I don’t follow rap music at all, so for a long time I wasn’t familiar with Killer Mike or his group, Run the Jewels. That is, until I began seeing him campaign with Bernie Sanders and appearing on political shows such as Real Time with Bill Maher. Killer Mike is an incredibly passionate activist who has used his platform to champion social issues. I have a lot of respect for people who utilize their platform to fight for what is right, especially when there are so many people with a platform who “don’t want to get into politics.”
So it was with great interest that I watched his 2019 Netflix series, Trigger Warning with Killer Mike, which is part of Netflix’s Black Lives Matter Collection. Comprised of six episodes, each episode involves a different social experiment that goes on to prove a larger point about the state of our society. These range from living entirely on Black-made products, to creating a new religion with a Black messiah, to even seceding from the United States and forming a brand new nation.
As much as I like Killer Mike and what he was going for with this series, it doesn’t feel like it quite reaches its full potential. The ideas and premises behind each episode are fantastic, but the episodes themselves don’t necessarily land as strongly as they should. Trigger Warning ultimately feels like an excellently conceived show that falters slightly in execution, as it doesn’t exactly know what it is trying to be.
Trigger Warning is hugely entertaining and really funny. Killer Mike is incredibly charismatic, and he infuses a (brace for it) killer sense of humor into the series. The comedy is probably the show’s biggest strength, however at times it feels as if the potency of the social commentary is being diluted by the comedy. There are many times that the show chooses to go for the joke instead of having a more serious moment to reinforce what it is ultimately trying to say.
This isn’t to say that comedy and social commentary can’t be combined; rather, a show needs to know which of the two to lean into at each moment. When a show doesn’t have this locked down from the start, it can lead to the show not having a clear identity, which may confuse the audience as to what it is trying to be. With this, Trigger Warning ends up feeling like the comedy is getting in the way of the social commentary.
Episodes such as “Living Black” and “White Gang Privilege” handle this balance really well. They have plenty of humor in them, but they also allow for the social commentary to land. However, in episodes such as “F**k School” and “Outside the Box”, the comedic choices keep the messages from fully coming to fruition. These episodes are certainly entertaining, but fall just short of having messages that are as fleshed out and powerful as they could have been. Here, it feels as if the opportunity to say something incredibly profound about these subjects is missed.
I don’t want to sound like I’m trashing Trigger Warning; I was entertained the entire time I watched it, and I would recommend others check it out. It tackles really interesting and unique subjects. For example, with the first episode, “Living Black”, I’ve never thought about the fact that most of the products people consume are made by White companies. Watching Killer Mike go to a Black owned grocery store and shopping for exclusively Black-produced items is fascinating to watch. It is yet another instance in my life where I recognized my White privilege, as I’ve never thought about the ethnicity of the people who produce the things that I buy.
This show tackles issues nobody else is talking about, and that is what makes it as unique as it is. I just wish that some of the messages regarding these issues had more of an impact. It doesn’t pack as much of a punch as I thought it would, and that is where some of my disappointment in the show ultimately lies. It has all the makings for an incredibly hard-hitting show that could force a dialogue about many different topics. It certainly feels like that was the intention, and then somewhere along the line when it came time to execute that intention, the initial idea became muddled.
Overall, Trigger Warning with Killer Mike is full of bold ideas, and tries to use juxtaposition in order to poke holes in our complacency with our society. In some episodes this works really well, and in others it falls short. Even though it has its weaknesses, I still encourage people to watch this show. It talks about things that not many other pieces of content are tackling. There are many instances throughout where I saw something from a completely different point of view, and my eyes were opened to issues I had never previously considered. For other people to also have that experience, it is certainly worth watching this show.
Trigger Warning with Killer Mike is currently streaming on Netflix.
Author: Nathanael Molnár, originally published [6/27/2020]