A TV special tying in with the release of a music album doesn’t on paper hold the promise of quality. Tie-in media (be it television, books, or games) more often than not is something of a creative death sentence. Entergalactic is a film companion to the new album from the Grammy award-winning rapper Kid Cudi, credited as the co-creator and leading actor in the film. Happily, this tie-in is not only something that can be enjoyed on its own terms, but it has all the potential of becoming one of Netflix’s most treasured sleeper hits. Entergalactic is a beautiful experience, offering a new kind of love story for – and about – the city of New York.

Courtesy of Netflix

Jabari (Kid Cudi, credited as Scott Mescudi) is a charming, weed-smoking street artist on the cusp of big time success with a Manhattan-based comic publishing house. Moving into a new apartment, he meets his neighbour Meadow (Jessica Williams) and an almost instantaneous attraction starts to bloom. However, his newfound love is threatened by an ongoing, complicated dynamic with his ex-girlfriend Carmen (Laura Harrier) and his continued drive to retain some sense of creative identity.

The animation style is striking, taking obvious inspiration from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse but also from less obvious sources such as the heartbreaking I Lost My Body. One character bemoans the reputation of New York as a grey, sombre place, and Mescudi’s film seems determined to bury that preconception. During the day, Manhattan comes alive with ambient colours and bright lights, bringing every bar, restaurant, and club to life with adoring texture. If it isn’t the bright, pink-kissed sunlight, it is a dark cityscape lit up with rainbow colours from windows and neon signs piercing through the murkiness. Change-ups in the animation style, such as when Jabari’s graffiti character Mr Rager is brought to life or during a very funny sex romp inside a laundry room, help make Entergalactic a visually breathless experience. It is unafraid to push new ways of perceiving and experiencing life with every stroke of the proverbial brush.

Courtesy of Netflix

The life in the film, however, is not purely material. Jabari and Meadow are a stunning match, both in terms of the casting (Mescudi and Williams’ lines seem to roll off one another’s tongues) and their relationship. Here the animated form is used to take them both to a dreamland, which Jabari at least could only previously access through drugs – he smokes noticeably less after Meadow enters his life. These sequences are pure bliss, not only aesthetically but because Mescudi and Williams evoke such a genuine connection between their characters. Their dialogue evades corniness, feeling both natural and fantastical at the same time. It is at once grounded in a lived reality and also firmly the product of an ecstatic fantasy. And all the while Entergalactic never loses a focus on people of colour having the romantic, creative, and economic freedom to do and be what they want.

Entergalactic was originally envisioned as a whole TV series rather than a one-off event, and at times this squashing of the story feels frustrating (little is known of Carmen or Jabari’s best friends, who nonetheless play their part in bringing their respective slices of New York to life). What it does fit in however is deeply impressive, blending a straight-up romantic comedy with the blurred lines of the best subversive adult animations. It might on paper be your stereotypical romance story and hit all the notes you would expect, but Entergalactic is smart, inventive, and modern enough to bend the rulebook in the most important of ways (such as in its depictions of microaggressions, female sexual pleasure, and Black creative output).

You can live in hope for a follow-up to what Netflix is ambiguously referring to as an “event,” because Entergalactic is one of the streaming giant’s best out-of-nowhere hits. Kid Cudi’s career has thrived off obscurity, and his output has yet again struck gold with an artistically bountiful film. Most importantly, it links together identity, romance, and New York together with one essential truth; that what lies beneath the surface can be so much more important that you think, but that doesn’t mean the surface cannot be breathtakingly beautiful in itself.

Entergalactic is streaming now on Netflix.