There’s an “Astronomy Club” sketch called “Activist Rally,” where a passionate male organizer derails an entire meeting by regaling the group with his grand utopian visions. As far as sketch comedy goes, it’s the perfect example of the highly specific becoming easily recognizable — even to anyone who’s never attended an activist meeting. It’s also the kind of sketch that, at least on paper, wouldn’t necessarily read like it was written for an all-black cast. Such is the beauty and brilliance of “Astronomy Club,” the six-episode Netflix sketch series that debuted on the platform in December.
Unfortunately, the group announced this week on Twitter that Netflix did not renew the show for a second season. “Seems like a good time to mention ‘Astronomy Club’ was sadly not renewed by Netflix,” read the tweet. “Thank you to all the fans who watched! Hoping that more black artists & comedians are given the platform to have voices in the future.”
Netflix has yet to make an official announcement of the cancelation. (IndieWire has reached out to Netflix for comment.)
That’s disappointing, not only because the show was funny and sharp and got great reviews, but if anyone deserves a little extra joy right now it’s black people. As soon as the cancelation was announced, a petition to save the show popped up on Change.org. “Black representation on television matters now more than ever, especially as it pertains to smart, modern, multi-layered comedy — the kind ‘Astronomy Club’ does best,” reads the 6,000-signature petition.
Starring eight cast members, three women and five men, the writers and performers of “Astronomy Club” come from different experiences and ways of being in the world. Not only was “Astronomy Club” one of the rare shows that showcased a wide range of the black experience, but it wasn’t afraid to address those differences. While most of the sketches are character-based, scenes where the group played themselves found humor in who could code switch the best or who preferred smoothies over black eyed peas.
“There’s no other way to say not getting a second season sucks without just saying it sucks,” said writer/performer Keisha Zollar in a phone interview. “It’s always an honor to work with every single member of Astronomy Club because our biggest strength is how diverse we are as black folks. We don’t all have the same opinion or experience.”
“Of course we’re really disappointed. And then finding out in February, Black History Month, added to that disappointment considerably,” said “Astronomy Club” cast member Monique Moses.
Moses recognized that viewership was an issue, but expressed frustration at how difficult it was to find the show on the platform. She had to tell her friends and family to search the name of the show, and the rest of the cast had anecdotal evidence that it wasn’t being promoted in the Netflix algorithm.
“A Netflix original, an all-black comedy troupe with such an amazing producer like Kenya Barris behind it, I feel like that should’ve been promoted to a wider audience,” Moses said. “I think Netflix should look into what shows they’re promoting, and opening up that algorithm so more audiences are exposed to different kinds of shows.”
“We knew it wasn’t necessarily being pushed much to the forefront of Netflix’s screen, which is I guess pretty typical of most shows that they do,” said Jon Braylock, Zollar’s co-head writer who wrote the “Activist Rally” sketch, among others. “I’m really proud of the first season, we have some great sketches in there. But with the first season of any show you’re learning as you go. We learned so much we could’ve applied to the next season, so it’s frustrating that we didn’t have the chance to do that.”
Much like how women directors are given one shot at a studio movie and if it isn’t a blockbuster hit they’re done, black creators aren’t often given the chance to settle into a groove. Of the three black sketch shows that came out last year, only one, HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” got a second season. (IFC’s “Sherman’s Showcase” will have a special this month, but still hasn’t received a second season renewal.)
“Black people deserve choice. Black people deserve choice in their comedy,” said Zollar, borrowing a phrase from Braylock. “I’m not saying we have to be for everybody, I’m just saying black people deserve having choice. I want all these black shows to have their due and success, it’s not us or ‘A Black Lady Sketch Show’ or ‘Sherman’s Showcase.’ I want all of them to have multiple seasons and I love all of them because I believe black people deserve choice in content in every aspect.”
“Astronomy Club” stars Zollar, Braylock, and Moses alongside Ray Cordova, James III, Jerah Milligan, Caroline Martin, and Shawtane Monroe Bowen. Season 1 is currently streaming on Netflix.