(Note: All episodes watched for review.)
Welcome back to the ordeal. Given the carryover of the talent involved, seeing the Blindspotting spin-off TV series function as a terrific companion piece to the film wasn’t a surprise. With that in mind, premiering nearly two years later, this second season hasn’t lost the spark that turned the show from creators/producers Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs into the acclaimed work of entertainment that it debuted as. If anything, this season takes bigger chances in incorporating its doses of heightened reality into the proceedings while providing an emotional journey for the main characters. Of course, anyone just looking for a Bay Area comedy will be more than satisfied, as this Oakland-set series knows how to lay it all down.
Picking up six months after Ashley’s (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and Miles’ (Casal) prison wedding, there’s a better understanding of the current status quo, but it doesn’t mean everything in Ashley’s life is less chaotic. Being married means she and her son, Sean (Atticus Woodward), can now spend 48 hours with Miles every three months, but there are still other things to keep in mind.
Miles’ mother, Rainey (Helen Hunt), hopes to get her time as well, creating a distance between her and Ashley that will factor into much of the season. Meanwhile, Earl (Benjamin Earl Turner) is out of jail (again), slowly reconnecting with his friends, and contending with post-prison PTSD. Miles’ half-sister Trish (Jaylen Barron) is getting along with Ashley more than ever, though her feelings for another friend may be getting the better of her. And Janelle (Candace Nicholas-Lippman) is trying to keep an eye out for her best friend, even though Ashley is seemingly pushing those closest to her away.
The first season focused on Ashley coming to terms with her long-time partner being put in jail and how that would affect their son. This season wants us to understand that everything is more or less under control, even if the situation isn’t ideal, yet it’s on the brink of shattering. As more time elapses, Ashley is more prone to losing her cool, causing issues with the day-to-day living of these characters. Of course, if Sean is the innocent heart of this series, it means dealing with the problems surrounding him, ideally shielding him from the bad stuff.
Wisely, this series appreciates that Sean is more than just a kid among adults. Early on, he receives a gift from his dad: a stuffed lion made in prison. Thanks to how this show can play with reality, we get numerous sequences where the stuffed creature is depicted as a much larger version (think Where the Wild Things Are), who is around whenever Sean is nervous or scared.
Other scenarios take things further as far as how to make Sean more than just a casual observer. By the time Ashley and Sean get to spend their time with Miles, a situation arises where Sean really needs to learn about racism to understand certain aspects of life, including the complications of using the n-word. To accomplish this, Blindspotting relies on interpretive dancers and music in a creative fashion, showing the power expressive art continues to have in this series.
This is a recurring concept throughout the series, especially in this second season. This show can delve into these interesting artistic numbers in various ways beyond just being a song-and-dance routine. Although that’s a part of it too. Combining poetry and rap, a few sequences allow the characters to express what they are going through by way of breaking the fourth wall to let the emotions come through using verse.
In terms of letting these more imaginative and ambitious aspects take hold of the series, it’s pushed to its highest extreme toward the end of the season, where an entire episode can play through the eyes of Sean, who puts on display his version of a western. The fact that we can still see the ensemble cast participate in this abstract genre format in a manner that is fitting of their characters (let alone feel thrifty in the way the budget factors in) does a lot for a series daring to embrace the challenges in standing out.
Of course, being able to feel different from other shows is not too much of a problem considering how Oakland plays a major role. The representation of this city continues to be in full effect, and then some, as some notable Bay Area guest stars shuffle in and out of episodes, including comedian Mark Curry (Mr. Cooper!), as well as E-40 and Too $hort, among others. Beyond just famous folk, however, it’s the way we see these characters inhabit the area, the presence of certain vehicles, the music featured on the soundtrack, and, yes, the general cadence and look of the people in the town.
All of this comes together nicely, thanks to the continued efforts of the cast. Jones is excellent here, even as the series pushes her to straddle the line of being unlikable to create a more complex state of affairs. Casal is bumped up to a series regular this season, and his increased presence is quite welcome, further deepening how rough of a situation it is for him to be locked away. Turner (who’s also a writer for the series), Nicholas-Lippman, and Barron have comparatively less to do this season, on the whole, but still make the most of their time whenever the episodes provide more for them.
Hunt was something of a wild card the first time around, planting the Oscar-winning star in the role of a free-spirited matriarch, and yet she played right into the vibe of this series well. With more tensions between her and her daughter-in-law, the warmth Hunt provides is challenged this time, but she is by no means less effective. The way this series can balance its laid-back sensibilities with no-nonsense scenes of drama play to the advantage of these actors because they are more than capable of pulling it off.
Naturally, however, this is still a series about familial dysfunction, meaning there’s plenty of room for comedy and often broad comedy. The writers seemed to have a field day in delving into their pasts to find ideas for comedic set pieces that could reflect how they were brought up and what that would mean for characters who have known each other for decades. In addition to various comedic sequences that range from getting the right piñata for a birthday party to a playful romantic courtship involving martial arts, there’s even an extended sequence devoted to a particular 90s kid fav when it comes to nostalgic movies (complete with a pivotal guest star to bring it all together through his crowing).
On top of all of this, Blindspotting knows how to surprise. The build toward the final couple of episodes leads to revelations that impact what we know about these characters in a way that’s successful enough to have viewers rethink how they view the previous episodes, let alone the previous season. That comes from confidence in the writing, making this comedy-drama seem all the more valuable in what it has to say about identity politics, race, and other themes explored in both the original film and on television.
At only eight episodes, there’s little room for excess here. While not a series driven by plot, it makes the most out of the time it has to deepen these characters for the better. Everyone has grown since this series started. Even when looking at some of the characters given less of an arc, it’s easy to see the impact the time spent with them has had. That makes for a show I’m happy to welcome back for another set of episodes. I’m undoubtedly curious about where they are headed next as they attempt to navigate the trials and tribulations of the Bay Area.