Boots Riley’s brilliance shines through in the sensational and thought-provoking series, “I’m a Virgo.” This dark comedy fearlessly challenges society’s perception of eccentric billionaires as heroes, delivering a scorching critique of the corporate establishment. Streaming on Amazon, Riley’s masterful creation ingeniously packages its anti-capitalist message within the enthralling framework of a superhero drama and allegorical satire.
Prepare to be captivated by the abundance of groundbreaking ideas that “I’m a Virgo” presents, provoking a diverse range of responses and compelling viewers to engage deeply with the world around them. At the heart of the story is the extraordinary Cootie, portrayed with perfection by Jharrel Jerome, renowned for his Emmy-winning performance in “When They See Us.”
Living a sheltered life in progressive Oakland, California, Cootie, the towering giant, is nurtured by his caring aunt and uncle (Carmen Ejogo and Mike Epps). Refusing to feed him processed food, they shield him from the corrupting influences of the outside world, allowing only a glimpse through television and comic books.
But curiosity burns within the 13-foot-tall Cootie, and he gains confidence from absorbing countless hours of infomercials, convinced that he’s ready to face the world. It is through an encounter with a group of teenage activists, led by Kara Young’s Jones, Brett Gray’s Felix, and Allius Barnes’ Scat, that Cootie finds himself thrust into the spotlight.
Enter Jay Whittle, the creator of comic book hero “The Hero” and a publishing magnate strikingly resembling Amazon’s founder portrayed with compelling presence by Walton Goggins. Whittle’s statement, “All art is propaganda,” invites contemplation, setting the stage for the unapologetic originality of “I’m a Virgo.”
The writing team behind “I’m a Virgo,” consisting of Boots Riley, Tze Chun (“Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai)”, and Michael R. Jackson (“A Strange Loop”), deserves utmost recognition for their exceptional narrative craftsmanship. They skillfully weave together elements of childlike whimsy and the depth of folklore, creating a seamless fusion that transports viewers into a captivating realm.
Within this world, the experience of being a 13-foot-tall African American male in America serves as a captivating lens, offering a unique perspective through which to explore the intricacies of life. Their storytelling prowess shines brightly, illuminating profound themes and prompting deep introspection.
Riley and his team channel their well-earned anger into the series, vehemently addressing the failings of the healthcare system driven by profit, the oppressive burden of soaring rents, the criminalization of poverty, the detrimental impact of processed food and predatory chain restaurants, and the deeply rooted inequalities perpetuated by a capitalist system that thrives on homelessness and incarceration.
While the seven-episode format offers a satisfying coming-of-age narrative, “I’m a Virgo” falls short of fully exploring Riley’s broader concerns. Some important aspects, like the allure of professional sports for someone like Cootie, receive only cursory attention, as the focus tends to shift toward more superficial themes like modeling. Although the decision to film in Louisiana for cost-saving reasons diminishes the series’ connection to the Bay Area, it does not dampen Riley’s passionate agenda.
“I’m a Virgo” overcomes budget constraints while delivering a visually stunning aesthetic. Resourceful effects like forced perspective, miniatures, and puppetry replace excessive CGI, lending an authentic and raw quality to Cootie’s colossal stature.
Riley’s rough-hewn charm seamlessly integrates diverse elements, including clever commercial parodies, glimpses into a gritty animated TV show, and the Brechtian visualization of Jones’ impassioned Marxist speeches, powerfully portrayed by Kara Young.
Yet, beyond Riley’s powerful ideology, it is Jharrel Jerome’s exceptional performance that serves as the beating heart of the series, truly binding it together. Jerome’s portrayal of Cootie is nothing short of mesmerizing, as he masterfully combines innocent joy, authentic physicality, and the simmering passion of an untapped revolutionary. With each nuanced expression and captivating movement, Jerome breathes life into his character, allowing the audience to deeply connect with Cootie’s journey.
Supported by the talented Olivia Washington, the duo crafts an unconventional love story within “I’m a Virgo” that surpasses potential pitfalls of silliness or discomfort. Their on-screen chemistry and the meticulous care taken in portraying their relationship create a narrative arc that is both tender and profound. Washington’s performance complements Jerome’s, adding layers of emotion and vulnerability to their dynamic.
While Riley and “I’m a Virgo” fearlessly confront weighty topics head-on, it is the profound emotional depth conveyed by Jerome and Washington that truly captures the hearts of viewers. Their remarkable journey not only engages the mind but also tugs at the heartstrings, leaving an indelible impact on those invested in the series.