The first thing that appealed to me about Mascara is the show’s decidedly feminine title. The composition and themes are made obvious right off the bat, and Mascara wants you to be aware before its episodes were released last week Tuesday on CongaTV for binge consumption. But I wondered if the show would be any good. It had to, given that I had just subscribed for a monthly plan on CongaTV, another relatively new competitor in the streaming wars.
On paper, Mascara bears similarities to American chick flick dramas like Gossip Girl and 90210, but the times have changed. Web shows like Brown Girls, which debuted in 2017 and features a queer, South-Asian American writer (Leila) and a sex-positive African American (Patricia), is intelligent and subversive and intersectional, and was created in sync with zeitgeisty talking points like feminism. In today’s global TV landscape, it’s not just enough to make shows with women who talk idly on sofas and sip Merlot. Even the Lena Dunham show Girls, though with its own issues, spoke candidly about women’s bodies and sexual desires.
Mascara is a story about four women who live as friends in a Lagos-based apartment. I had expected Lagos to be an extra, buoyant character on its own, rippling with familiar charm and chaos. But the establishing shot in the first episode was as dull as wet fish. In fact, I’m of the opinion that the shots of tall buildings and the cityscape were grafted from an unconnected, pre-existing source. We are first introduced to the women in the cozy environment of the living room; it’s a communal space that embodies the idea of sisterhood and the show sells this element to viewers.
Demi is a bespectacled pharmacist attached to her sticker-spangled laptop. Thelma owns a hair salon furnished by an “Italian Boo” whom no one has ever seen (I get the feeling she will soon get murdered). Tife, the conveyor of office gossip, works in the demanding corporate world while Ezra is an actress and the group’s Instagram matchmaker. Respectively played by Fiona Garba, Ogechi Peters, Tehilla Essien, and Titi Joseph, these women aren’t written with distinctive depth considering how the current cultural climate has shaped up in the last five years.
This is not to say that feminism must dominate conversations. But a modern female-centric show that doesn’t acknowledge the zeitgeist squanders an opportunity to be a vehicle for much-needed change. After binging three episodes, each never exceeding the 30 minute mark, I saw more flaws than I wanted to acknowledge. Demi and her nerdy air doesn’t necessarily make her stand out from the bunch. She’s just as vanilla-plain as her friends. In episode two, she’s stalked by Bassey (Luciano Okere), a rejected candidate from the house-held screening contest Ezra had enthusiastically put together to provide dates for her friends. Bassey has a kind of speech impediment, making him sound like he’s in a perpetual state of hiccupping. And although Demi has made him aware that she isn’t interested in him, even bringing in Ezra to fix the problem, she later acquiesces to go on a date with Bassey.
On relationship, Ezra is the only one with a bonafide boyfriend in Ralph (Paul Vicks), though an abusive one. He bullies her into giving him the password to her phone and demands that she cut ties with a certain producer because he makes him “uncomfortable.” Ezra always does as she’s told, but only after feeble resistance. No one, even Ezra, has been able to call Ralph out on his bullshit and therefore he flourishes on his emotional and verbal abuse. To interrogate this toxic, unhealthy dynamic between Ezra and Ralph would require Mascara to transcend beyond the show’s tonal template. Mascara wasn’t built for 2018, and that’s down to another critical aspect of writing out complex, multi-dimensional female characters. Mascara still panders to the status quo, and I’d like to make the unfortunate announcement that the show is not what we need.