Prime Video 'Harlem' Season 2 comes back funnier, more emotional
"We just talked about ... wanting women, even if it's messy and even if it's a failure, just owning the decisions that we make,” showrunner Tracy Oliver says
If you've been dying to find out what happens after the massive romantic cliff hanger in Tracy Oliver's Prime Video series Harlem, you're not alone: The show's stars have felt the exact same way.
“I remember when I saw how it left off in Season 1, the whole year while we were off I just kept thinking, I wonder where we're going to pick back up?” Tyler Lepley, who plays Ian on the show, told Yahoo Canada.
Fans of the show will remember that Season 1 ended with Camille (Meagan Good) and Ian sharing a kiss the night before he's supposed to be marrying Mira (Rana Roy). Sharing that kiss at the wedding venue, Mira sees them just before the episode ends, closing out the first season.
As we head into Season 2 (the first two episodes now available on Prime Video), picking up right where we left off, we'll finally get to see the aftermath of that messy moment.
“To hear us talk about where Ian and Camille were in college, to see where they were in Season 1, being former lovers but still having an internal flame for each other," Lepley teased. "To see at the end of the season, them actually act on it and then to see where we pick up, and where we go from here in Season 2, it's a hell of a journey.”
Of course, Season 2 will also show the aftermath of Camille drunkenly showing up at the home of Dr. Pruit (Whoopi Goldberg) and quitting her job as a professor at Columbia University. Needless to say, she's having some remorse the next day, and we get to see how it all unfolds.
'Wanting women to have more agency'
Season 2 of Harlem is actually even better than Season 1. It still focuses on this infectious friendship between Camille, Quinn (Grace Byers), Angie (Shoniqua Shandai) and Tye (Jerrie Johnson), but showrunner Oliver really takes a deeper dive into the complexity of all these characters as individuals, while still being absolutely hysterical with infectious comedy.
Something that Oliver achieves is allowing the women in the series to be messy, to be confused in life, to make mistakes, but still have agency over their decisions. That's a core balance that shows are rarely able to actually achieve for women characters, but speaks to the honesty and authenticity of Harlem.
“We just talked about wanting women to have more agency and wanting women, even if it's messy and even if it's a failure, just owning the decisions that we make,” Oliver said. “Having agency and choosing the life path for us, and sometimes going with your heart over your head.”
Angie starts to 'win,' while Quinn hits her lowest point
While Camille is still the narrator of this story, Season 2 really emphasizes that this is an ensemble show, with each of the four main women having their own robust narrative arc.
For Shoniqua Shandai's Angie, while much of Season 1 finds her floundering, particularly after the musical, theatrical production of Jordan Peele's Get Out falls apart. She starts to get some wins in Season 2.
“I was so excited to see her triumphs,” Shandai said. “[In Season 1] I felt like she was like a villain in her winning, when they flashback, so I was really excited to see her win again, and how that would affect her, how she would handle it after losing for so long.”
“Like what was the lesson she learned? How would she appreciate it differently? And I think we do a wonderful job of building up to it.”
While Angie's success slowly builds in Season 2, the same can't be said for Grace Byers' character Quinn. Season 1 introduced Quinn's struggle to be a fashion designer, while under the pressure of her affluent, successful family. But in Season 2, we really solidify that just because you have a financial security blanket, doesn't mean it can fix everything.
It's the ability to explore that complexity within the character that really made Byers attracted to the role, initially and in Season 2.
“What I really love about Quinn here, and also Tracy's regard of Quinn, is that even before starting the series, on paper when we see that Quinn is a privileged, comes from money character, I was reticent,” Byers revealed. “I did not come from money, personally, and so it's just like, I don't want to keep playing this person who's affluent. What makes this different?”
“Tracy's excitement in the approach to Quinn was, we're going to take this from a full rounded, big circle sphere of how to look at Quinn. … We say it in Season 1, money doesn't solve everything. Money is very nice and takes care of a lot of things, and makes life a little easier in a lot of ways. But it does not equate to happiness. And so with Quinn, we get to see how fleshy she is and how much of a human she is, and how flawed she is, and we get to see money not be there to save her.”
In Season 2, we see Quinn not just down, but probably at the lowest point in her life. It gets to the point where she can't wear the facade that everything is alright anymore.
Money doesn't solve everything. Money is very nice and takes care of a lot of things, and makes life a little easier in a lot of ways. But it does not equate to happiness.
“We get to see her hit one of her lowest values that she's ever had before and it's so interesting to see someone who has come from so much opportunity and so much privilege, even judge herself in those moments and be one of the people that says, ‘oh my gosh, why is this something that I'm experiencing emotionally?'” Byers teased.
“I think that kind of approach is so helpful in giving us a better idea as to not just people who may be affluent, but people that we may look at in life and say, well they have this so they must be happy, or they have that so they must be happy. That's not the way that life is and so I love that approach. I think that it's extremely human.”
'A part of her vulnerability was robbed'
For Tye, after a health issue at the end of Season 1 that revealed her secret husband Brandon (Kadeem Ali Harris), the character is brought into a point of vulnerability, something she's not used to and has also been largely fighting against. This is exemplified by both her health and a divorce, which could leave the successful, queer tech executive having to give up half of her net worth.
“Tye has to be pushed into vulnerability and have these moments of like, maybe crisis really, in order to be vulnerable, or to realize that she hasn't been vulnerable,” Jerrie Johnson said. “For her to be in this industry, I think a part of her vulnerability was robbed.”
“I think now with Season 2, there's going to be a lot of different things, a lot of different questions, a lot of different contemplations coming up for Tye about what vulnerability actually looks like, and the benefit of being vulnerable for her finding love, but also for her continuing to connect with her friends.”
Johnson also highlighted that Tye's story is a reflection of women, particularly Black women, feeling like they can't be vulnerable or emotional, like it's a limitation.
“I think I'm a very vulnerable person but I'm an artist, so that lends itself to vulnerability,” Johnson said. “But I have a lot of Black women in my life who do a lot of other stuff outside of the art and entertainment, … and it's similar for them.”
“They're not just choosing to be vulnerable every day and I think that a part of the way we are bred in business, in America, is that there is a negative connotation attached to women being vulnerable. Especially Black women being vulnerable. Especially Black women being vulnerable and seen as emotional, and/or angry, and/or showing any emotion. That feels unfaithful to the white male gaze.”
There is so much to unpack in Harlem Season 2 but one thing is clear: Tracy Oliver's series is pop culture gold, with a strong story and endearing characters. Not only is it high on our list of shows to watch, we also hope it sticks around for a long time.