WHEN|WHERE Premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on BET
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Hattie (Jonica T. Gibbs) is a 20-something unemployed queer black woman who wants to break into Hollywood. Her two best friends Marie (Christina Elmore) and Nia (Gabrielle Graham) give her moral support. Finally the sorta-big break: Hattie gets a job running errands at a production company run by Ida B. (Sophina Brown). Created and written by Lena Waithe, this 8-episode series is her own Hollywood story.
MY SAY You may not know it but we've been living in a Lena Waithe moment that began back in 2015 (on "Master of None") and will likely merge into another Waithe moment when she joins the cast of HBO's "Westworld," due back March 15.
Why Waithe? Why all these moments? Why don't we realize we're in them? Probably because we're not Waithe. She's black, queer and accomplished — the first black woman, in fact, to win an Emmy for writing (in 2017 for "Master"). Her perspective is unique, and her ongoing moment perfectly in sync with another — the "gender fluid" millennial one, in which the term "queer" is hardly pejorative but a catchall for a whole spectrum of so-called "nonnormative" sexuality.
At 35, Waithe is now a cohort symbol and leader. Ten years ago, she was just another studio gofer. As the saying goes, only in Hollywood, and that's where "Twenties'' comes in. Like "The Chi," Waithe is writing about what she knows best — herself — but unlike that Showtime series, this is her professional coming-of-age story. There's some payback, also (surprisingly) some love. Mostly it's a comedy, and a sharply drawn one at that.
Waithe, in fact, started as a production assistant on "Girlfriends," which is why Brown's Ida B. feels like a tribute to that show's creator, Mara Brock Akil, herself a leader back in the mid-aughts. It feels like some of that is payback, too. Waithe gives Ida B. some of the best lines but she's otherwise a fearsome autocrat who sold her soul for a paycheck and spectacular view of the L.A. basin.
Akil won't much relish this portrait but at least she'll have company. Like any satire about Hollywood, the targets are almost too easy and "Twenties" can't help but throw spitwads at them: The stupid money, the egotism, the vanity, the narcissism, the predatory behavior, the vanilla lattes.
Except for those lattes, these are Hollywood fixtures going back to the silent movie days. "Twenties'' knows this, also knows creative visions, however lofty, get bowdlerized by the time they pop out the other end of the Hollywood sausage line. But it also knows that Hollywood is still about dreams.
At heart, Hattie is an old soul and Hollywood romantic who may not see the ghosts, but feels them, at times hears them too. There's a scene in the second episode where she walks down a street on the Paramount lot while Frank Sinatra's "I've Got the World on a String" tracks. "Walks" isn't the right word — she floats, and becomes in that moment just another kid who is one improbable step closer to her improbable dream.
Yeah, it's a sausage factory and cruel shallow money trench where the odds are impossibly long for a queer black girl from Chicago. But dreams can come true here. Who knew Waithe was such an old soul, too?
BOTTOM LINE Newcomer Gibbs is good, but it's a shame Waithe doesn't appear in her own story — a sharply written, often amusing one.