FX’s new animated series “Chozen” should have broken new ground.
The show about a gay white rapper hoping to break into the industry could have helped shift a genre that’s decades behind in embracing equality.
The creative teams behind such cultish hits as the network’s “Archer” and HBO’s “Eastbound & Down” power the show, which had its premiere Monday. Underrated “Saturday Night Live” funnyman Bobby Moynihan voices the title character and Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man adds hip-hop cred.
As a fan desperately yearning for a mainstream moment to push the genre forward -- and poke fun at hip-hop’s unacceptable, yet shamefully tolerated, misogynist and homophobic ways -- “Chozen” seemed like a sure thing, even if it came in the form of something as low risk as an animated show.
Minutes into the pilot, it became painfully obvious the creators not only missed the mark, they didn't even come close.
Instead of a provocative satire of a genre overwrought with TV-friendly caricatures, “Chozen” opts to swim in a sea of dated gay sex jokes, outlandish stereotypes, weak plot points and mediocre music.
The series’ shortcomings will undoubtedly charm some viewers, but after previewing the five episodes FX made available to reporters, it’s difficult to put a finger on who those viewers would be. But to be fair, maybe the show's creators aren't aiming to make something appealing for fans of hip-hop, gay or straight.
When audiences first meet Chozen, whose real name is Phil, he’s fresh out of prison, having served a decade after being set up by a former crew member, Phantasm (voiced by Method Man).
Chozen is imposing on his college-age sister (Kathryn Hahn) by sleeping on her couch, ruining her hookups, renting “G.I. Joe” on pay-per-view nonstop -- because of shirtless Channing Tatum, duh -- and crashing campus functions.
After a decade behind bars, he's not only unaware how to navigate the rap game but bitter because of Phantasm’s success and desperate to exude a flair of prison-taught thugishness. He's a redemptive oaf who is as harmless as a teddy bear (a cuddly bear ironically sparks a sexual fantasy in one of the show’s better musical numbers).
But there’s the matter of his sexual orientation.
Chozen is unapologetically out, but that takes a back seat to trite references about prison rape, orgies and whatever other gay tropes the creator’s Googled. He has a pseudo-relationship with a frat boy who wants to connect with him emotionally but has to settle for Chozen’s thirst for sex, usually in public places. And his friends, Ricky and Crisco, (voiced by Michael Peña and Hannibal Buress) are hilariously oblivious to his sexuality.
Still, there's nothing challenging or provocative about “Chozen.” Viewers have seen this brand of boorish manchild, and the gaggle of sophomoric gay jokes that come with it, in any film with a Judd Apatow credit.
In the show’s third episode, Chozen arrives at an LGBT student association meeting under the impression he’s answered a hookup ad (it was plastered among other campus postings) and rejoices when the discussion is the media’s portrayal of gay men as “shallow, oversexed deviants.”
“Oh I knew I came in the right spot,” he gleefully shouts. “Hey everybody, when we starting this orgy?”
This is when it all makes sense. Chozen is out and proud, but the jokes come at the expense of his sexual orientation.
It’s a cheap gimmick, and one hip-hop particularly can’t afford. Despite heavyweights like Jay Z speaking out for marriage equality, Frank Ocean stunning the industry with a beautifully penned open letter on his sexuality and the rise of queer rap, the genre has far to go, particularly as compared with other genres.
We still have rappers such as Eminem, who is 41 and should know better, continuing to sling anti-gay slurs in new music, making the idea of an out emcee reaching the level of success of Drake or Kendrick Lamar feel that much further away. Imagine how inspiring the success of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ Grammy-nominated “Same Love” would have been had it come from a gay rapper?
With the amount of smartly written gay characters on TV, it's almost laughable that "Chozen" hit the airwaves. But then again why should a TV show about hip-hop offer a viewpoint the genre itself isn't ready to embrace?