Teenage Me Needed a TV Show Like Betty

Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa/HBO

When I went through my “punk-rock” phase in high school, I desperately wanted to learn how to skateboard. Back then, in the early 2000s and on the West Coast, it was the pinnacle of coolness — even the high-school quarterback skateboarded, though he promptly broke his leg doing so, ending his final football season early. I had a lot of the skater drag: low-slung dickies, thrift store T-shirts, and sparkling white Etnies, which served as an indicator that I could barely even stand on a board let alone skate on one.

I had tried to do so a couple times, but it was a disaster, since I’ve never been particularly athletically inclined. So, in my teenage mind, the next best thing was to date a string of terrible skateboarders. This is why I deeply wish that HBO’s Betty (premiering tonight) had been on TV when I was an idiot teen — if it hadn’t been able to convince me to persevere at my budding hobby, it might have at least driven me to find a group of chill skater girls to hang out with, instead of a lone, boring dude.

Betty, the six-episode series from writer-director Crystal Moselle, follows a group of young, female skaters around New York. It’s a continuation of 2018’s Skate Kitchen, a pseudo-documentary directed by Moselle that followed the real Skate Kitchen, a collective of six or so women skateboarders, who all played fictionalized versions of themselves. Many of the women of Skate Kitchen reappear in Betty, once again playing characters based on themselves, and, like the film, the show follows the group as they try to find their own place in the male-dominated world of skateboarding. Among the crew, a few stand out in particular: Kirt, the group’s class clown, a chill stoner babe who is gregarious and always on the lookout for a new girl to make out with; Honeybear, a talented visual artist who is incredibly shy; and Camille, the cool girl who’s inspired by Charlie Chaplin but also deeply wants to impress the guys around her.

My biggest problem with Skate Kitchen, as a film, was that it felt too short to be truly immersive. I wanted more. This is something Betty remedies well — the shift to TV really benefits Moselle’s storytelling, allowing it the necessary space to breathe and grow. Betty is a kinda aimless hang show. The plot doesn’t propel forward; instead, it meanders pleasantly, as the characters roam around the city, leisurely chat with one another, flirt in line at Bushwick bars, and occasionally get into fights with other crews.

Still, the show has several serious and compelling through lines: Me Too, race and class, blossoming romance. For me, one of the best parts of Betty was the deft way it handles gender: It gives you a look into this community where sexism is quiet but pervasive — where women are still seen as accessories or outsiders taking up deserted space at the skate park. But it also foregrounds the effortless athleticism of the young women of Skate Kitchen, as well as the strength and depth of the bonds they form in the absence of men.

Watching Betty transported me back to my teenage self, still in awe, still thinking, Wow, skateboarders are so cool. I found myself again yearning for that carefree attitude, the ability to effortlessly glide across the pavement; I wanted to seem cool and chill, to emulate their swagger. But, above all, I wanted teenage me to watch something like Betty and feel inspired to try to pick up that board again, instead of being relegated to the sidelines, watching a boyfriend do a bad ollie. She deserved that.

Teenage Me Needed a TV Show Like Betty