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2016/12/04

Black Jesus

by Jav Rivera

I've always been a fan of things that weren't afraid to be funny, no matter who they might offend. And it's not because they're trying to offend that makes it funny for me. It's more because of the fact that the artist tackles something that in truth is funny, but just happens to be a bit taboo.

With that said, "Black Jesus" may or may not be for you, though I do urge you to look past its cover, because what's beneath has a lot of heart.

"Slink" Johnson as "Black Jesus"
Created by Aaron McGruder and Mike Clattenburg, the show is a perfect combination of the animated series "The Boondocks" and the Canadian cult series "Trailer Park Boys." And it just so happens that both McGruder and Clattenburg were the creators of those shows, respectively. "Black Jesus" shows us the life of an African-American Jesus living in Compton, CA trying to spread the good word while getting high and drinking a 40. And yet, oddly enough, "Black Jesus" feels relevant for current television. With other shows and movies promoting drug use, alcohol, and violence it makes sense that we see religion being represented in modern times.



The titular role is played by the incredibly cast Gerald "Slink" Johnson. Johnson brings a joyous spirit to his character, much like what you'd expect a Savior to have. His castmates bring a perfect balance of reality to over-the-top scenarios. Black Jesus' main crew are full believers while antagonists Vic (Charlie Murphy) and Lloyd (John Witherspoon) question his identity. In fact, Vic, who does believe in God, is a downright vicious non-believer of Johnson's character. He takes offense that Black Jesus is the real Lord Savior. Lloyd, on the other hand, flip-flops between believing or not, depending on if he gets what he prays for.

Lloyd (John Witherspoon) and Vic (Charlie Murphy)
If you're familiar with the great John Witherspoon, you won't be disappointed. He brings his comedy genius to every scene. There's something about how he delivers his lines that make any sentence sound funny. And it's nice to see that Charlie Murphy has finally graduated from his work on "Chappelle's Show". It made me sad to see Murphy get mostly bit parts knowing that he was a skillful comedic actor. On "Black Jesus" he's given the chance to shine.

Most of the gang, L-R: Boonie (Corey Holcomb), Black Jesus, Trayvon (Andrew Bachelor),
Maggie (Kali Hawk), and Fish (Andra Fuller)
But it's not just the bad guys; the good guys bring the funny too. Besides Johnson's outstanding portrayal of a modern day Jesus, his co-stars add a nice range of characters. For me, Boonie (Corey Holcomb) and his mom Ms. Tudi (Angela Elayne Gibbs) have the best chemistry. She cuts him down at every given moment, and he takes the beatings like a slow-witted child. And though the rest of the crew make the show more rounded, it's scenes with Boonie and Ms. Tudi (whether they're together or separated) that have the show's best laughs.

[warning: explicit language]


The only other character that might be able to compete with Gibbs' chemistry with Holcomb is Boonie's ex-wife Shalinka (played by Dominique Witten). Witten who's already a talented stand up comedian, dumbs it down for her character. She only appears once in a great while but she's always well worth the wait. And in season two, the underrated Keith David appears as Reverend Otis. It's always nice to see David appear in films and television, but when he's given a meaty role like he has in "Black Jesus," you wonder why more people don't give him the credit he deserves.

Every episode furthers the overall story arc per season, but the individual episodes have their own mini stories. I often felt like I was watching a McGruder version of "Trailer Park Boys," though the show never feels like it's a ripoff of the Canadian series. If anything, "Black Jesus" is honoring Clattenburg's incredible creation. And even though its "Trailer Park Boys" similarities is probably one of the show's best features, "Black Jesus" has enough originality to have other redeeming features. As I said, there actually is a lot of heart to the show despite its crude humor. Black Jesus really is trying to spread the good word to the modern world; he just happens to enjoy smoking a bud or two while he does it.


Just because a show like "Black Jesus" isn't politically correct doesn't mean it's all-out blasphemy. McGruder and Clattenburg have done a good job of showing just enough innocence and love through the lives of a group of sinners. Indeed, there are a lot of good lessons to be learned if you can look past the vulgarity.

For more information, visit their IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3589872

TRIVIA: Some of the cast members previously worked with Aaron McGruder on his animated series, "The Boondocks," including John Witherspoon, who was the voice of "Granddad."





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