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This post contains mild spoilers for Dear White People Season 2.[hhmc]

If you liked Defamation, youll probably love Prince O Pal-ities—the new show-within-a-show thats got the residents of Dear White Peoples Armstrong-Parker house hooked.

Last season, the students couldnt tear themselves away from a Scandal parody in which a clear Olivia Pope stand-in has an affair with the president—amid shocking revelations, including the man she thought was her father was actually a clone of her father. But this time around, the series du jour is an Empire knock-off, guest starring Lena Waithe as rapper P. Ninny. The Armstrong-Parker kids cant get enough—but as their traditionally black residence hall integrates, the encroachment of white students complicates their group viewing experience.

While it might be easy to write off these mini-parodies as clever but ornamental, as Dear White People creator Justin Simien pointed out, they actually serve a deeper purpose on the show by presenting another dimension of identity for theDear White People to explore.

“I think in a lot of ways, the show is about the dichotomy between the roles that we play and who we really are. And the thing that conditions us is our culture and the things that we watch on TV. And one of the weird quirks about being black is that we have our little problematic faves that we love to watch, and suddenly, when we hear white people laughing at different things than we're laughing at, and watching it, it suddenly makes us go, Wait a minute; I feel a little uncomfortable,” he said.

That dynamic becomes apparent during the season premiere, when a group of black students tries to watch a raunchy reality series among their white peers. As all of the white people in the room double over with laughter at the shows Love & Hip Hop riff, many of the black students look uncomfortable. As one of them puts it: “This show is my shit, but this feels wrong. . . Im conflicted as fuck!”

“Theres no judgment against Empire,” Simien said, “but there is a difference between watching Empire as the only black person in the room and watching it with all other black people. There is a difference, and it strikes you differently. And I just wanted to portray that. . . I think its a way to sort of acknowledge that some of the things that I like to watch on TV may not be advancing the culture all that much, but its a balance, man. These kids need to relax. They need to enjoy themselves, and its just made a little bit more complicated, now that white people have sort of invaded their safe space.”

Watch closely—as Dear White People narrator Giancarlo Esposito exhorts at the beginning of every episode this season—and youll also see that theres also more to Waithes character than meets the eye. P. Ninny appears on not one, but three different meta-shows this season: Prince O Palities, the Love & Hip Hop parody, and the fictional advice show Dereca: Set Me Straight—a carry-over from Season 1 that satirizes OWNs Iyanla: Fix My Life, and starring Dahéli Hall as Dereca. Pay attention, and you might notice that P. Ninnys story, as expressed across the season, vaguely mirrors the arcs of various other Dear White People characters. Like some of them, shes harboring a bit of an open secret—one that affects her career as well as her personal life.

When stitched together together, these fictional shows provide another context in which Dear White People can explore the question of identity—both how we form our identities, and how our perceptions of ourselves can change depending on our surroundings. Meaningful as they might be, though, these little meta-shows are also a lot of fun. And as Simien admitted, theyve given him an outlet through which he can honor his own pop culture obsessions.

“Im obsessed with these shows, and shade is my love language,” Simien said. “I would never miss an episode of Iyanla, Fix My Life; how do I show my shady love for it? Well, I create a bizarro version of it. My dream was to have Iyanla [Vanzant] have Dereca on to fix Dereca, because Dereca is insane.” From his lips to Gods (or maybe Oprahs) ears.

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<em>Westworld</em> (Season 2)

Westworld (Season 2)

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<em>Grown-ish</em>

Grown-ish

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Yara Shahidi takes the lead in this youthful Black-ish spin-off set to air on Freeform starting Jan. 3, 2018. In this series, Zoey is finally off to college, stumbling through cringeworthy rites of passage like embarrassing herself at a frat party and hiding secrets from her parents.By Eric Liebowitz/Freeform.

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<em>Solo: A Star Wars Story</em>

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Laura BradleyLaura Bradley is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com.

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