A few episodes in, I realized the most prominent theme of In The Long Run wasn't culture, race or even finding independence--but the idea of belonging.
May 25, 2021
If asked, none of my friends would ever describe films or shows that stream on my TV as “wholesome” or even “fulfilling”. With much apprehension, I agreed to watch a show that fell into both categories, and it was everything I did not know I needed. The show that would fill my heart with something as fulfilling as an iced coffee is In the Long Run.
The setting is 1980s London, with the handsome Idris Elba leading the charge as family-man Walter, whose man-child for a brother Valentine (Jimmy Akingbola) has traveled from Sierra Leone to London to move into the tiny apartment he shares with his wife and son. Walter’s wife Agnes (Madeline Appiah) is less than thrilled with Valentine’s presence and the influence on her young son Kobna. In the beginning, my skepticism put preconceived ideas in my mind of what this show would be about—and I happily admit my ill conclusion.
The charm, wit, and lighthearted tone drew me in immediately. However, I still wondered if it was a show that could hold my interest for an entire episode. Why? To be honest, I wondered if I could relate to any of the characters that came from unfamiliar places in this character-driven show. Then you have the supporting characters who live upstairs: “Bagpipes” (Walter’s best friend), his wife, Kirsty, and their two children. The family looks nothing like Walter’s (except the bi-racial daughter who is the product of Kirsty’s infidelity) and at first-glance they appear to have nothing in-common.
Because of the juxtaposition of the two families, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that the interaction between the two would be problematic or a consistent point of tension—I was wrong again. Certain shows force the idea that Black people have always been treated fairly when living amongst white people, especially in a time period less woke than now. My fear with this relationship was that it would perpetuate the idea that racism did not exist in the 1980s. This was not the case.
The ingenuity of the writing put the family in situations that exemplified how the two families were not only reliant upon one another for emotional support, but completely ingratiated in each other’s lives. The closeness provided insight on perception of Africans or Black people, even when living in the same neighborhood as whites.
However, these scenes were gateways that gave the outside-in experience to a white viewer and inside-out, to a Black one. What I mean by this is that each scene was relatable to Black people and a wake-up call to white viewers who do not recognize unconscious bias that exists in our everyday lives. These poignant scenes are specifically relatable to any Black person rejected by a job, interrogated by the police or simply treated differently because they are black. These same scenes also gave insight to any white person who may or may not be familiar with how racism in the 1980s compared to the same racism Black people experience today. I thought this still dutifully illustrated how Black people can experience a rollercoaster of events all in one-day because of their skin color. One minute, your life is going splendidly and the next you’re being interrogated unnecessarily by a police officer. Even though these scenes were stressful, they were equally touching because of the sincere performances given by a talented cast, which contributed to the overall credibility. Despite the tone consistently being light or upbeat, these scenes were snapshots in time, but far from cringe worthy.
A few episodes in, I realized the most prominent theme of In The Long Run wasn’t culture, race or even finding independence–but the idea of belonging. The most stunning example of this is the fourth episode of season one. Walter’s goddaughter arrives in a panic.
About to celebrate her engagement, his goddaughter is at a loss in how to resolve her father’s refusal to attend the party because of her fiancée being white, Scottish and ignorant to African traditions. Their tradition stipulates that she cannot get married if her father does not attend the celebration or give his blessing. Walter promises his goddaughter that he will not only persuade her father to reconsider—but he will step in as the patriarch himself if necessary.
The most gratifying moment of this episode, though, was after a major misunderstanding between the bride and groom’s families about their purpose in coming together. Just as the party nearly fell apart, and you were certain the couple would not remain engaged, Walter and his wife Agnes opened the mind of the groom’s family, by demonstrating that both sides wanted the same thing for their children: happiness. This realization encouraged the groom’s parents to not only throw away their preconceived and stereotyped ideas about Africans, but to embrace the culture of their soon-to-be daughter-in-law. Even when writing this, this sounds like a scene that could have gone completely wrong and has gone wrong in other films and shows.
This episode highlights multiple perspectives in the writing room, but all credit goes to Idris Elba and Grace Ofori-Attah, for writing a poignant episode with grace, that did not insult the Black community. Throughout the series, each character is written with thoughtful consideration and given a distinct voice. That is no small feat considering each episode is only twenty-minutes. How In The Long Run visually translated the theme of belonging could’ve been done through various images and plot lines, but expressing this through an engagement party was the culmination of showing how people of different backgrounds can and should accept one another as they are.
Overall, I like to stick to shows that seem familiar or safe, preventing me from becoming too emotionally invested or disappointed. In the Long Run made me feel safe to venture into the unknown and showed Black excellence without pandering to an idea that Black people exist without challenges, even when they find success. Topics aside, it has been a long time since a show brought this much joy and made me laugh as hard as I did. All three seasons of In the Long Run are currently streaming on STARZ.