Just over 30 years later, Spike Lee revisits his breakthrough film, “She’s Gotta Have It,” by expanding it into a 10-episode Netflix series. Temporarily setting aside the “Why” of that, what emerges is a reasonably entertaining, tangent-prone update distinguished by its star, DeWanda Wise, as the romantically omnivorous Nola Darling.
The original’s sexual politics – built around Nola, who constructed the perfect man for herself by simultaneously dating three very different suitors – seem only slightly dated. The key largely resides in the strength of the casting, which includes Lyriq Bent as the buttoned-down Jamie, Cleo Anthony as the preening Greer and Anthony Ramos as Mars Blackmon, the character Lee played and popularized (“Please baby”) in, among other things, Nike commercials.
As a filmmaker, Lee has always used his movies to address whatever’s currently on his mind, even if that means occasionally veering out of his narrative lane in order to do so.
That approach is especially evident here with five-plus hours of time allotted, as the show takes detours to bash Donald Trump, debate gentrification, acknowledge issues like the Black Lives Matter movement and liberally incorporate music into its structure.
At its core, though, the series centers on Nola, who is struggling to make it as an artist – with all the financial challenges that entails – while juggling her very busy love life.
“All together, your lovers make the perfect mate,” her therapist tells her, in a voice that expresses more envy than judgment.
Unlike a movie, Lee has the time and latitude to develop side plots, with mixed success. He also provides more layers for the men in Nola’s life, as well as a woman (“Baywatch’s” Ilfenesh Hadera) with whom she becomes involved.
The episodes move along breezily enough, and Netflix’s interest isn’t hard to figure out. The service clearly appreciates the value of name recognition, having revived properties like “Gilmore Girls,” “Full House” and “Arrested Development.”
Less clear – or perhaps more difficult to build a case for – is Lee’s interest in revisiting the material, inasmuch as this new version seems relatively content to replicate much of what went before, including that awkward moment when Nola finally tries to put her “three-headed monster” in the same room.
The main reason to watch is Wise, who captures Nola in all her complexity – defiant, sexy, resistant to labels and vulnerable. The notion of a woman approaching sex so freely is less “freak”-ish than it was in the mid-’80s, but there’s still a thrill in seeing a star in the making.
If we’ve gotta have another somewhat gratuitous reboot, that’s probably justification enough.
“She’s Gotta Have It” premieres Nov. 23 on Netflix.