hat a laid-back charmer Betty (Sky Comedy) is, unhurried and breezy, yet stuffed with more than enough allure to work its way under your skin. This half-hour, six-part comedy-drama is an idiosyncratic show about a group of friends and skateboarders moving their way through a summer in New York. A “betty” is an old derogatory term for a girl who hangs out with surfers or skaters, but here it is a reclamation. To borrow from The Craft, they are the weirdos, mister.
As is often the way, this new comedy-drama feels more weighted towards the latter than the former. At first, it appears to be so slight that it could be mistaken for little more than a surface snapshot of a city or a scene, a youthful summer painted brightly on the screen. Two friends, Kirt and Janay, try to set up an all-girl skate meet at a ramp in the city. They meet people, a bag gets stolen, there’s one of those hot, sudden New York rain storms, they make new friends, they smoke weed in a van filled with bootleg Supreme T-shirts. That’s about it.
Yet this half-earnest, half-jovial demeanour does not mean that Betty is superficial. It was created by Crystal Moselle, who directed The Wolfpack, the award-winning 2015 documentary about six brothers who spent much of their lives confined to a flat in Manhattan, and who learned about the world through films. Her follow-up was Skate Kitchen, a semi-scripted feature about a group of female skateboarders Moselle had come across in New York. When that did not reach the audience it deserved, she decided to bring the women to television.
Like its big-screen predecessor, Betty is semi-scripted, which is always a risk. Here, though, it works a treat. The series opens with a shot of Kirt examining a spectacular bruise on her own backside; skating is not for the faint-hearted. She is a repository of stoner wisdom, who says things such as “Time is an illusion anyway” and “It wasn’t my fault if my ‘let’s skate’ and ‘let’s smash’ vibes got some overlap”. I don’t know if that last line was scripted or not, but if it was written down, I can’t imagine it would come across anywhere near as authentically as it does.
When Camille, less earnest than Kirt and Janay, and less secure, arrives at the skate park with a group of male friends, they assume she is there for their all-girl “sesh”. Camille is confused and slightly embarrassed for them. She is just there to skate. It is a small, telling moment that speaks to the show’s smartness and makes light work of the gender conversations that are inherently woven into it. Later, Camille talks about the difficulties of being a young woman on public transport. “That’s why we have boards, so we don’t have to take the bus,” she says. By the end of the episode, the newly assembled group is locked out of what appears to be an indoor skate-bro nirvana; Camille is allowed in, and hesitates only for a moment before she leaves her new friends behind.
The stolen backpack adds a loose structure to the opening episode. Camille pairs up with Janay to tear around the city on a Find My Phone mission, tracking the dot through the streets and into a shopping mall. It reminded me, in mood at least, of the episode of Broad City that was made up entirely of social media posts, and made me think that there are too few capers on TV. Perhaps it’s the times we are living in, but it was almost painfully intoxicating to witness the freedom of young women tearing around a city, having a blast, on a mission that seems vital in that moment, although, really, it wouldn’t matter much if they found the bag or not.
The relatively low stakes only add to the appeal of the show. The disaster-movie adolescence of Euphoria, for example, feels like a perfume ad in comparison with Betty, which is anything but hyperstylised. Visually, it is in line with Kids, or the 90s queer classic All Over Me. Its loose, free spirit won’t be to everyone’s tastes. There is a lot of footage of skating, which comes with the territory. And there are moments for viewers beyond the featured age group that may feel like being a teacher at a school disco. Still, as a tribute to youth, and to these young women in particular, it is as invigorating as it is sweet.