I watched Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You back in 2018 and have been grappling with my feelings about it ever since. After several years, I’m leaning towards saying “yes,” although it’s one of those films where you hesitate to be the first person to comment as you leave the theater, unsure of how to articulate your thoughts. It boasted a talented cast, a remarkably inventive premise that expanded into something grand, and even horses… There was a lot happening.
And now, Riley presents another creation. Let’s begin with the plot and then deliberate on its quality: I’m a Virgo is a new series on Prime Video (starting from Friday, June 23) starring Jharrel Jerome from Moonlight as Cootie, a 13ft-tall teenager who has led a sheltered life behind towering walls, hedges, and fences, under the care of his peculiar and protective adoptive parents. But, of course, he breaks free—because otherwise, it wouldn’t make for much of a story—and embarks on a series of coming-of-age adventures, albeit with the added challenge of constantly bumping into things. Jerome delivers a splendid performance, portraying the character with sweetness, both imposing and bashful, vulnerable yet powerful. There’s more to his portrayal than mere camera tricks, props, and his height.
This series offers an inverted take on the superhero narrative, almost anti-Marvel in nature. It presents a person with extraordinary and abnormal abilities struggling to lead a normal life. As expected from Riley, there’s a consistent aesthetic vision that manages to be peculiar without veering into excessive weirdness, effectively tying everything together. The inclusion of Walton Goggins is always a promising sign, and every actor wholeheartedly embraces the project. There’s much to appreciate here. Do I fully comprehend what’s happening? Not entirely. But sometimes, that’s not the primary focus.
Right from the opening shot featuring Carmen Ejogo holding a grotesque, blood-covered baby, I’m a Virgo purposefully embraces its unsettling and bizarre nature, and your personal response to that will vary. Personally, I found the first episode a bit clumsy—yes, strange things are happening, we get it! Must everything be a visual trick?—but as the series progressed, everything began to fall into place. Naturally, a show centered around a shy, 13ft-tall teenager engaged in an anime-style fight with five normal-sized men outside a nightclub will involve major visual and narrative swings, some of which may not resonate. Nevertheless, I’m truly glad to witness someone taking bold risks.
Similar to Sorry to Bother You, the initial “Wouldn’t this be weird?” concept unravels and evolves in strange and unpredictable ways, and that’s where I’m a Virgo finds its footing. Once the magical world is fully established, you can explore ideas like a flying hero enforcing order and justice who may not be as they appear, a giant boy in the NBA, or a powerful agent showing up with a business card reading “SPORT. TALENT. ACAI PRODUCTS.” Some aspects may falter—occasional heavy-handed attempts at profundity resembling educational videos on peer pressure—but again, taking big swings can result in big misses.
I’ve recently been watching Jon Benjamin Has a Van, a cult Comedy Central series from 2011 led by H Jon Benjamin, known for voicing Bob from Bob’s Burgers and Sterling Archer from Archer. It’s wonderfully weird and emblematic of its time. It’s nearly fantastic—nine brilliant episodes, one absolute dud, and one recurring sketch character so terrible that I have to fast-forward through it. However, it has made me acutely aware that we are currently experiencing a scarcity of daring and experimentation.