Hulu’s Queenie is a Masterful Study of Self-Growth

Hulu’s Queenie is a Masterful Study of Self-Growth

Plenty of comedies start off how Onyx Collective’s “Queenie” begins: a woman, supine in her gynecologist’s office, exposed, getting unexpected news. But “Queenie,” based on the book of the same name and created and executive produced by the author Candice Carty-Williams, is not your typical series.

In fact, our titular heroine (a superb Dionne Brown) is not pregnant, and what’s going on in her uterus sets up a different plot altogether. “Queenie” is primarily concerned with healing, showing what it is to do the work, as they say. When we meet her, she is slamming into the limitations of trying to be the fabled “strong Black woman.” Across the series’ eight episodes, she builds a new narrative and way of being that works for her, helping the rest of her family of Jamaican British family do the same.

But first though, “Queenie” gives us her descent to rock bottom. This show starts out bleak and gets worse as Queenie spirals. There’s humor, yes, but she’s dealing with a host of serious stuff—a history of abandonment, domestic violence, and betrayal—all of which are brought to the forefront thanks to a breakup and her estranged mother’s attempts to reconcile. It’s hard to watch.

To deal, she drinks too much. She has rough sex with strangers. She lets her work slide, endangering her budding career as a journalist. She’s just twenty-five, and lots of her decisions could be chalked up to the normal pitfalls of youthful exploration. But “Queenie” is clear that something else is happening in its realistic South London setting.

Our heroine—and it’s impossible not to root for her even as she makes repeated mistakes—is confronting an institutional set of challenges with an incomplete toolbox. She faces racism at work and in the dating pool. Sexism abounds wherever she goes, including her own mind. 

On her side, she has a rich cultural tradition to draw from in her Jamaican heritage. Her mother excluded, she has strong relationships with her multigenerational family who want the best for her and are ready to help—even if their ideas about what “the best” is and how to get there aren’t always compatible with hers. 

What she doesn’t have is good models for dealing with the hard shit that’s bubbling up in her psyche—she only knows how to push emotions down for everyone else’s benefit, rather than figuring out how to ask for help or process what she’s feeling for herself.

After five episodes of acting out and facing an unforgiving world, Queenie hits rock bottom. For viewers who make it this far, the rewards are rich. Over the remaining three episodes, Queenie transforms, slowly and laboriously but successfully. And here’s where the show shines, demonstrating what therapy can actually accomplish and how it works. 

In this back third, it artfully depicts how talking to someone helps Queenie rescue herself and nudge her family to be better. How she goes from believing that “no one wants me” (as she declares pitifully at one point) to valuing herself. And when she can see her own value, when the show has guided her and its audience through how that transformation can really occur, something beautiful happens.

Yes, Queenie gets a glow up—she does look better in a trick of cinematography, costuming, and acting. But she also feels so much better, emanating confidence. And with that newfound confidence, she can heal past wounds, talking to those who have hurt her and figuring out a path forward that addresses the issue for all involved.

In the end, “Queenie” is a tale of triumph but unlike many others in the genre, it really earns its happy ending. Queenie may get everything she (and the audience) could wish for but it doesn’t feel far-fetched—both she and the viewers have to work to get there. And that hard work makes your smile as the final credits role that much more meaningful. “Queenie” provides the deep satisfaction of watching a young woman come into her own, heal intergenerational trauma, and figure out how to be of service to herself and her community. It’s the happiest of endings made all the sweeter by the arduous journey to get there.

Whole series screened for review. Premieres today on Hulu.