Blackbetty is an anthology that explores the existential terror of a world out of your control, the necessity of trust, and perception vs. objective reality. In a small European country, a mysterious virus has forced the quarantine of a small city. The virus is highly contagious and 100% fatal if you fall asleep. The only thing keeping the dwindling population alive is a stimulant called Blackbetty. While it prevents you from sleeping, it does not, however, stop you from dreaming.
Marco North’s web-series promises a lot but delivers very little. This is heartbreaking because the premise and the camera work are so strong. With the unpleasantness that is our current situation, a story like this could touch on the anxiety of the moment and position itself to be the next big indie hit. But instead, it is unengaging and uninteresting. Blackbetty is another addition to the long list of projects that don’t live up to the potential of their premise.
The show seems to be more about setting a mood than telling a story. Writer/director Marco North seems to care more about the setting than the people. Without a character to latch on to, it is difficult to actually care about the overall story. Now, I have to say, I was only given the pilot to watch, which consisted of two mini-episodes. In the first, we have a street preacher screaming at no one to pay attention to the story happening in this fictional European country.
“…a mysterious virus has forced the quarantine of a small city…only thing keeping the dwindling population alive is a stimulant called Blackbetty.”
In the second, we have a young lady stuck in the quarantine zone just trying to fill her day while waiting for her next shipment of Blackbetty. The two stories are unrelated in every way other than the premise. There is no connection between the characters and no thematic tie. The synopsis promises surrealistic elements and a conspiracy story, but neither is even hinted at in the pilot. And based on the pilot alone, I don’t feel compelled to continue with the story.
I understand that web shows are a visual medium, but if all an artist is going to focus on are the visuals, then they may as well show it in a gallery. I am all for blurring the lines of different artistic disciplines, but there is experimental, and there is drama. Don’t promise me one and give me the other.
That all being said, the visuals are mesmerizing. Watching an episode of Blackbetty is a bit like remembering a dream. The focus shifts, and the perspective changes at odd intervals. The overall effect reminds the viewer of a disturbing dream that you can’t quite relate to anyone—that kind of dream where nothing really happens but is, nevertheless, terrifying. Marco North does a masterful job of creating this pervasive and oppressive feeling of dread. In this time of self-isolation, it is, in that respect, a very timely show touching on the angst of the moment.
Blackbetty could work with a bit of retooling, but as it stands now, it doesn’t live up to its fascinating premise. To use a sports ball analogy, Marco North swings big but strikes out.
"…Don’t promise me one and give me the other."