Review: ‘Black Jesus’ on Adult Swim has good-natured stoner humor
Aaron McGruder, whose controversial comic strip “The Boondocks” became a cartoon series, and Mike Clattenburg, who created the Canadian comedy “Trailer Park Boys,” are the co-creators of “Black Jesus,” a new Adult Swim comedy that totally lives up to its name.
You could say of anything in the world that it is not for everyone, but some things draw that line more clearly. “Black Jesus,” which is set in Compton and follows a very local African American Christ (Gerald “Slink” Johnson) and his few followers, will by definition not sit well with anyone for whom the only acceptable image of Jesus is the one they were raised on. The show has prompted protests, but nothing that the network of “Superjail!” “Metalocalypse” and “Robot Chicken” is going to lose sleep over.
Except for what I’ve seen onscreen, I have no idea what McGruder or Clattenburg believe or don’t believe, but clearly they are not bound to any orthodoxy. Still, nothing in the first two episodes strikes me as anti-religious or unspiritual. And it does seem to me that if one has a problem with Jesus being represented as a black man from Compton, given that he has regularly been represented as a white guy from nowhere near the Middle East, one is not concerned merely with “accuracy.”
This Jesus does smoke pot, it’s true, but the propriety of this is as much of an argument about pot as it is about Jesus, who biblically turned water into wine; the Good Book says nothing about marijuana. Although for some Christ is a figure of inflexible rectitude, with perfect hair and feet that never need washing, he was no respecter of authority, money, class or the law.
The series, which is confident from the start, its world fully formed and well-performed, isn’t a retelling. It’s just Jesus now, back as a black man in Compton. He is not a crazy person who thinks he’s Jesus, as some characters suggest, unless he’s a crazy person who also performs miracles. In the story that emerges over the first two episodes, Jesus has got it into his head to start a community garden to grow pot but also rutabagas, tomatoes, Spanish onions and artichokes.
I’m not saying it’s particularly deep, and it is filled with language that cannot be reproduced in this newspaper, but it’s good-natured and, compared with a lot of what’s on television, the comedy is gentle and hopeful. (It is nowhere near as spiky as “The Boondocks.”) As in Clattenburg’s “Trailer Park Boys,” another downmarket stoner comedy, every character is apportioned a measure of dignity and a measure of foolishness.
The message, such as it is, is a question: “What’s so hard about love and kindness?” Jesus wants to know. That one never gets old, or unnecessary.
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