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The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

...because as one of the web’s most popular scripted comedy series, "The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl" is an example of how new media can combine the best elements of shows like "Seinfeld," "Parks and Rec" and "30 Rock" with underrepresented faces. The show’s creator and star Issa Rae realized that as much as she loved a lot of TV shows in the so-called golden age, there simply weren’t that many roles out there for women like her, especially in sitcoms. Taking a simple idea that she could produce on her own, she used web distribution to test if there was an audience out there for a comedy about a young black woman in awkward, yet still relatable, situations. The results speak for themselves, as the show has steadily gained momentum and attracted a wide viewership.



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While traditional TV has recently made much-hyped strides towards embracing racial diversity through shows like "Black-ish," "Empire" and "How to Get Away With Murder," the current crop of network shows still doesn’t feature a comedy centered around an actress of color. Rae was certainly aware of this gaping hole in the television landscape back in 2011, when even four or five projects about black characters seemed like a fantasy, so she took matters into her own hands by producing and releasing her show as a web series. Internet distribution may not get your face on the side of a bus or have Sunday football announcers stumbling through promos for your show, but it does have almost unlimited potential to tell stories that don’t make it through the focus groups and network filters. A show like "Awkward Black Girl" manages to examine characters that are new and interesting without forgetting the cardinal rule of comedy – make the audience laugh!

When making "Awkward Black Girl," Issa Rae was realistic about what she could do. Like most every DIY web series, the budget for "Awkward Black Girl" relied heavily on friends and favors. Instead of focusing on elaborate production values, Rae wrote episodes around simple situations that led to comedic character moments that relied mainly on the script and actors. At the same time, the series also wove a narrative through-line across these relatively minor scenes that gave the show a larger scope and feel than most other web shows. Once the web series gained a following online, the producers also leveraged this momentum into a way to raise more funds for the next season.

While "The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl" does want to draw attention to an underrepresented type of character and social group, the comedy itself revolves around universal themes. Most everyone has at some point felt awkward or wound up in an uncomfortable situation, and the series – like many other great shows before it – mines these human interactions for laughs. The problems in the title character’s life could also easily apply to any girl in her 20’s, except this one happens to be black, and maybe a little more awkward than most. By letting the comedy speak for itself, the show has probably managed to draw more attention to the reality that characters like J are seldom seen on traditional TV, and hopefully will help correct this flaw in traditional media.

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