Why 'Black Jesus' May Be Aaron McGruder’s Best Work Yet [Reaction/Review]
Black Jesus has walked among us for some 2 weeks now and it seems that ought to be enough time to answer the question Joan Osborn never intended ie “What If God Was One Of Us?” Most of us remember that random mid-April evening when we all discovered that the cure to our post-“I’m Rick James, B***h” comedic jones would be arriving in the form of a fourth and final season to Aaron McGruder’s flagship hip-hop satire The Boondocks. And just like that, the hip-hop generation’s great satirist had reentered our lives, and not a moment too soon. Perhaps at our culture’s darkest hour, amuck with twerk-life and Yeezus freaks and blurred licensing lines, the sharpest pen appeared to be back to trim the fat off a morbidly obese worship of celebrity at a point in music history where hip-hop’s ubiquity is undeniable.
Then we hit the fucking lottery. In a stroke of blindsiding luck, the grapevine revealed that The Boondocks finale would be far from a swan song, as McGruder’s comeback would, in fact, be two-fold. Word of the coming of a Compton-bred, blunt-burning Black Jesus dropped like an anchor off the Eiffel, throwing casual viewers and fanboys (and girls) alike into a frenzy of anticipation.
But if time has shown us nothing, it has at least proven luck to be one bittersweet lady. Turns out, that last season of the cherished bite we were hoping for from Huey, Riley and Grandpa Freedman’s coup de grâce would arrive without its champion and without much bite at all, though it landed with record viewership. It seemed that Black Jesus alone would have to be the sole redefining effort for both Christ and McGruder’s tale, which brings us to the a more recent past; the show’s insta-classic premiere just two weeks ago.
In the very first moments of McGruder’s new treatment, it becomes abundantly clear that what we had on our hands was far from a rehash of its predecessor’s sentiments, relying on the follies of hip-hop’s ill-advised superstars and the topical, materialistic culture they’ve inhibited for material. Black Jesus is a whole new beast, unhinged from the mishaps of pop culture, dedicated to the understanding of religion’s role in impoverished communities and challenging the rigid parameters of what a messiah could and should be. Particularly as those may lie in one of Cali’s most embattled and storied hoods. In the opening to the show we’re first introduced to the disciples of our new savior, finding a wiry reformed ex-con in Fish (portrayed by Andra Fuller, who I recently had the pleasure of speaking with about his role–more on that very soon!) the fumbling, yet wholesome Boonie and the more grounded Jason. A rag-tag crew of former troublemakers, all somehow united in their reverence for this new city-dwelling Christ.
Finally, we meet the anointed one (played by the incomparable Slink Johnson) and all is clear. Outside of a blatant propensity towards the booze du jour (i.e. cognac, weed and venison sausages) the only thing separating the commonly accepted perception of Christ and his newly “contemporized” take is literally the color of his skin. I say that as it is widely acknowledged that The Bible’s version of the messiah was neither fairly complected nor straight-edged, with “feet like unto burnt brass, the hair of his head like the lambs wool” and commonly encouraging the consumption of wine, particularly with other drunkards.
Put simply, Jesus was a man of the people, who spoke the common-man’s language and gave love through and through. And that dear friends, is precisely what we encounter throughout the entirety of the first episode. Whether mixing it up with the local beggars, breaking bread, smoke and drink with his constituents, speaking out against the tyranny of one inexplicably disgruntled landlord (played by Charlie Murphy) hatching a scheme to grow herbal in a self-sustaining community garden or even being jacked by a bunch of suburban white kids in a drug deal gone wrong, Jesus spreads love and compassion with every step; sometimes even to the dismay of his followers.
Yeah, things get a little nutty when you’re trying to figure out how to make a bill in a desolate economy and deemed a virtual enemy to the state. But that’s precisely what makes McGruder’s Jesus perhaps the most human of all his manifestations (both literal and otherwise) and infuses the show with the type of fresh, focused cultural commentary that is needed to defuse the taboo of discussing Jesus in communities black, white, purple, red and green.
Episode 2 finds our band of divinely-inspired do-gooders attempting to procure a plot of land on which to begin their community gardening endeavor, hitting a few speed bumps, internet trolls and unbelieving thugs along the way. All the while, dodging shade and sabotage from their scheming landlord. Jesus willfully leads the charge in cleaning the space, providing a model for civic duty and proactivity in a venture that promises to reinvent and invigorate the community’s sense of obligation to itself. It’s a brilliant display of virtue in the face of countless and continuous instances of adversity, preaching the importance of faith, love and kindness all along the way, even becoming a human shield during a an ill-conceived drive-by at one point.
I suppose what I’m attempting to put forth here is, at the end of the day, all of the hallmarks of McGruder’s delivery are still more than intact. The slapstick dialogue, the stitching of deceptively complex sociopolitical themes and messages and the ability to draw us into the plight of his subjects are all accounted for, merely redirected towards a long overdue deconstruction of the theological discussion taking place not just in poor black households, but across the board.
Admittedly, there was an anxious not-too-few (me included) who assumed Aaron McGruder’s move from Boondocks to Black Jesus might be the tragic end of a dynamic and accomplished writing legacy, but the first 2 installments prove otherwise. And while there have been whispers of folks objecting to the mere notion of a show portraying Christ as a Compton-bred G, who blesses air instead of water and delivers Henny instead of wine, I assure you we’re all better for it. McGruder’s reentry into the satirical realm is more formidable than any of us could have imagined. Those who still doubt the second coming of the man and his hazy new gospel, let this writer assure you that it is already some of his most impressive and accessible material yet. You just gotta watch, enjoy and have faith, bruh, bruh. Open your hearts to the good word of Black Jesus and catch the third installment of his saga tonight at 11pm on Adult Swim and watch out for our exclusive interview with Black Jesus’ moral muscle Fish AKA Andra Fuller coming soon, including a closer look at the on-set dynamic and a personal account of when he found Black Jesus.