Directed by Master of None co-creator Alan Yang, the video for “Moonlight” — which dropped on Tidal at 4:44 pm on August 4 and has now been released on YouTube — initially looks like a straight-up recreation of Friends starring a stellar cast of black actors. Jerrod Carmichael (The Carmichael Show) taps in to play Ross, Issa Rae (Insecure) is Rachel, Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip) is Phoebe, LaKeith Stanfield (Atlanta) is Chandler, Lil Rel Howery (Get Out) is Joey, and Tessa Thompson (Creed) is Monica. The sextet acts out a few scenes from the seminal Friends episode “The One Where No One’s Ready,” saying the exact same lines as the original actors as a studio audience dutifully laughs along.
But the video takes a turn once the cast takes a break from filming. Carmichael wanders off to the side of the stage, where comedian Hannibal Buress happens to be standing, and asks Buress what he thinks of the “black Friends” exercise. Buress immediately scoffs, “It was terrible, man. It was wack as shit. It was just Seinfeld episodes with black people. Who asked for that?”
“When they asked me to do it, I was like, ‘Okay, this is something that’s subversive, something that’ll turn culture on its head,’” Carmichael halfheartedly protests, but Buress is having none of it.
“You did a good job of subverting good comedy,” Buress replies. “You gonna do black Full House next?”
Then, as everyone else gets ready to keep rolling, the video breaks the multi-cam format to focus on Carmichael, looking around the set and hating everything about it. It’s at this point, nearly five minutes into the seven-minute video that Jay-Z’s “Moonlight” finally starts playing, his voice breathing that they’re “stuck in La La Land; even when we win, we gon’ lose.”
If you didn’t catch the depth of that wordplay the first time, the music video makes it clear as Carmichael walks off the Friends set, settles onto a park bench, and looks up at the night sky to the tune of Warren Beatty accidentally announcing that La La Land won the Oscar for Best Picture, when it should’ve been rightful winner Moonlight’s moment.
It’s a bracing video that, yes, subverts the expectations that its initial jaunty Friends credits sequence purposefully sets.