Boots Riley’s ‘I’m a Virgo’ is Ridiculous and True
Boots Riley has done it again. What he’s done, I’m not sure, but he did it before, and it’s certainly fun.
Prime Video’s I’m a Virgo follows a 19-year-old, 13-foot-tall Cootie (Jharrel Jerome) as he leaves home for the first time and ventures out into the mighty Oakland, California. It’s not explained why Cootie’s a giant, but Riley hardly explains the absurd in his projects. Case in point: Sorry to Bother You (2018). But it doesn’t matter how Cootie became a giant. All that matters is that he’s too big for this limiting world. He can’t change himself, so he sets off to change the world.
The show isn’t subtle at all in its social commentary, but subtlety goes out the window as soon as a giant comes into play. A major theme of the series is the marginalization of the “other” and how they react. It’s clear to anybody with eyes that Cootie isn’t your average man, and so he responds to the gawking by curling in on himself in a useless attempt to appear small, afraid of even the most basic social interaction.
Neurodivergence is much harder to see with the naked eye than any physical condition but is still ostracized the same. Flora (Olivia Washington), an autistic Black woman, says she has to translate her social cues so the rest of predictable society can understand her. That must be as exhausting. As she puts it, “I’m not fast. You’re just slow.”
The show also comments on crime and the conditions that necessitate it. Rather than brushing off all crime as inherently bad, they get to the heart of the issue in the very first episode with a pretty funny exchange. Why is my cousin selling drugs? Either it was to pay rent or just for fun. The humor in this goes over Cootie’s head—not an easy feat for a giant—but that’s to be expected from a sheltered homebody.
Cootie idolizes the real-life superhero simply dubbed “The Hero.” And why wouldn’t he? The Hero (Walton Goggins) fights crime both on and off the comic book pages and was Cootie’s only source of entertainment for 19 years. It’s only when he makes real friends that don’t talk in catchphrases that Cootie realizes The Hero represents something far bigger than even him. What did his friends say again? Not everything you read in books applies here.
This show is the perfect balance of outrageousness and realism. The comedic performances, especially Mike Epp’s performance, are just so timely and precise that you can’t help but laugh off the absurdity of it all. This only adds to the actors’ vulnerability in other scenes where it’s just as appropriate for you to cry.
I’m a Virgo asks more questions than it answers. It leaves enough room and excitement for a season 2, but there’s no telling how, if at all, such a thing would work out. The immediate conflict is resolved, and some of the characters seem expendable like they already served their purpose.
If there is a second season, I would like to see more of the characters discover and appreciate their “otherness,” just like Cootie and Flore. After all, why should anybody change their authentic selves to fit into a world that doesn’t understand them? Why not just change the world instead?