Review: My Brilliant Friend resumes its role as TV’s crown gem

My Brilliant Friend continues to stand out among today’s selection of TV shows. Based on Elena Ferrante’s second novel in her Neapolitan series, viewers are once again transported into the story of strong friendship that overpowers the hardships of reality.


Illustration by Katina Zentz

Pedro Barragan, Arts Reporter

Based on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan tetralogy, the second season of the Italian show My Brilliant Friend returns viewers to the tale of Lenu and Lila, two girls living in an impoverished neighborhood in Naples during the 1950’s. It’s an excellent series depicting the passage of time, betrayal, and the strong friendship between two women, and the second season does not disappoint.

Season two, which is based on the second book in the tetralogy, The Story of a New Name, takes off immediately from where first season left off: Lila is now married while Lenu furthers her high school education — a pursuit craved by Lila. The two characters struggle to sustain their new roles. Lila faces the hand of her husband Stefano for failing to meet his expectations of a wife and Lenu questions her motivation to study while trying to win the affections of her childhood romance, Nino.

If season one told the tale of a childhood interrupted, season two is about the hardships of adolescence. Lenu, the whip tongue character viewers grew to love in the first installment, now recognizes the castration of being a wife, where she lacks any form of independence or say in her life. Lenu only begins to discover how men see them for their lustful antics, where they cheat and dismiss consent. Yet the two persist through the arts.

One of the most peculiar but sublime scenes in the newest season sees the two protagonists seeking ownership of a photograph, one of Lila, taken on her wedding day. Instead of merely using the photo itself to advertise for a shoe store she and her husband have just opened, the two create a collage out of it with newspapers. The moment indicates the protagonists’ inability to live in a philistine world, and how they have to recreate it through art to obtain ownership.

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Ferrante’s Bildungsroman prose is transcribed to a neorealist screen; his talents are lent to the scripts in collaboration with Italian author Francesco Piccolo. Praise must be sent to the shared directorial effort of Saverio Costanzo and Alice Rohrwacher, who are able to switch the style of each season so significantly.

Viewers are shown characters carrying conversations concerning numerous topics regarding history, philosophy and literature. In the second season there is also the discussion made by upper-class characters that reference the protests made by Danilo Dolci and the 1958 Lebanon crisis.

Like in Ferrante’s novels, the series doesn’t wish to simplify the knowledge already carried by its characters. There’s a moment where Lenu, who has starts working at a bookstore, frustrates a professor for not knowing which edition of Heidegger’s of Being and Time he requested. It makes viewers intrigued into seeking these topics for themselves.

But if there’s one thing to take away from the series, it’s Ferrante’s humanist narrative. There’s a tiny moment in the third episode “Erasure” where Lenu and Lila see an elevator, an appliance neither has ever used. One shows resistance, yet the other insists that they use this new device, once they do the two release expressions of bewilderment. Although minor, the scene represents how enormous the simplest aspects of life can be for the two women we follow.

It’s a shared moment, and from the narration given by an older Lenu, it’s also a memory, one with pain and joy that can’t escape the author’s memory, nor its viewers.