I am very excited to be recapping this season of Flatbush Misdemeanors for you all this season. This show is dripping in the acerbic wit that is endemic to the rhythms of New York but grounded in the unique working-class beating heart that brings Flatbush to life. Flatbush is more than a neighborhood; it’s a feeling that is held and transported by its community, and Dan Perlman and Kevin Iso consistently rise to the occasion of creating fully rounded, humorous characters while staying true to the spirit of the real-life residents.
There are two thematic anchors of this episode: one is transition, and the other is resolution. It’s fitting that the opening B-roll shot of the episode is of Flatbush Junction, one of the major intersections and shopping areas that is located at the formal perimeter of Flatbush and the neighboring areas of Midwood and the Flatlands — but if you were to jaunt a few blocks further down Nostrand, many of the Black residents would still consider themselves spiritually a part of Flatbush and not Midwood. Kareem’s bike shop, a real-life community staple since 1965, is a few blocks further down Flatbush Ave, technically stretching into the Flatlands but fondly claimed by Flatbush residents. Geography doesn’t dictate the shift; people do. In the world of Misdemeanors, all of the key characters are reconciling the residual impacts of the shifting pieces of their life they have yet to address; Kevin and Dan are dancing around the elephant in the room in their interpersonal relationship while working to find their footing in their professional lives, while Zayna is striving to be the grown woman she is convinced she is ready for.
If I wrote for four paragraphs straight, I still wouldn’t have enough space to be as effusive as I would want about the level of depth and nuance Kristin Dodson delivers as irreverent and enterprising Brooklyn high schooler Zayna, who is left to fend for herself when her uncle’s chosen —shall we say, profession — gets him in the clutches of the authorities. The adultification of New York youth in working-class neighborhoods is not uncommon, especially for Black girls who spend so much of their lives hearing how “mature for their age” they are; but as many foolhardy teens quickly realize, being an adult is more than just being able to smoke weed whenever you want. Without an authority figure supporting her, even from afar, the burden of maintaining a life comes at the expense of her youthfulness, and her hobby is now a full-time hustle; now, she has to figure out the horrors of the Brooklyn Post Office, and as the newly terminated postal worker informed her, federal budget cuts are about to leave her in between a rock and a hard place when she arrives there. (The Vanderveer post office, for example, doesn’t even have a self-service kiosk; I have lost many hours of my life contemplating whether or not I really needed whatever package was lost to the caverns of whatever postal troll was holding it hostage).
The shock of her current position — dodging ACS, the burden of self-sufficiency, her complicated feelings about her uncle and how the combination of it all is distancing her from her friends and her childhood, the postal workers’ inability to spell Kosciuszko — briefly destabilizes her; in the end, she realizes she can still choose to be a teenager in the small ways that are still meaningful, by simply going to school and engaging in her God-given right to be a brat and terrorize the paid educational professionals with her artistic passions. Here’s hoping that their updated version of Lysistrata she works on doesn’t end up landing in the same stratosphere of the abomination that was Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq.
Kevin and Dan are both attempting forward movement of their own, having languished in an informal purgatory both interpersonally and in their careers without much success. As someone who has had the good fortune of experiencing health education in New York City with a quality teacher who was very focused on an informed and practical approach to sex education, protection, and STD awareness for teens (hi, Ms. Susnitsky if you’re reading this), watching Dan fumble through a comically constructed Powerpoint presentation on syphilis, Mean Girls style was hysterically embarrassing to watch. At every turn — or lump, as it were — it is reinforced how inept Dan is at the basic skills required of his job as a teacher and how it amounts to his students failing to respect his authority on a rudimentary level. There is no evidence that indicates that Dan should continue to guide children; he simply is convinced that he should, and few other people believe in the potential of these young minds, leaving him to fail and try again until he hopefully breaks the cycle and earns their trust. Until then, he continues to bumble into unforced error after unforced error, setting up a poor teenager with untreated psoriasis for a year of endless bullying.
Through Kevin’s art fellowship, we are directly confronting what I am loosely calling “not Flatbush” for now, but what you can conceptualize in your head as “the part of New York City that is composed of the type of people who create lifestyle TikToks documenting their sojourn as transplants.” He is still striving to accomplish a photography assignment when he has to meet Dan at a wake for a childhood acquaintance named Brian — replete in a salmon-colored Easter suit — who they quickly realize they were not nearly as close to as their memories suggested; in fact, they actively disliked him. When you’re confronted with a grieving mother, however, what else is there to do but commit to a series of increasingly absurd lies? Kevin and Dan’s interaction with Brian’s mother is a masterclass in dialogue construction and scene play — the subtext allowing them to finally release the tension that has simmered under their intermittent 30-second interactions at the bike shop under the pretext of farcical childhood sagas of a fictive Three Musketeers scenario to appease a mother in mourning. Is it possible that some version of “Diaper Dan” with terrible IBS existed in middle school? Does it matter? The cherry on top is Kevin duping Dan into giving a eulogy by misleading him into believing that Brian died of syphilis, thus offering him to reclaim the opportunity that his students denied him as an educator, a temptation he could not resist. Upon the stunned correction, Dan remarks, “he died of benign neoplasms, but he sure lived with syphilis.”
When all is said and done, Kevin’s photo assignment is complete; the cascading reactions of confusion, shock, and disgust are more than enough to meet the threshold for the pretentious fellowship and its perceptions of art, and he accomplished it in a manner that allowed him to release his sustained frustrations with his longtime friend. As he said to Dan, “you can’t change the past; the future doesn’t exist; all we got is now.” It may seem impractical to not think about the future, but when the future isn’t guaranteed, the small pleasures in the here and now are what you have to celebrate, a day at a time, and that is where all of our characters are finding refuge.