Bria Mack Gets a Life turns the awkwardness of young adulthood into comedy gold

Sasha Leigh Henry's new series, which premiered at TIFF and arrives on Crave in October, is a hilarious and off-the-wall look at the experiences of young Black women.

Sasha Leigh Henry's new series is a hilarious and off-the-wall look at the experiences of young Black women

Still frame from the show Bria Mack Gets a Life. Malaika Hennie-Hamadi stands still with a sullen look on her face while Hannan Younis speaks animatedly over her shoulder.
Bria Mack Gets a Life. (TIFF)

Contains strong language.

Sasha Leigh Henry wrote one of Workin' Moms' most memorable scenes: an erotic ultrasound appointment. Oddly sexy, yet outrageous and very funny, it's the kind of scene that makes you sit up and ask: "What the hell just happened? But tell me more." 

This signature style continues in Henry's first original TV series, Bria Mack Gets a Life. The comedy follows the titular Bria Mack, a 25-year-old Black woman, who just graduated from university and moves back in with her mom in Brampton, ON. 

Bria struggles to pay her bills, get a job and find a feminist friend with benefits, all while accompanied by an imaginary hype-girl named Black Attack. On top of the struggles of being a young woman, Bria also has to contend with racism and microaggressions, like a coworker touching her hair. All of this happens in classic sitcom styling, alongside cutaways to skits, memes and GIFs that tell us what's going in Bria's mind. 

A show helmed by Henry is a long time coming. Her highlight reel includes being named in Variety's 10 Canadians to Watch list of 2022, producing and directing several award-winning films, and CBC Gem's acquisition of her short film, Bitches Love Brunch.

Bria Mack Gets a Life premiered its first three episodes at this year's TIFF. The full six-episode season will debut on Crave in October. 

There are several full-on shots of penises in Bria Mack. We see these dong shots as part of a hilarious cutaway where Black Attack hosts "Pitch Ye Dick," a medieval contest to help Bria find a fuck buddy. It's where we see three men, fully shrouded in armour, except for their dicks, which we see straight on! 

Yeah, it's not suggested at all. 

I gasped. What made you make that choice?

I'm so glad you asked that question. That sketch started as a wild west quest for a feminist fuck buddy. Someone in the writing room pitched The Voice or America's Got Talent meets Shark Tank, but somehow there was a medieval twist in there. We're like, "How do we mash those things together?" Then Ajahnis Charley was, like, "Pitch Ye Dick!" And that became the name of the segment. 

Our Executive Producer Mark [Montefiore] was like, "What if they were to be in costume of some kind, representing a dick?" And I was like, "You mean show the dick?" It was a "who's on first?" thing. But there's something about the shock value of it that I really loved. I like the idea of that in there as something to keep the audience on their toes. You don't know what our boundaries are going to be in this show. But the dicks are hideous.

She makes a gagging noise.

Hideous! I'm like, I don't want to see this, but I don't want to look away. It's like a car crash. I've never seen anything like this! And that's what I love about the show. It's almost like a collage. You have these cutaway skits, memes, Black Attack coming out. I feel like the last time I saw this was in Lizzie McGuire. Is that weird to say?

No, that totally makes sense. Black Attack totally has a Lizzie McGuire energy. It's like Lizzie McGuire, That's So Raven. I'm a Disney Channel kid. It's a collage of all of my influences. Like on Random Acts of Flyness — which is a show I love — we're just cutting here. Or like how Spike Lee will cut to the album covers.

Truthfully, that also feels like what's going on in my head. So that felt like the best representation of it. Sometimes your brain is flashing to that GIF that you want to send your friend. Sometimes it's flashing to the email that you needed to reply to three weeks ago. Or sometimes you're having a sidebar with yourself: "Relax, you don't wanna cuss anybody out — not today."

Do you identify with Bria? 

She's semi-based on me, but not fully. I grew up in Brampton; was valedictorian. 

[I also] have Jamaican parents who are very supportive of whatever dream I wanted to go into. But it's kind of unspoken: you're not gonna sit at home and not do anything all day — you have to go work. It wasn't even like to contribute bills to a household, but just to take care of yourself. 

There's a Jamaican phrase called "wukless." And that basically means, like, you feel lazy and you're not working, not doing anything. You never want to be wukless. 

I would also do all of these temp jobs and I would have such interesting interactions with people. Or I would experience a microaggression of some kind. Is there an HR department here in this warehouse that I'm doing data entry for? And I still need a cheque in two weeks!

Yeah, [shows like] Insecure and Girls, they tackle money a little bit, but in this vague way. 

Yeah, like, "Aren't I broke? Can't you tell by this brownstone?"

[laughs] But Bria Mack is direct about money! How did you write about that?

Because I lived it [both laugh]. Financial stress makes my skin break out. I don't mind being broke, but I hate being in debt in any real way. 

Being a hustling indie filmmaker for the better part of 10 years, you're so often robbing Peter to pay Paul. And you're one ticket away or one car tow away from financial fucking ruin.

So how did you decide to take all these experiences and turn them into a show?

It felt like the female ensemble, female Black comedy lead was missing. I thought we could use that in Canada. I had this idea of a woman who, on her first day on the job, experiences someone trying to touch her hair. Instead of seeing the shitty, poorly handled HR meeting, where nothing really happens, what if we go with her and her brain to where she actually wants to go and how she would want to react? And we get to play that out.

Big Mouth had just come out and I was obsessed with the idea of the Hormone Monster. And I was like, "What if you married Luther, Obama's Anger Translator [from Key & Peele], and the Hormone Monstress?" But instead of it being for hormones, it was for anxiety and microaggressions. That's when she [Black Attack] would appear.   

Black women rarely get to do things without facing the consequences of it. I liked the idea of creating a show where we could explore that — without consequences. There felt like a lot of power in taking it one step further than sitting in that bad feeling, but being able to give her [Bria] some agency — allow us to have the last laugh about the situation. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


Sabina Wex is a writer and producer from Toronto.

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