Earlier this month, HBO debuted a new variety series by artist and film director Terence Nance. Random Acts of Flyness is probably unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. The New Yorker has called it an “avant-garde trip” easily suited for Adult Swim. Wired thinks that it’s a “radical step forward” for television. They’re right. Even in the midst of the Black television renaissance that has blessed us with The Chi, Power, and the experimental Atlanta on FX, Random Acts of Flyness trumps them in all in terms of racial commentary and overall weirdness.
The description of the show on HBO’s website calls it “a fluid, stream-of-consciousness examination of contemporary American life,” which is what it feels like. If a group of friends got really high and had an intellectual conversation about what it means to be Black, this is how their dialogue could be visually represented. Random Acts of Flyness moves between skits and topics with incoherent ease — some parts are animated, others are live-action, some are surreal, others are talk-based — and piercing accuracy. I was overwhelmed by the desire to pause the episode after each sketch just to reflect and process what I’d just seen.
“White Be Gone.” a fictional advertisement starring Jon Hamm boasts a cream that helps white people relieve themselves of the thoughts that arise from their racial privilege and inherent biases. In this clip, the idea that Blackness is an affliction is transferred to whiteness, with hilarious results. Laughter was much harder to come by during “Everybody Dies.” Framed as a public access children’s show, it features a singing grim reaper (Tonya Pinkins) who ushers Black children to their deaths. “Sexual Proclivities of The Black Community” and “Nuncaland” took radically different approaches to Black relationships. The former uses a mixture of clay animation and storytelling to address the stigma surrounding bisexuality for Black men. The latter is a musical that examines the relationship between Black women and Black men who don’t want to grow up. Nance’s experiments have brought some of my favorite Twitter threads and gender studies classes to the screen, and it’s truly groundbreaking.
It’s not a surprise that HBO had the gumption to greenlight a show like this. They’ve always had the advantage of swerving the strict censorship rules of traditional broadcast networks. I know I’m not the only person who spent a few late nights as an adolescent trying to peer through static screens to try to catch clips of their Real Sex or Taxicab Confessions series without a subscription. With their longstanding, no-hold-barred approach to programming, HBO laid the groundwork for Random Acts of Flyness.
What's more, the cable network helped established an interest in Black subcultures early on, with shows like Def Comedy Jam and Def Poetry Jam in the late ‘90s and early aughts, respectively, helping to start conversations and draw new audiences. Today, HBO is already home to Insecure, television’s ongoing love letter to Black womanhood, created by Issa Rae. It has also been confirmed that Rae will be involved in a new project that explores the life of a bisexual Black man. The cable network is moving the culture forward by exploring Black life at the intersections, and Random Acts Of Flyness is proof that there are no limits on how far they can take it.
If you’re a night owl and home on a Friday night, you can catch episode 4 of Random Acts of Flyness at midnight tonight on HBO.