Television Review: “I’m a Virgo” — Weird, Funny, Radical, and Poignant
By Sarah Osman
Along with its oversized fantasy, I’m a Virgo comments on Black bodies, capitalism, and socioeconomic barriers.
I love when stories take unexpected left turns, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. It’s not an easy maneuver for a writer to master; there are certainly cases where the tale should have probably taken the road more traveled. Boots Riley delivered one of the wildest left turns in cinematic history in 2018’s Sorry to Bother You, a bizarre yet brilliant satire on race and corporate America. No spoilers here, but Sorry to Bother You dovetailed surrealism and political satire in a refreshingly distinctive way.
So reassuring that Riley’s new series, I’m a Virgo (streaming on Amazon Prime), is just as weird, funny, radical, and poignant. The series follows Cootie (Jharrel Jerome), a thirteen-foot-tall Black teenager who has been sheltered from the world by his adoptive parents. Cootie spends his time reading, lifting cars, and hiding. His parents continually remind him that were Cootie to be exposed, he would be labeled – and then dissected – as a freak. In one heart-wrenching scene, they show him a binder full of clippings of the unfortunate fates of other giants. Cootie cries, telling his parents that these stories will give him nightmares. His folks tell him that nightmares are a better fate than captivity as a lab rat.
Still, Cootie becomes fed up with isolation and ventures out into the world. He accumulates a group of ragtag friends who expose him to juicy cheeseburgers (he doesn’t like them), bass (he loves that), and clubbing (that’s okay). In true Gen Z fashion, Cootie explains to his friends that — because he’s a Virgo — he likes adventure and is extremely organized. He turns into a minor celebrity — to make money he takes on less-than-ideal modeling jobs. Cootie is incredibly naive, but Jerome makes that innocence sympathetic, even endearing. Some of the most memorable farce in I’m a Virg comes from watching Cootie try to navigate his size, such as stooping down in a fast food restaurant in order to scarf down tacos. Sweet sentiment is supplied by noting how aware he is of his movements around his love interest, Flora (Olivia Washington) who is both blessed and cursed with a gift of her own.
At the same time, the series also comments on Black bodies, capitalism, and socioeconomic barriers. Riley taps into the fantasy/political critique approach of early H. G. Wells: Sorry to Bother You owed something to Island of Dr. Moreau and I’m a Virgo may have been inspired by Food of the Gods. One of Cootie’s friends is rejected from a hospital for not having health insurance. As he waits for a bus to take him to the “low-income” medical facility he dies on the way. It’s a two-ton critique of America’s healthcare system, but it has its pathos nonetheless, especially after Cootie realizes his friend bought him a bobblehead of his favorite cartoon character. Cootie’s other buddy, Jones (Kara Young), a young communist, playfully teaches Cootie about the systemic injustices of overpriced rent and racial discrimination. Young is a relatively fresh face in film (she’s been in theater); she makes a powerful impression here.
One of the most outlandish aspects of I’m a Virgo is a character named The Hero, played by Walton Goggins, who once again proves why he is usually cast in such bizarre roles. The Hero is a ‘real’ superhero — he flies over the streets, protecting citizens from “crime.” He’s a stand-in for the police, but his intimidation is made comic with lines like “three or more people dressed in similar clothing may be prosecuted as a gang.” The role probably wouldn’t work if it had been played by anyone other than Goggins; this super-powered conservative ideal of a do-gooder is played without an ounce of irony. Raised on The Hero’s comics, Cootie idolizes him, his worship serving as a critical meta-commentary on Hollywood’s (and our) obsession with superheroes. As time goes on, Cootie realizes that The Hero is anything but — a metaphor for those who suddenly woke up to the reality of police brutality in 2020.
Like Sorry to Bother You, I’m a Virgo takes several outrageous turns, including a sex scene between Cootie and his paramour. Still, this coming-of-age narrative is as familiar as it is strange: it is the story of an individual tries to navigate a world from which is estranged.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, NC. In addition to writing for the Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman