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Queenie Dominates the Small Screen

Being a self-proclaimed TV enthusiast and an ardent admirer of the UK’s Channel 4, I was eagerly awaiting the release of Queenie in early June. This show is an adaptation of Candice Carty-Williams’ best-selling 2019 novel of the same name, often referred to as the “Black Bridget Jones.” With Carty-Williams herself serving as showrunner, it promised to be a closer adaptation than Bridget Jones ever was.

Queenie Jenkins, a 25-year-old British Jamaican woman, is deeply entrenched in what’s often termed a quarter-life crisis. This concept, coined by Robbins and Wilner in 2001, describes a “state of panic, sparked by a feeling of loss and uncertainty,” which severely understates Queenie’s predicament. The story begins in a gynecologist’s office where she discovers she has suffered a miscarriage. Shortly afterward, her long-term boyfriend breaks up with her, oblivious to what she’s going through. At work, Queenie struggles to excel in her role as a social media assistant despite her evident capabilities. Portrayed with maturity and depth by the beautiful Dionne Brown, who shares Queenie’s London and Jamaican heritage, we witness Queenie embark on a tumultuous yet transformative journey over the eight-episode season.

This isn’t your typical rom-com messiness. It’s not about broken heels and arriving late to work. Queenie’s journey involves self-sabotage, reckless sexual encounters, and showing up to work still drunk from the previous night—a mess we can all recognize, right?

Even before its official naming in 2001, many have gone through periods of questioning and uncertainty in their mid-20s to early 30s. Feeling disillusioned as those around them seem to have life figured out, while their own lives spiral out of control, is a sentiment many can relate to—myself included. A strong support system is crucial, and Queenie is no exception. Her supporting cast is almost show-stealing, forming a group chat named “The Corgis,” a sisterhood offering advice on her numerous problems.

Key among her friends is Kyazike, played by singer/songwriter Bellah in her acting debut. Kyazike, Queenie’s best friend from school, serves as her number-one cheerleader. The role was so well-received that Bellah reprised it for a series of adverts for mobile network giffgaff, offering relationship advice—a skill she perfected with Queenie. Notable too is Frank, portrayed by Samuel Adewunmi who previously starred in the BBC thriller You Don’t Know Me. Could he be the one to change Queenie’s prospective on dating Black men?

Despite the initial excitement, Queenie was a slow burner for me. About three episodes in, I found myself wondering, “Is this all there is?” Perhaps my expectations were too high based on the trailer’s comedic promise. By the season’s end, however, I was all in for Team Queenie! The lukewarm online reception left me conflicted, causing delays in writing this review. Nonetheless, I resisted the urge to become a crusader for Carty-Williams, Dionne, and Bellah—knowing they don’t need me to champion their cause.

Reflecting on the show’s reception, some critics accused Queenie of “missing the mark” and “not living up to the hype.” This discomfort viewers felt likely stemmed from its portrayal of intense themes: self-worth, childhood trauma, domestic abuse, estranged parental relationships, and the housing crisis. Although tagged as a comedy, Queenie dives into deep emotional waters. The character’s coping mechanisms—binge drinking and casual hookups—leave her feeling disempowered and yearning for professional help. The superb storytelling and performances are engaging, inviting us to empathize with her struggles rather than deem her unrelatable.

Kathleen Newman-Bremang aptly notes, “People want complicated Black female characters until they actually get them.” Critics like Candice Frederick from the HuffPost highlighted that Queenie exists “in a mostly white world – socially, professionally, and romantically – and never really challenges that.” While this critique has merit, it prompts reflection on what an authentic depiction would look like.

The criticism may partly stem from cultural differences. While emotional expressiveness is more common in the U.S., Brits, regardless of their background, typically adhere to a “stiff upper lip” mentality. Even in distressing times like the 2021 lockdown, the UK’s motivational mantra was “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Though societal attitudes toward mental health are evolving, particularly among younger generations, Queenie’s story underscores lingering stigmas within British, Caribbean, and Black communities. The show highlights the conflicting demands placed on immigrants and their descendants to integrate while suppressing their own culture. The pivotal scene where Queenie tells her therapist, “I can’t not be a strong Black woman, Janet,” encapsulates this struggle. The series also explores how Queenie’s family comes to accept therapy as a path to healing, demonstrating growth and understanding.

In conclusion, if there is any fault with Queenie, it’s perhaps that the episodes are too short to fully develop the characters. We barely get to know Queenie’s ex, Tom, making it hard to empathize with Queenie’s breakdown over their breakup or understand her subsequent poor decisions. Despite this, Queenie has been the TV highlight of my year so far. I would welcome a second season, though I seem to be in the minority.

Source: Channel 4, Candice Carty-Williams, HuffPost