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Monday, July 15, 2024

I'm a Virgo Season 1 Review

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Prime Video is home to some imaginative shows. Very few of them, however, are as uniquely creative as the wildly ambitious I’m a Virgo. Featuring a great cast, absurd comedic aspects, and a clever use of special effects, it's easily one of the best shows being released this year.

I’m a Virgo is a captivating coming-of-age story set in a strange, alternate version of Oakland, California. Created by Boots Riley, known for the equally inspired Sorry to Bother You, it sports a magical realism where the ordinary and surreal are both regarded as normal. That’s something that’s reflected early on by the presence of a 19-year-old giant named Cootie (Jharrel Jerome). After leaving the confines of his parents’ home, where he’d spent most of his life in seclusion, he’s met with curiosity before being welcomed within his neighborhood. Most folks aren’t concerned about his large physique, which presents an interesting frame of reference for when that’s no longer the case. His size is a substitute for race; they see him as normal, but when things go bad they blame his size for everything.

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Cootie’s rocky journey into adulthood is funny, heartfelt, and all-round entertaining. Initially, he dealt with the realities of his size – not being able to stand upright while in-doors, accidently destroying his surroundings – in a manner that spoke to being different in a world where giants exist. He also struggled with societal norms thanks to being cooped up for so long, and so his many encounters throughout Oakland either lead to some hilarious misunderstanding or a distressing event.

I'm a Virgo uses Cootie’s plight as an allegory for a host of systemic issues, and that elevates it into something special.


That alone is more than enough reason to recommend I’m a Virgo. That said, it’s the way the show uses Cootie’s plight as an allegory for a host of systemic issues that elevates it into something special. Unapologetic by design, I’m a Virgo does a brilliant job illustrating specific concerns raised by minorities. This is partly done through its keen layering of coded dialogue and subtle, yet poignant symbolism. The drama associated with Cootie’s size acts as an overt example that skillfully depicts some of the lived experiences of Black people in America. An aspect that’s heightened by the fact that a giant, though rare, wasn’t initially deemed a threat; the normalcy of Cootie’s existence didn’t negate the difficulties he faced when trying to live peacefully around those that see him as other.

There are also the magical characteristics of I’m a Virgo’s world, which allows multifaceted concepts concerning race, socio-economic issues, even neurological disorders to be represented in a literal sense. And thanks to the elaborate use of imagery by way of convincing special effects, these concepts manifest in humorous and/or thoughtful ways. This is especially evident in Cootie’s love interest Flora (Olivia Washington), whose developmental challenges as a child are cleverly depicted as a speed-based super power; and in The Hero (Walton Goggins), a white vigilante who’s so comically rich that instead of him using an elevator to reach different floors in his home, the building moves itself around him.

While I’m a Virgo handles its positive messaging extremely well, there are a few moments spread throughout its seven-episode season that aren’t as impactful as they could’ve been. The great layering of themes is replaced with blunt exposition that, while probably necessary, doesn’t hold the same weight as when the show is more imaginative in its delivery. Thankfully, I’m a Virgo’s awesome cast keeps things from going too far off the rails. Jharrel Jerome’s excellent performance, for instance, anchors Cootie to reality. His depiction of a naive and often confused young adult is always relatable, even when he’s “towering” over the rest of the cast.

Washington effectively embodies her role as Flora; everything from a subtle expression to the way she delivers a given line helps in showcasing Flora’s unique perspective of the world. Washington captivates especially when playing opposite Jerome. Goggins, meanwhile, is delightfully unhinged as The Hero. As a vigilante with an almost pious view of justice, he fails to realize how harmful his actions are to those not living within his tax bracket. By leaning into the withdrawn characteristics of a person separated by extreme privilege, Goggin is potent in showcasing this lack of understanding.

Likewise, Mike Epps and Carmen Ejogo do a great job as Cootie’s parents, Martisse and Lafrancine, respectively. They are written and played as a flawed, yet eccentric couple with a warm sense of humor, and so it’s easy to believe that no matter what happens, they’ll always stand by their son. The same can be said of Brett Gray, Allius Barnes, and Kara Young as his friends Felix, Scat, and Jones, with Young’s portrayal of Jones being the standout thanks to some moving performances late in the season. Essentially, everyone did their part to make I’m a Virgo as engaging and entertaining as possible.

Verdict

Amazon’s I’m a Virgo is an imaginative coming-of-age story that is not only entertaining, but deeply thought-provoking. It features some amazing performances from its cast, clever use of effects to make Cootie a believable giant, and more than a few hilarious moments. There are a handful of segments that aren’t as impactful as they could’ve been due to their blunt nature, which typically removes the creative layering that the show specializes in. That said, I’m a Virgo is still an outstanding followup to Boots Riley’s directorial debut in Sorry to Bother You.

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