Never has a show spoken to me as strongly as Dear White People.
That's interesting because Netflix — home to Justin Simien's tongue-in-cheek comedy series — now has multiple TV shows about people from my own cultural background, South Asian Americans representing an oft-unseen minority.
But I always come back to Dear White People.
I went to a big college, where I surrounded myself in people who looked like me while we sought temporary shelter from the outside world. Our experiences were hardly the same as the Black students at Winchester University, but our community was small, tight-knit, and lasting. Our clubs butted heads and our friends dated each other and there will never be anything like those four years of dense drama and incredible memories.
Dear White People returns today after two years for its fourth and final season, a '90s jukebox musical about Sam's (Logan Browning) senior year. Racial tensions continue at Winchester, where white guilt over a police shooting leads the administration to turn its annual "Varsity Show" over to Black students for the first time ever. Troy (Brandon Bell) and Lionel (DeRon Horton) head up the project but face immediate backlash from new student Iesha (Joi Liaye) and others who think the upperclassmen have sold out. But all that's in the past — we learn about it in flashbacks from Sam and Lionel in the future, a time when the crew is scattered and estranged, depending on video chat tech and memory to hold their relationships together.
Troy wants the Varsity Show to be a '90s musical, so Dear White People's final episodes are a nostalgic jukebox, a celebration of this show and what it created. The show's rich colors and bold framing now deliver not only crackling scenes, but spectacular song-and-dance numbers (with thrilling choreography from Jamila Glass). It's not ideal for the entire cast, but Featherson's pipes are unmatched and Browning dances with infectious energy. My own college years were packed with dancing, so imagining anyone's senior year as a musical isn't much of a leap.
Elsewhere, Simien follows the cast and characters where they work best, like with Antoinette Robertson's Coco going on a reality show that showcases her delicious queen bee confidence. Horton is still unflinchingly delightful as Lionel (actually he flinches a lot, but that's what makes it great) while Bell's comic timing is the best it's ever been; Troy and Lionel's supportive friendship is a highlight in their hands. A few faces from the earlier seasons disappear altogether (justice for Sorbet), but Al (Jemar Mitchell) and Brooke (Courtney Sauls) get to spread their wings in the main group. Iesha is the only one who feels out-of-place, because introducing newbies to an established cast is a lot harder than making a new friend during college.
It's certainly not the sharpest writing or the best season of Dear White People, but it's a fitting sendoff for a show that did so much with its signature direction and phenomenal cast. The best part of this chapter ending will be watching Dear White People's immense talent disperse throughout Hollywood and enrich other projects. Season 1 is still the show’s finest, but this showcase of Black talent behind and in front of the camera is an opportunity that so many more deserve. I truly thought I'd never hear from them again, and I'm grateful we had one last song together.
Dear White People Vol. 4 is now streaming on Netflix.