it is a show for somebody, and at 12 half hour episodes over two seasons, it really isn’t a massive undertaking. Because let’s be honest, you’re not gonna watch that shitty new Jamie Foxx sitcom on Netflix.

Season 2 of Betty returns, same time as the U.S., on Saturday, 12 June at 11AM, exclusively on HBO GO.

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