Genre: Dark Comedy/Psychological Drama
Year Released: 2019
Running Time: Webseries, 8 episodes, 5-8 minutes each
Rating/Recommended Audience: 17+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Welcome to the NHK, Head Gone, The Fisher King, Community, As Good As It Gets, Running With Scissors
-Sad-Ass Black Folk is streaming on YouTube.
-Special thanks to blkpride for telling me about this series.
-Sad-Ass Black Folk was co-created by comedian/actor/writer Joel Boyd. He plays Ralph in this series and it’s the first webseries he created. Outside of his work there, his comedic work has been featured on NBC and Sundance. Also, he lent his writing skills for Drop the Mic and Earth to Ned.
-Composer Marcus Norris was responsible for the music here. Norris has a Master’s Degree from Florida International University and has collaborated with Rhymefest and Tink in addition to being a studio instructor and producer for Donda’s House which was founded by Kanye West.
-Aspen is played by singer Danni Cassette. Much like the character, Cassette is also non-binary in real life. Their grandparents respectively were backup singers for Sam Cooke and one was a member of The Lumpen which was a Black Panther-affiliated band. Check out their music on Bandcamp.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have an Iridium Eye first. I get to cover a live-action webseries for the first time ever and it’s the second webseries I’ve reviewed that isn’t an ONA anime (the other one is the Nigerian animated Adventures of Lola & Chuchu for those scoring at home). This is amazing expanding my horizons when it comes to checking out new media forms on this blog.
Now getting that out of the way, I have to talk about something more serious here. Global pandemic aside, mental health is something I’ve been thinking about recently. I’ve had moments where I got extremely anxious and/or depressed these past couple of months. Even before 2020, I struggled with those feelings harboring over a decade of internalized anger. It’s a miracle that I can still function as a rational human being and be kind to people. What doesn’t help is how so many mainstream movies and shows either downplay, misrepresent or derogate actual mental or emotional conditions. Don’t believe me, just look at Rain Man or even The Big Bang Theory among so many others. This isn’t even limited to mainstream works since I’ve heavily criticized Ben X and even A Stork’s Journey of all things for getting things wrong about Asperger’s Syndrome in the former or playing Dissociative Identity Disorder for laughs in the latter. Interestingly, one aspect of mental health in storytelling has been ignored and that involved the African-American community.
This webseries would throw the gauntlet and dare to tell a story from an ignored group in the context of mental health issues.
Sad-Ass Black Folk takes place in the Southside of Los Angeles. There’s a therapist who hasn’t been out of college that long named Preston. He wants to help people struggling with psychological issues, but he’s socially impaired as well as not have full support from his family. Preston’s plan involves a group therapy session with other individuals with their own issues. The people who join this experimental therapy group in the City of Angels are the socially awkward computer-obsessed nerd Ralph (they have their meetings at his house as well), some self-proclaimed self-made baller named Thad, the extremely woke non-binary Aspen, the coupon-obsessed Jordyn, the eerily quiet and suicidal Carl, professional mooch Amira, and the unstable Serenity who is typically sweet but will hurt someone in a hot minute. How will these personalities work together as they try to get help?
I knew nothing about this series and never even heard of it until I saw a blog post from blkpride, so I would’ve never discovered this on my own. This was certainly a surprise of sorts. From a production standpoint, Sad-Ass Black Folk certainly delivers. The cinematography is on-par with several TV sitcoms and dramas. Certainly not flashy, but everything is crisp and on point. There were some creative parts like how the camera work temporarily switches to smartphone footage in an obvious World Star Hip-Hop parody moment where Serenity beats up a catcaller. The usage of text filters to introduce the characters and their issues was hilarious as they mention funny facts about everyone or broke the fourth wall like talking about a character’s true psyche, mentioning things the audience might be thinking, or saying hilarious commentary like calling one form of dialogue “Azealia Banks rants” in one episode in passing. It reminded me of a more subdued textual version of DJ Emmie’s narration from Who Killed Captain Alex? of all things, but that’s a compliment for me even though the humor is far different. The music was a nice touch of R&B, jazz, lighter trap instrumentals, and some more understated hip-hop in the background. The content actually had a lot more depth than I expected. The comedy worked well with the awkwardness of the situations or using deadpan humor. The mental and emotional issues are still taken seriously and I found the situations to be surprisingly believable despite the occasional over-the-top elements. Dark comedies can be really hit or miss, but there were more hits in that regard throughout this series. The acting was spot on and there were some plot twists that I legitimately didn’t see coming especially during the finale which really changes everyone in a realistic way. The characters have their flaws and all it took was an expose to really put things into perspective. While the hidden issues with most of the characters get revealed over time (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here) which also reveal so many forms of hypocrisy, there’s this fridge brilliance that most of the people in the therapy group were no better despite having some understandable reasons for why they acted the way they did.
Sad-Ass Black Folk could use some interventions here and there. While the short run time certainly was convenient (I’ve reviewed short films and documentaries longer than the whole series), I felt as though I was missing out on some backstories with some of the people in the therapy groups. It was a good directorial choice for each episode focusing on one of the people in the group, I still felt like I wanted to know more in some way. This doesn’t need to involve half-hour episodes, but I think this series could’ve benefited from ten to fifteen-minute segments kind of like Kurogane Communication or even Neo Ranga (I feel weird making comparisons to anime series I’ve previously reviewed). Some of the background characters really didn’t add much besides a one-note joke or to show a character’s social life in backstory. This worked only to varying degrees. I wasn’t a fan of all of the humor involved. The fourth-wall-breaking text and some of the dark humor really worked (I was a fan of Carl’s deadpan sarcasm for example), but there were times when it leaned into some stereotypes. I know Sad-Ass Black Folk does critique some of said stereotypes which I applaud, but some of the background characters really didn’t help like James AKA Incense Man. Without even talking about that side character, you can probably guess what “job” he has by his nickname and it has nothing to do with the stuff you could find at a hippy New Age shop or home decor establishment. Besides that, I noticed a few issues with the sound production with the dialogue. Most of the time it sounds okay, but I noticed some weird compression or EQ issues, so I don’t know if it had anything to do with the mics or post-production.
This webseries was a good entry into mixing mental health issues with the right amount of morbid humor to succeed. Sad-Ass Black Folk could hold its own against so many other series on TV or on the net. I would certainly argue that it has more depth than anything Tyler Perry has ever made with his movies or TV shows from a characterization or storytelling standpoint, that’s for sure. The short run time and some comedic missteps did prevent me from giving this a perfect score. However, I appreciate the thought and effort that was put into this webseries. Sad-Ass Black Folk may not be perfect, but it does touch on a legitimate issue by balancing so many complex things into bite-sized episodes. You can binge-watch the whole thing in less than an hour, so you don’t have anything to lose in watching it.
Adjustable Rating System:
Add 1-2 points if you like dark comedies.
Add 1 point if you’re a fan of short stories that get to the point.
Subtract 1-2 points if mental/psychological issues aren’t your thing when it comes to plotting.
Subtract 1-2 points if you’re not a fan of works with tons of strong language.
-Good cinematography and video production
-Delicately balancing mental issues in a morbid humor context
-Very good plot twists
-Underdeveloped backstories and some plot elements
-Could use a longer run time
-Some jokes worked better than others
Final Score: 7/10 points
Content Warning: The title of this webseries should let you know this isn’t going to be for the kids. Sad-Ass Black Folk has a ton of R-rated language including the F-word and the N-word is thrown around. The dialogue does involve innuendo, overt sex talk, or jokes about one’s orientation like how Preston’s mom thinks he’s asexual because he’s not in a relationship or Aspen’s mom insulting them about coming out as non-binary. There’s one fight scene even if it was for comedic effect and some disturbing forms of violence mentioned like Carl making a chilling deadpan joke about sacrificing a cat to Satan during the therapy session (people actually believed it since he sounded serious). There’s drug usage with smoking (cigarettes and weed), pills, and the text during Thad’s debut scene mentions that he carries Molly with him. The content gets mature with suicide with two attempts from different characters. Unfortunately, one attempt does end in a character’s death in a plot twist. Elements of severe mental health, colorism, and racism are also discussed.
All photos and videos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Sad-Ass Black Folk is property of Joel Boyd and Neima Patterson. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of Joel Boyd and Neima Patterson.