Recommended: Rap Sh!t on HBO Max
What's Rap Sh!t About?
Estranged high school friends Shawna and Mia are both living dead-end lives in Miami, so when a video of them rapping goes viral, they reunite to chase success in the music industry.
Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?
HBO Max is calling Rap Sh!t a comedy, but while it certainly has jokes, it's probably best described as a half-hour drama about people trying to escape their stultifying lives. It's compelling because it's so uneasy, creating a world of artistic strivers who make dangerous and self-defeating choices in the name of their dreams.
Take Shawna: She's a receptionist at a nice hotel, and she makes extra money by selling guests' credit card information. Meanwhile, she posts videos of herself rapping about politics and feminism, uses her friends and acquaintances to try to boost her career, and does her best to stay connected to Cliff while he's off doing exciting things. Osman plays her with earnestness and anxiety, which makes her an empathetic character you want to yell at to pull her life together.
Meanwhile, Mia is frank, funny, and kind, but she's being used or undervalued by everyone in her life. When she starts rapping with Shawna, we see her light up with confidence, yet the show makes it clear she's going to have to fight hard to break away from the people who take advantage of her. One of those people is Duke, but by episode three, we're shown enough of her own rough personal life to appreciate why she's scrambling so hard to get ahead.
Duke embodies the show's refusal to villainize or mock its characters, which makes it all the more engrossing and complex. This is not a soap opera like Empire or Nashville, where the music business is a backdrop for deliciously over-the-top shenanigans. It's a raw investigation of how professional ambition can embolden and warp us in equal measure. Anyone who's ever chased a creative career will likely see shades of themselves.
The filmmaking adds to the discombobulation. In the first two episodes especially, many scenes are depicted as social media videos and livestreams, which makes it feel like we're only seeing how these characters perform their identities online. When moments of un-curated reality break through, they're jarring, and as the season continues, these "real moments" start to dominate the visual language. It's a tantalizing suggestion for how the series itself will make its characters face the reality of getting what they want.
Pairs well with