Design

The TV Show I Can’t Stop Watching

For Black women, it’s often challenging to find an accurate portrayal of themselves in media…

So, when I heard about I May Destroy You, starring Michaela Coel — who makes me want to keep my head shaved, forever — I was intrigued. My first experience with her work was in her hilarious 2015 show, Chewing Gum. The portrayal of struggle with her deeply religious upbringing immediately brought me comfort since I had been raised very similarly. Fast forward to our weekly Zoom call for work: everyone was talking about her newest show on HBO. It had been on my list, so I started it that night and promptly binged every available episode.

Coel, the show runner, director and writer of the 12-episode series, plays Arabella, a young writer living in London who is quickly approaching a deadline for her manuscript. The night before the due date, she crashes a party with friends at a bar to blow off some steam. When she comes to the next morning she’s in her office. With only haunting flashes of the night before, she has to piece together everything that happened. The story, based on an attack that actually happened to Coel, is heart-wrenching and beautifully complex, as it explores sexuality, consent and the psyche’s response to trauma.

Through telling such a raw and deeply personal story, Coel says in an interview with Vulture: “A part of me yearns to give people their right to life, to live it, to not have the barriers, to not marginalize, to dare to let go of your power and see what happens.” This show does just that, while remaining smart, hilarious and remarkably honest.

Watching the show, glued to my trusty quarantine couch, I very easily placed myself in both Coel’s and Arabella’s shoes. Both are young, up-and-coming Black creatives in their fields, who may respond to glaring deadlines by giving into procrastination. It felt like parts of my own story were being told back to me, and it’s something I hope I see more and more.

I also loved learning about Coel’s decision to partner with BBC. She turned down $1 million from Netflix so she could own the rights to her story, and she wrote 191 drafts of the show before she chose the right one! And it shows! I can’t wait for more episodes to roll out every Monday. I cannot get enough.

What new shows have you been loving? I’d love to hear!

P.S. What tv shows do you watch as a couple?

(Top photo from Ad Week.)

  1. Jessica K. says...

    It’s absolutely brilliant, I find myself rewatching scenes over and over, getting something new every time. Michaela Coel is just so magnetic and everything is so beautifully layered.

  2. Ugh, yes. I’ve been OBSESSED (and crying frequently). Really, really happy that the show was written & that Coel stuck to her guns when it came to ownership. I avoided watching it for a while because I knew there were major trigger warnings, but it is SO worth the occasional gut punches & will make you a better human!

    In terms of couples shows, my husband and I are obsessed with:
    – Alone – Season 6 is on Netflix & the rest are on Hulu; we are both 100% convinced we wouldn’t make it 6 hours.
    – Documentary Now (Netflix) – Short, faux documentaries (each episode is different) & the one based on Marina Abramovic had us rolling).
    – Midnight Gospel (Netflix) – Especially good after we’ve smoked, hehe.
    – The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney +) – Just…amazing & hilarious; he’s such a goof! We wish we hadn’t binged this so fast!
    – Indian Matchmaking (Netflix) – We both became quickly absorbed, BUT, definitely feel uncomfortable with the obvious colorism & kind of weird that Netflix didn’t collaborate with Netflix India, but…mindless and fun.
    – Legendary (HBO Max) – Love the houses, judges, routines…just everything!!

    Hope you enjoy! I’ll be perusing the comments for more shows to become obsessed with!

  3. Lisa says...

    Love this show! It is my current favorite and I actually look forward to Mondays because of it. The telling of the story is complex yet so simple. Great writing!

  4. NN says...

    Absolutely love this stunning show !

  5. Hannah Dean says...

    I love this post! I also find that its not always easily hard to find brilliantly- made shows and movies that put BIPOC front and centre. (It’s not always easy to find brilliantly- made shows and movies that put white people front and centre either, but just by virtue of the fact that stories featuring white people are the overwhelming majority of the market, there just ultimately end up being a higher number of high-quality ones (but if they only really feature white people, I don’t think we can even SAY that they’re brilliantly made…).) So THANK YOU for introducing me to this show!! I can’t wait to watch.

  6. Claire says...

    I loved Chewing Gum and was very excited to hear Michaela Coel had a new show out!

  7. Tai says...

    When you love Michaela Coel like I do, you HAVE TO watch Been So Long, on Netflix. It’s a musical and a love story and she is transcendent in the lead–she can sing, too, I know, it’s not fair. You will love it. Great, great movie!

  8. Wow “I May Destroy You” looks so good, but is it….scary? The idea of “haunting flashbacks” makes me scared. I’m very HSP (highly sensitive person) and can get triggered by disturbing stuff really easily. But the trailer makes it also look kind of like a comedy? Any other HSPs out there who have watched it and can weigh in?

    • JP says...

      The show is about her remembering a sexual assault, that’s what the flashbacks are about. The show in general is about hard subjects, but is also about creative people just trying to live. I wouldn’t call it a comedy or a drama, it’s more like the “prestige tv” genre crossing that has become the standard these days.

    • Lisa says...

      The flashbacks can be tense. But it’s also like watching a mystery. You want to know who did it, how, and what is going to happen. Will he be caught? Punished? The show reveals a lot about the nature of consent without hitting the viewer over the head or preaching.

  9. MJ says...

    I too am watching I May Destroy You and asking fellow watchers to join my support group of just me for now. This show is devastatingly authentic.

  10. Megan Raitano says...

    Kim! Thank you for sharing. I’m really excited to dive into this show. That quote about giving away your power and seeing what happens is oof chills. Also, if you haven’t read Know my Name by Chanel Miller yet, I would highly recommend it.

  11. Michaela Coel is the BEST!
    My brother and I have been singing her praises for years to anyone who will listen. I am so happy she’s getting such rave reviews.
    YaaaY!

  12. Kate says...

    I LOVE Michaela Coel. In addition to Chewing Gum she was in an excellent series trying to learn the truth about her/her family’s role in the Rwandan Genocide called Black Earth Rising (BBC/Netflix). In both of the shows I’ve loved her ability to play a truly multidimensional person and pull no punches.

  13. Sarah says...

    I am also VERY in love with this show right now, so thank you for the great article! I keep telling friends and family: you guys, you have to watch it…it’s just SO good. Sometimes shocking, sometimes thrilling, always deeply human. I think Michaela is a bonafide genius.

  14. Kim says...

    Just want to put in a plug for Mrs. America on Hulu, about the failure to pass the ERA in the 70’s. Cate Blanchett is excellent as Phyllis Schlafley and covers some good history. Sounds like it would be a heavy watch but I found it kind of transporting, in a good way.

  15. Rachel says...

    Yes! My husband and I are obsessed with this show. The writing, acting, direction are NEXT LEVEL. I love how there are no flat characters–everyone is multi-faceted and complicated, so true to life. Plus, it is so nice to see a show that feels true to London, how it really feels to live there.

    I agree with others who are enjoying the serialised released–without being able to binge, the two weekly episodes really stay with me all week.

    Other shows I’ve recently enjoyed: Shrill, Never Have I Ever (fulfilling my childhood dream of an Indian girl getting to be the star of a teen show!), Normal People

  16. Annie says...

    I watched the first episode last night after this recommendation and am definitely going to watch this show. I can tell it is going to be beautiful and challenging. Also, I’ve been spending, um, a lot of time procrastinating the past few months and there was something so comforting, somehow, in seeing procrastination represented on screen.

  17. Hayley says...

    Excited to see this, and hoping to start it soon! We just watched When They See Us, and it is completely gut-wrenching, disturbing, heartbreaking, and beautifully done. It’s a really hard watch, but an important one. Same with the documentary 13th! The documentary Disclosure (on Netflix) is also high on our list. For some comedic relief sprinkled in, we just started watching the series What We Do in the Shadows (based on the hysterical mocumentary). We also plan to tackle season 2 of Succession (so good!) and dive into season 3 of The Crown (finally)!

    Did anyone watch The King of Staten Island? I’ve gotta say I was hyped to see that and disappointed because I felt it landed pretty flat (great acting and compelling story, but it felt long and uninteresting and honestly not very funny). It’s a shame because I think it had a lot of potential to be a wonderful movie.

    • Kiki Lynne says...

      An excellent companion to 13th is the documentary “The House I Live In”, which also includes more personal, individual stories of people impacted by the war on drugs, racism and classism. Highly recommend.

  18. sarah says...

    I’m a writer, reading this while eating a sad desk salad. Just got to the part about 191 (one hundred and ninety one! 191!!!!!) drafts and my food fell out of my mouth.

  19. Kimberley says...

    The scene with the period. I was equally shocked and delighted to see something us ladies have been dealing with forever on tv, like no nonsense, here it is. Love loved the show :)

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      I’ve been thinking about that scene a lot lately! I really appreciated that.

    • Sarah says...

      oh my god, SAME. I’ve never seen a blood clot on TV before!

  20. R says...

    IMDY is very well written and directed, and I can’t stop watching it.
    But I have to admit that it is difficult to watch because you absolutely know, and not just because this is the show’s theme, that something bad will happen when some decisions are made.
    I think this may be the most powerful part of the show. A window to how and why people get into these situations.
    I confess that I was particularly shocked by the scene where the guy takes off the condom in the middle of sex, without her knowing, and her reaction was just “ok! Let’s just get the pill and go on with it”! I mean
    I know this is probably real, which leads me to think “do women/girls nowadays think this is something acceptable??”.
    It’s just difficult to watch her get abused all the time!!

    • A says...

      Hey R, your comment is really hitting me wrong… I might be reading your tone wrong and I’ll be honest I haven’t watched the show (will dive in tonight!) but I’m hearing a lot of victim blaming: “…something bad will happen when some decisions are made.” “…A window to how and why people get into these situations.” “…do women/girls nowadays think this is something acceptable??” I’d encourage you to instead think about bad things didn’t happen because of her decisions, but because a man did a bad thing to her. And that the how/why ppl get into these situations, again, is because a man did a bad thing to her. The onus shouldn’t be on the victim to not be in certain situations, it should be on the abuser to not hurt/abuse/victimize someone.

    • ces says...

      Keep watching friend. Keep watching!

    • R. says...

      A, Ok, so watch the show first. :)
      It is very, very good precisely because it raises these questions.
      OF COURSE it is not the victim’s fault. But it is the culture’s fault, and we all need to change it.
      The guy did that because he believes it is acceptable and it is within his rights.
      I’m sad that we still live in a world that if you, as a woman, don’t take extreme care with your decisions, someone will take advantage of you. It shouldn’t be like this.
      What’s harrowing in the show for me is that she is living in a very dangerous environment. It’s like, everywhere they turn someone is waiting to abuse someone!
      But I guess that’s real, and that’s what’s so strong about the show.

    • A says...

      R, you’re so right I should watch before commenting :)… I regretted my comment right after posting! In general, my comment stands, but maybe not appropriate as a response to you re: this show. Lol. Thanks for your gracious response!!

  21. Wendy says...

    I had to google Michaela Coel to remember where I’d seen her before. She was absolutely electric in Black Earth Rising!

  22. Rae says...

    I have heard so many great things about this show. HBO is going to get me yet…

  23. Anna says...

    I don’t have TV and still get Netflix on disc because of slow metered internet where I live in the country. We just watched the one and only season of Detroit 1-8-7 from 2011. Detroit’s my hometown, and I seek out all things Detroit. I’m crazy about Aisha Hinds who played Lieutenant Maureen Mason and am looking for more of her work. Check this out: https://blacktressworld.com/2010/09/22/spotlight-aisha-hinds/

  24. Tara Y. says...

    I’m so sad I don’t get HBO…this looks amazing!

  25. Annie says...

    I just finished Sex Education (so good!) and planned to start I May Destroy You tonight! Now I’m even more excited!

    • Adrienne says...

      Sex Education is amazing – not what you think when you first start watching it – so much more depth. Loved it!

  26. Erin says...

    I am loving babysitters club right now — it’s exactly what I pictured from the books (with modern twists). Such a simple pleasure!

    • moonvirgo says...

      Hi! I just started baby sitters club with my kids and I was shocked at how the racism of the history teacher in the first episode was not tackled. What I mean is in the opening scene, the characters Kristy and Mary Anne are discussing how Kristy got in trouble in history class – her teacher was touting the brilliance of Thomas Jefferson and Kristy jumps up in the middle of class and exclaims that if he was so brilliant, why didn’t he write “All PEOPLE are created equal.” instead of all men. The history teacher reprimands Kristy for speaking out of turn and she has to write a whole paper about what decorum means. !!!

      First, I teach Middle School and this trope of un-examined history teacher was just too much. If ONLY my students would jump and feel passionate about this. And how about unpacking why Jefferson held such racist beliefs? (Upper class, racist enslaver, educated on the continent to believe the “science” of the time that certain races AND sexes were deserving of a higher status…)

      There is no work by anyone in Kristy’s life unpacking how good-old Jefferson was a complete and utter racist, spouting racists AND sexist ideas in his document. NO ONE. I watched the whole first episode with my 8 yr old twins and just had to stop the show and unpack all that with them. DECORUM?

      I so appreciate this other show rec. I can’t watch it with my 8 yr olds, but I hope others who are watching the baby sitter club will think a little on it and watch it together with their kids. Sorry, but this white supremacy thing ain’t going away un less we critically examine it in every sphere. So sorry if this long write offends others. I wish I had read about this about the baby sitter club before I watched it with my kids. Not looking for cookies – appreciate the space your blog provides…

  27. Cat says...

    Highly recommend Insecure on HBO. There are 4 seasons out now. My boyfriend introduced me to it – he had already watched it all but watched it all over again with me b/c it was that good.

    • Kim says...

      Late to the party, but I just watched all 8 episodes of Season 1 last night and I do. not. binge. watch. tv. It was like a fever dream. So good.

  28. V says...

    Don’t miss the article link to info about her Netflix experience. That was an education! Thanks for sharing.

    • Nicki says...

      Yes, great interview and quite eye-opening. I love the BBC, and so many of its shows (Grand Designs!)

      I’ve alternated over the past few months between binging new shows and not watching at all. Will earmark this for the next binge.

  29. Jenna says...

    Yah! I need another great show. I just finished watching Normal People and loved it! It made all my 20 year old, fall in love fantasies come true. I watched the whole 12 episodes in two nights. I also enjoyed Love Life with Anna Kendrick (but you have to stick out the first couple episodes). And Rami is also really, really good and very interesting story telling.

    • Maggie says...

      Loved Normal People and Love Life! Rami is next on my list

  30. I recommend Ramy on Hulu! It is complex, funny, and really compelling!

  31. Rachael says...

    i 100% agree with you, kim! it is such a powerful show. this post just joined my group chat with my sisters where i gave it a shout-out last night. i am also loving the soundtrack and have found it perfect for long, socially distant jogs around my neighborhood. highly recommend both!

  32. Emma says...

    This looks incredible, I can’t wait to watch! I’ve been hearing so many good things about it. High Fidelity on Hulu was a sleeper hit, I think everyone should binge it immediately. Zoe is intoxicating to watch and so unbelievably real I feel like she isn’t even acting. Plus the soundtrack was spot-on. I still think about episodes from that show and how they relate to my life.

    • elinor says...

      I LOVED High Fidelity! Zoe’s outfits were amazing:)

    • Rae says...

      Yes! High Fidelity is my favorite show I have seen in a long time – each episode is a gem and your right, I know believe Zoe Kravitz is that character. Oops. I really hope they make a second season despite the pandemic delays.

  33. Jenny Rosenstrach says...

    I started bingeing as soon as I got off that zoom call, too. :) SO SO good. Hadn’t realized Coel was also in my favorite episode of Black Mirror — USS Callister.

    • Just started watching this last night! I’m loving it.

    • A says...

      I loved that Black Mirror episode!!

  34. Sara Campbell says...

    Thanks for the reco – adding it to my list (along with Insecure). Right now, my husband & I are on Season 2 of The Chi – it is sooo good.

    • AMK says...

      Please drop all that you are doing and watch Insecure. Soo sooo good!

  35. Maria says...

    This show is SO good! It manages to be funny, smart, deep all at once. All the tech references and ways that everyone interacts online, over the phone, using apps and social media also feels so relatable to the world we live in now. This last episode had me with my jaw dropped cheering at my television! No spoilers :) Michaela is awesome.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Same!!!

  36. Maria says...

    I would love to see this show, heard a lot of positive things about it. Right now I’m watching Rita (a Danish TV show on Netflix – here in the Netherlands), Warrior Nun and Agatha Raisin.

    • Erin says...

      Love Rita!

    • Emeline says...

      I love Rita too!

  37. mary s says...

    I am also loving I May Destroy You — I loved Chewing Gum, too. I know it’s not a contest but I couldn’t understand why Fleabag — about which I had mixed feelings — got so much more love!

    I have been watching a lot of oldish HBO shows — Six Feet Under, The Deuce, Black Lady Sketch Show — to get that comforting pre-COVID, pre-2016 feeling . Also: Search Party, The Innocence Files, and Grand Designs.

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      Search Party is SO good and I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about it!!

    • Charlotte says...

      Grand Designs is awesome. All the right levels of comfort tv watching without the dramatic phony hoopla. I also loved Chewing Gum and I am bummed I don’t have HBO to watch Coel’s new series. She’s such a rockstar.

    • Ari says...

      YES to Search Party. I had been waiting forever for the last season. I have evangelized to every single person about how brilliant Search Party is.

  38. Agnès says...

    Last show I watched was Fleabag, a few months ago. I find it hard to watch anything since Covid (just short shows). Just watched the trailer and it looks quite fascinating. I don’t think I can watch it from France, but I’ll do some research ;-). The last paragraph of your post just finished to convince me: she wrote 191 DRAFTS. I have 4 drafts of an essay and I’m discouraged, that is definitely giving me some inspiration. I’m loving these new role models (women writers). Thanks Kim!

  39. Jennifer Vercelli says...

    I am obsessed with IMDY. I find myself thinking about each episode the entire week after I watch it and processing it (even have a dm thread with gf devoted to discussions after each ep). It has expanded my own understanding of consent, rape culture, how we blame ourselves for being in situations that leave us vulnerable even as men easily and without fear partake in the same. I’ve been telling everyone I know to watch.

  40. Liz S says...

    I first saw Michaela Coel in the series Black Earth Rising on netflix. She is a force. I love her voice. I don’t have hbo so hoping this will eventually make it to netflix.

  41. L says...

    Ugh this show is so good. After every episode I feel like it was tough to watch but all I want is more. And I thought of you, Kim, when she shaved her head! So, so beautiful.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I was so haunted after episode one! I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

  42. Lany says...

    THIS. SHOW. It–much like Michaela herself–is a revelation. Someone recently Tweeted about how letting women with strong points of view do whatever they want always results in creative magic (I May Destroy You, Fleabag, Pen15, etc). I enjoy how they’re parsing the episodes weekly, which means I can’t binge – it gives me the opportunity to truly live with each one. It’s a must watch (and that Vulture interview is a must read!).

    • CES says...

      I completely agree with you about the magic of letting women own their own stories and vision. Fleabag was the best show I watched last year (and my husband agreed)- we were crying and breathless during the last episode. I May Destroy You is the best show I’ve seen this year. I agree with you- it is a revelation. The honesty of the storytelling combined with the sheer craft of the acting, directing and editing is a marvel. I just finished episode 5 and continue to be blown away by every part of the show. Bravo bravo bravo bravo to Michaela for standing fast in her vision. We are all benefiting from her strength of commitment.
      Also shout-out to Insecure which GD is so so so good. Also Russian Doll!

  43. Anna says...

    Kims voice on CoJ makes this blog even more perfect. Cannot wait to watch this show now!

    • kash says...

      +100000! Thank you, Kim! I so look forward to you writing!!

  44. jane says...

    I don’t like to sound like one of those gushing white people but it’s mind-bending how beautiful she is – almost unbearably intense. I had a brief period as a model in my youth and so many of the runway models are supernaturally beautiful, in the way Michaela Coel is. (I was editorial not runway). I remember thinking, of course they are models, there is literally no where else they would be able to work on a daily basis without causing utter disruption lol. That she was able to write, produce, direct and star in this is incredible. She shines. What an incredible human.

    This looks beyond and I can’t wait to watch, thanks for highlighting it!

  45. Annie says...

    I have also been hooked on I May Destroy You! From the preview, I wasn’t too excited, but I kept hearing how much people loved it, so gave it a try…and it is all you shared!
    Other shows:
    Insecure, Better Call Saul, Barry, The Baby Sitter’s Club, Shrill, Upload…clearly my time at home has been about watching shows! ha!

    • Annie says...

      Oh and Betty (on HBO)

    • Kim Rhodes says...

      Betty is also on my list! Watching that tonight!

    • Jordan says...

      Good list, thanks for the recs! Keep hearing great stuff about Babysitter’s Club. Tried to watch with my husband but he didn’t get it, so I’ll save it for myself. Also finally watched Russian Doll and loved it! Anyway, putting I May Destroy You on my list, too, can’t wait.

    • b says...

      BSC was so dang good. Considering the first book was released in 1986, the showrunners did a phenomenal job making it relevant while maintaining the charm and innocence.

    • Betsy says...

      Loved the BSC on Netflix!