After watching the first few episodes of Black Jesus, I miss The Boondocks.
Touted as the most anticipated comeback in history (which refers to Jesus, but certainly relates to Aaron McGruder’s return), Black Jesus doesn’t add much to McGruder’s legacy as a cutting edge satirist. In fact, it takes every stereotype and loosely packages it into a cast of rag-tag disciples with little purpose. It’s not as clever as The Boondocks, relying more on the comedic skills of the actors rather than strong writing. Black Jesus pales in comparison to The Boondocks, and in a way that’s the show’s greatest strength.
Aaron McGruder created a cult classic with The Boondocks. Huey and Riley represented the diversity in the African-American community, and exposed the irony of politics, influence of celebrity and effects of pop culture. Huey, a thought-provoking revolutionary, was at times more mature than his adult caretakers. Riley, on the other hand, was a direct result of the homophobic and braggadocious side of hip-hop music. The series captured the awkward moments of popular culture while poking fun at our American idols, with the witty writing providing a soft cushion for the biting satire. Who can forget the “Pause” episode featuring a re-interpreted ode to The Rocky Horror Picture Show?
Alas, McGruder jumped ship on the fourth and final season of The Boondocks, leaving the series a hollow shell of what it used to be. When McGruder announced Black Jesus, I was in: the topic was controversial and the cast featured many talented comedians. Foremost, the series promised to answer What Would Jesus Do as a black man in Compton? What can The Lord learn from the streets of South Central? It turns out that the streets have more to learn from him.
Black Jesus presents every stereotype and let’s you decide if you’re offended. There’s the overbearing, angry black mother who puts her issues with her ex on her bumbling son. The bumbling son who has child support issues and a crazy “baby mama,” the ex-convict with a temper, the black nerd, the Mexican gangbangers and a liquor-loving Jesus who curses and partakes in hoodrat things with his friends.
Black Jesus is not the “returned King” you were thinking of. In 2006, McGruder won a Peabody Award for the controversial Boondocks episode “Return of the King.” The episode depicts what would happen if Martin Luther King were alive to see the state of this generation. One of the highlights is King’s frustrated speech to a generation of people he’s lost faith in. “I’ve seen what’s around the corner,” says King, “I’ve seen what’s over the horizon, and I promise you, you… have nothing to celebrate! And no, I won’t get there with you. I’m going to Canada.” The episode was thought-provoking and exposed the faults of a community built upon the backs of its moral upbringing.
Fast forward to 2014. McGruder delivers another historic symbol, but creates an immoral community that he thrives in. Jesus isn’t appalled by what he sees. There is no climatic speech detailing the faults of our generation. Jesus is just one of the homies. It doesn’t get deeper than that.
The edgy satire that we’ve come to expect from McGruder is simply a shadow of itself. It’s there, but only peeks out occasionally. It seems McGruder is just adding to his body of work instead of focusing on strong satire or thought-provoking writing. McGruder has developed a Jesus who is happy “smokin’, drinkin’, and chillin’,” while spreading kindness and love. Despite the hype, this show is an over-the-top answer to WWJD and shows that McGruder doesn’t need to prove himself. Black Jesus is the short distance between comedy and controversy. It’s joke after joke, shock after shock. If you want more depth, more purpose, then this isn’t the show for you.
Black Jesus is not the answer to your longing for Boondocks past. In fact, compared to The Boondocks’ cutting edge wit, Black Jesus is a simple comedy that encourages you not to take Jesus of Compton or yourself too seriously. Once you pass the initial shock of the first few episodes and realize that there’s no deeper meaning behind the brash comedy or Jesus’ penchant for smoking and drinking, you can sit back and enjoy it. I still miss The Boondocks, but Black Jesus is its own show and a new direction for the talented McGruder. This show doesn’t pick up where The Boondocks left off. It simply takes an alternate route.