If you're looking for a gift that's fullof family fun, Adult Swim’s "Black Dynamite" is perfect for the cartoon enthusiast on your list. But don't expect to see some version of "Good Times" or "The Cosby Show" in animated form. The program, written and produced by Carl Jones (of "The Boondocks" fame) is out there. Way out there.
The program is loosely based around the 2009 film of the same name that stars Michael Jai White, Salli Richardson, Arsenio Hall and Tommy Davidson. In that version, an ex-CIA agent goes on wild adventure to avenge his brother's death in a battle that involves conspiracies and government-fueled drug rings.
And that's where the cartoon picks up. Black Dynamite, the lead character who almost never smiles, is ostensibly a 70s super hero. But he's also a pimp and runs and orphanage — out of the same building, under one name, The Whorephanage.
And while that sounds outlandish, the strength of this show, is in the fine line it walks between buffoonery and genius. All of the storylines revolve around famous characters from the 70s, but with a slightly zany twist.
"The great thing about writing a show like Black Dynamite is our hindsight is 20/20. So we can go back in time and take very iconic people and eras, or different incidents that might have happened, and give our story of what really happened," Jones said of the show which just concluded its first season. "We're able to travel back in time and give our account of how things became the way we all know it now."
In one episode, a child-alien Michael Jackson abuses and terrorizes other Jackson 5 members for not being as talented as he. In another, an albino gorilla named “Honky Kong” gets loose and kidnaps Honey Bee, who runs the Whorephanage. At its most absurd, Dynamite ends up on the moon after being tricked by O.J. Simpson to fly into space.
On the surface, it appears to an obvious ode to blaxploitation flicks from the 70s, many of which were written and effectively created by whites. Movies primarily about so-called black culture, which many people found presented negative stereotypes were being pushed by a largely white industry. Hence, the exploitation factor.
But that's not the case for Dynamite. The writing team is majority black. The creators are black. I mention that because when a show frequently finds itself discussing racial issues, the identity of the writers matter. A point that Jones touched on.
"A lot of people don't know that Jimmie Walker's [from "Good Times'] writers were white. A lot of people don't know that," Jones said. "John Amos quit the show because of all the so-called buffoonery with J.J.'s character."
But in his biography from this year titled, "Dyn-o-mite! Good Times, Bad Times, Our Times - A Memoir," Walker looked back on how that racial tension tore up the show. "Black viewers did not notice the color of the writer. Of all TV series — dramas and comedies, black or white — blacks rated Good Times among their top 3 favorites through its run," Walker wrote. "Obviously, the writers did not have to be black for the black audience to love Good Times."
There's no need for those potential hangups with Black Dynamite. And with each episode, there's sort of an odd after school special vibe that makes you feel like you learned something. Sometimes, it's one of Dynamite's ridiculous lessons on how to stay true to yourself. Other episodes, you get a historical allegory that sheds some light on how we once viewed certain pop culture characters.Even with the main character drop kicking FBI agents and pulling out guns on Santa Claus, somehow, it works.
And it's mainly because for a crew of fictional sex workers, the cast still holds together a family dynamic that's as strong as any you'll see on television. Everything is just enough askew to make it seem real. Something that Jones says comes naturally.
"Every single thing that I write, comes from my own personal experience. Or experiences of people that I know and that I'm close to," Jones, whose wife Monica is also a producer on the show, said. "Every family to a fault is dysfunctional. I don't believe that this society is structured in a way to promote a healthy strong family. Especially when it comes to quote unquote minorities. I think when you're able to look at the circumstances surrounding a family, and show how a family sticks together to overcome those circumstances, to me, that is what it's about. … You can say something about your little brother, but if someone else says it then you're gonna [expletive] them up. It's that kind of mentality."
I can dig it.
Yates is a columnist for The RootDC.
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