From the dexterous dark comedy Dead to Me to the sweet kleptos of Trinkets, a slew of Netflix shows are giving BFFs the attention they deserve
In her column THE BINGE WATCH, TV writer and critic Bolu Babalola takes a deep dive into what’s streaming, and tells you what should be on your watch list.
Female friendships are messy; they are also simple, beautiful, ugly, complicated, and in the worst of times, in the bleakest of times, they can feel like the only thing that makes sense. Almost perfectly capturing this is the ‘friendship romcom-dramedy’ genre that has evolved of late. Let’s call it the post-Broad City epoque – the offspring of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana, that like their foremother, tell us that it ain’t all friendship bracelets, sleepovers, Cosmopolitans, and ‘I couldn’t help but wonders’. They aren’t the side-piece to romantic love, an adjunct to what the heart wants. They are romance. With anxieties surrounding climate change, an uncertain political future with Brexit, and a neverending, dire news cycle, there seems to be a thirst for warm fuzzies and reflections of interconnectedness outside of boy-meets-girl.
Outputs such as Netflix’s Dead To Me, Tuca & Bertie, and Trinkets have arrived to fill the void. The three shows are vastly different in tone and genre, but there’s a shared commitment to the intimate depiction of female friendship in all its rawness.
Crucial to the ‘BFF-romcom’ is the tenet that you don’t have to love the same things or even have similar personalities; connection skims past the surface and right to the soul. In Dead To Me, the sharp dramedy starring Christina Applegate as Jen and Linda Cardellini as Judy, Jen is a hippy-sweetie, doe-eyed, and optimistic (even when it is revealed that she accidentally killed Jen’s husband. Small, inconsequential detail. What’s a little murder of a friend’s spouse?) and Judy is a razor-tongued, cynical New Yorker with a guard up that many people would give up trying to break. Key to their friendship is the ability to soften and embolden each other. Jen learns to trust from Judy, to laugh in the face of hard times, and Judy gathers the strength to leave her manipulative ex-partner, to extricate herself from his clasp. The two women are able to access each other in ways that others cannot, which persists even when the cavernous gulf of betrayal lies between them.
In the BFF romcom, when you really need someone, you will drag all the unresolved baggage between the two of you on your journey to be there for them because… well, because love. Even when the unresolved baggage, is, as aforementioned, a hit and run.
“The BFF romcom says you don’t have to be perfect to be loved”
The sweet coming-of-age show Trinkets is similar to Dead To Me in its portrayal of seemingly unlikely friendships, but focuses on how three young women bring each other out of each other. It’s a delicate depiction of high school that unlike many teen shows is not reliant on sensationalism to make an impact. Within the mires of serious life issues the characters experience – parental bereavement, abusive boyfriends, errant fathers – the girls find joy within each other. The high school hierarchy demands that the young women are natural enemies, prey and predator, prom queen and lunch-in-toilet eater, however they find themselves drawn together in a court-ordered class for kleptomaniacs after each young woman gets caught out stealing.
It’s somewhat ironic, that while learning how to curb their desire to rob, they end up… stealing each other’s hearts. The girls are united in their mess and in a world where they feel like nobody sees or understand who they really are, in each other, outside the confines of the regimented high-school hierarchy, they not only find people who see them, they find a family that celebrates the parts they like best about themselves. They make each other stronger, braver, and softer.
In their romance, a girl finds the courage to leave her abusive boyfriend, another finds the confidence to pursue her crush, to source joy after heartbreak, and the acerbic tough-girl opens herself up to love.
Tuca & Bertie, by contrast, is a zany animation about two anthropomorphic birds – a toucan and budgie voiced by comedic power duo Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong. On its surface, it is the oddest of the bunch. The show is surreal, heightened, and yet shows a grounded, realistic depiction of female friendship. Tuca is wild-spirited and loud, while Bertie is cautious, reserved, responsible – despite the friction and the difference in personalities, they cannot help but forgive one another. The passion with which they lash out during arguments is directly proportional to how much they love each other.
Friendship can be brutal – we say things that hurt most because we know the things that hurt most, and when you yourself are hurt, you reach for the easiest weapon, hoping the quick infliction of pain will detract from our own: it doesn’t. It’s ugly but real, and what Tuca & Bertie correctly reflects is the grace embedded in true BFF-ship. When someone understands you thoroughly, they forgive your ugliest self, because they know it is not necessarily your whole self; that we are fallible. It is love through flaws, it is love around flaws, embracing them. The BFF romcom says you don’t have to be perfect to be loved.
In the tear-jerker Broad City finale, Ilana says to Abbi: “I’ve never felt so cool… not as cool as when I’m with you”. This defines the genetic code for all BFF romcoms, and maybe real life best friendships too. True love is one where not only can you be yourself in its totality, but the chemistry invites you to love yourself more. It creates an environment where your essence feels at its best, where all of you can unfurl and coil around someone else’s, making each other better at most or providing each other solidarity and support at least.
Dead To Me, Trinkets, and Tuca & Bertie do a stellar job of capturing the dimensions of these relationships; all their sharp angles and soft curves. Platonic vs Romantic love is a false dichotomy, and I am excited to see more shows that explore and celebrate how enriching it can be when we allow the labels fluidity and freedom.