3 out of 5
Created by: Aaron McGruder, Mike Clattenberg
covers season 1 – 3
Given that sitcom Black Jesus was cocreated by Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder, as well as it’s in-your-face premise – there’s Slink Johnson, long-haired and be-robed, looking like Jesus and living in modern-day Compton – one might expect (or at least I expected) the show to be a meetup of those two factors: some pretty upfront, and potentially inflammatory, social satire and commentary. Having enjoyed Boondocks, I wouldn’t be against that, though I can admit to occasionally being tired by how “on” that show always seemed to be. Maybe McGruder and other cocreator Mike Clattenberg felt similarly when developing Black Jesus: while it wholly embraces some of the ironies of trying to make a buck in some unsavory ways while also being a dedicated Christian, the show ain’t out to moralize on that, or lay down any deep thoughts – Jesus and crew are just out to make bud and relax, and if money can be made in the process, all the better. In other words: the show is actually just a straight-forward stoner comedy, given fleeter-footing by its setup and a game cast who are all happy to lean in to ensemble archetypes of The Scheming One and The Lazy One and The Smart One and etc. Whether or not Jesus is actually a homeless figure, or just a good-hearted homeless dude, makes for some amusing asides – was that a minor miracle or just coincidence? – but it’s also really not important, which is part of the gag: Big J wants people to relax and be happy, and procuring weed and money – to fund public gardens and whatnot – are avenues to achieve that. He gets people on his side due to this altruism, and there’s some wink-wink I’ll-believe-just-in-case play-acting here, but the friendship amongst Jesus’ crew – Maggie (Kali Hawk); Boonie (Corrie Holcomb); Fish (Andra Fuller) – is also legit, enlivened by naturalistic dialogue and some great comedic performances, especially from the emotive Fuller and the camera-mugging Holcomb. Said crew’s endgames might differ from Jesus’, based on those archetypes – Boonie just wants to make bank, for example – but it’s all wrapped in to an All’s Good m.o. the show skates on, throughout whichever hijinks are informing the episode. How absolutely standard sitcom the series ends up being is pretty hilarious in itself, with Charlie Murphy’s landlord character Vic posited as the perpetual scheme-foiling villain, for example, but then McGruder and Clattenberg will toss in homeless Lloyd (John Witherspoon) as an actual character, guaranteeing the show maintains a crasser, street-level vibe that makes sure this won’t be appearing on CBS anytime soon.
The show does change in its third season a bit, shedding a lot of cast members (and replacing them with proxies…) and becoming a bit more focused on white culture vs. black culture humor, which feels a bit tired, but the overall vibe essentially remains intact.
Black Jesus’ charms are in its familiarity: for a show that would suggest something a bit more targeted and incisive, it’s actually templated like a traditional, multi-camera, canned laughter show. As a result, maybe the direct laughs or plots are never that big or inventive, but it certainly grants the series an easily digestible format that’s easy to chuckle along with for long, binged stretches, probably while stoned.