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Is Adult Swim's Black Jesus the Savior We Need?

Bob Chipman | 18 Aug 2014 12:13
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Thus far, it's not a series that goes for the big laugh or the explosive slapstick payoff, preferring to let the "slice of life" humorous situations run their course while relying on the absurdity of the main character's existence to serve as an omnipresent punchline. There's nothing that funny, for example, about a grumpy building superintendent telling the main cast that they can't have a barbecue in the courtyard... except that Black Jesus happens to be there, working the grill.

The same can be said, at least early on, for stabs at full-blown social commentary. The central image of a dark-skinned Jesus Christ walking, crown of thorns, robes and all, through a "bad neighborhood" is incendiary enough on its own that you don't really need some kind of bigger moral/philosophical hook to make things meaningful: "Jesus getting interrogated by the LAPD" or "Traffic cop tickets a homeless man, turns out it's Jesus" are loaded enough without some kind of plot-specific reason for their occurrence.

Even the scenes of The Son of God hanging around smoking weed (or getting involved in other minor acts of criminality) with his disreputable chums comes pre-loaded with sly weightiness, practically begging a reactionary critic to sputter about how "The REAL Jesus wouldn't associate with crooks and prostit- oh. Wait..." This is comedy writing by way of Mr. Miyagi: "You see, Danny-san, you brought the impact to yourself!"

That said, while I'd be perfectly fine with the series just staying where it is and letting the characters and their exploits speak for themselves (an over-arching story about Black Jesus' desire to start a community garden has already begun to take shape, but that's about it) it seems almost inevitable that Black Jesus is building toward something bigger -- its world is too confidently-built and its characters (even this early) too fully-formed for there not to be a plan. Plus, starting from what sounds like a one-joke comedy sketch ("Jonny Quest but the dad's an asshole!," "Black Metal Spinal Tap!," "Davey & Goliath" as a brutal satire of American Christianity) and slowly revealing something bigger and deeper happening within (heroic-scifi characters surviving in a post-optimism world, an apocalyptic fantasy epic, an improbably-moving redemption narrative).

And it's not like it would be any great stretch for Black Jesus to go big -- it's about a big character. It's easy to see how they might gradually segue from the day-to-day adventures and the community garden story to a full-on modernizing of the Crucifixion/Resurrection narrative, most obviously. But also, isn't Jesus being up and about in the present usually... part of The Apocalypse?

I want to see where Black Jesus is going. But for now it's funny, clever and quietly insightful -- exactly the sort of outside the norm programming a niche outfit like Adult Swim is supposed to exist to provide.

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