EW critic Darren Franich shares his thoughts on season 3 of the hit series
Dear White People captures the boundless mood of college life better than any TV series I’ve ever seen.
To be clear, this witty satire pinpoints a hyperspecific bubble in a bubble, living within and around multiple black communities at an Ivy League college. The eye-popping costume design suggests everyone has palace-size closets. But in the astounding third season, creator Justin Simien pushes his characters toward thrilling new beginnings.
Take Sam (Logan Browning), who’s ditched radio activism to work on her thesis film. It’s an ambient look-at-the-flowers documentary she calls “an exploration of humanity and beauty and people and places.” So she’s struggling, and everyone else is also trying something confusingly new. Lionel (DeRon Horton) gives up investigative muckraking to explore Winchester’s gay culture. Joelle (the wonderful Ashley Blaine Featherson) couples up with Reggie (Marque Richardson), but he falls under the sway of magnetic professor Moses (charisma supernova Blair Underwood). And Troy (Brandon P. Bell) worries he’s the Get Out of Racism Free card for the white-dude staff at a humor magazine.
I initially feared this season was all over the place. Previously minor characters receive major showcases, and the nonstop banter (“That man is moodier than an Eminem comeback album!”) can sound overwritten. But Simien is telling an elaborate, expansive story here, working with some truly ace collaborators. (Cinephile alert: Kimberly Peirce and Cheryl Dunye are episode directors!) Throwaway dialogue and background E-plots intricately weave a larger saga.
In the premiere, one of the worst people on campus says: “There’s always a moment when you have to choose between being who you are and getting what you want.” That line lingers, as several characters struggle between individual ambition and something like the greater good. Dear White People really is an exploration of humanity and beauty and people and places, damn it. They should teach it in college. Grade: A
Dear White People season 3 launches Aug. 2 on Netflix.