Well, the summer TV season is practically officially over and there weren’t really many good shows for the Black TV audience but there were some bright moments as we prepare for the upcoming Fall TV season, including some previews of upcoming shows.
Starting positively, Black Dynamite: The Animated Series was the best thing to come out of a slow summer. Somewhat picking up from Scott Sanders and Michael Jai White’s 2009 movie version and still starring the voices of White as the titular Black Dynamite, co-creator and star Byron Minns as the Dolomite-ish character Bullhorn, and actors Tommy Davidson as wannabe-player/informant Cream Corn and Kym Whitley as Honeybee, it does take some liberties from the movie (and is even referenced once by Cream Corn in a later episode) as two of the aforementioned characters met their untimely deaths in the movie version.
Nonetheless, the series takes full advantage of being animated and runs away with wild storylines and extreme action with numerous episodes being directed by show executive producer Carl Jones, best known for his work on Adult Swim’s other Black animated series The Boondocks. While every episode thus far uses the concept of presenting Blaxploitation film script themes and styles and 1970’s Black America’s entertainment icons (and sometimes 1980’s ones too) in a humorous, and often too-close-to-home heights, it also uses political themes in the same fashion.
The best example of this is in the third episode (not counting last year’s preview) ‘Taxes and Death or Get Him To The Sunset Strip.’ With the IRS on Black Dynamite’s case for a reported and tax day fast approaching (in the previous episode they hunted down BD and his accountant Donald, killing the latter who told him that they’d keep coming after him until he’s “Dead, broke or in jail” a la Wesley Snipes) Black Dynamite takes on outside work and is hired to escort drug-addled and emotionally unstable comedian Richard Pryor (expertly voiced by Eddie Griffin) to the comedy performance of his career. But between Pryor seeking more cocaine than anyone should or could ever ingest (though Pryor really did so) and his cracking jokes much to BD’s chagrin it proves difficult. It actually even gets poignant when Pryor (much as he did in real life) breaks down after becoming upset that people only laugh and him even though he actually has real things about the world to say (“I can cut through the B.S.”) but feels people won’t listen to him – “I want somebody to listen, so I can teach ‘em something,” Pryor says, right before he’s released from jail and tries to escape from performing live on the Sunset Strip in a career move that we know will change his career forever. Look for a cool appearance from one of Pryor’s most trusted allies too. See the full episode HERE on Adult Swim.
Other standout episodes are the season opener, “Just Beat It or Jackson Five Across Yo’ Eyes” in which Cream Corn becomes good friends with young Michael Jackson after saving him from an assassination attempt from Joe Jackson and the Murder on the Orient Express-like (remember movie fans, the award-winning version of that movie came out in ’74) “Panic on the Player’s Ball Express or That’s Influenza Sucka!” in which Black Dynamite, after fighting what he believes to be an attempt to poison all black people, comes down with the flu on the weekend of the annual Player’s Ball pimp party which this year is taking the form of a costume party on a cross-country train that is hijacked by, Leroy Van Nuys (voiced by Snoop Dogg) in his attempt to take revenge on pimp-kind after they abandoned him as a baby causing BD, with the help of the spirit of Sun Tzu, to fight the flu and a horde of robots in the form of Isaac (Ted Lange) from The Love Boat to save his friends and pimps from all over the world. Episode six flips what some see as a false conspiracy but others as an absolute truth, in which President Nixon tries to destroy Black Dynamite by flooding the black community with cheap drugs, turning everyone into junkies, but fails and the black community flourishes by selling the drugs to white junkies, prompting Nixon to send in Elvis Presley to take charge.
It should be noted, actors such as Orlando Jones, Aries Spears, Debra Wilson (all MADtv alums) as well as Denzel Whitaker, Corey Burton and others have contributed voice work to this fantastic series. Two more episodes remain for the season, including this coming Sunday’s “Honky Kong or White Apes Can’t Hump” in which Honeybee is kidnapped by a giant white circus ape named Honky Kong. You can see it on Sunday nights at 11:30pm on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.
Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell was also another good and yes different show to premiere this summer. Airing on FX at 11pm on Thursday’s, Bell uses observational humor to reflect on newsworthy topics and current events. He also does man-on-the-street interviews and ends with a celebrity guest, including show executive producer Chris Rock and newswoman Rachel Maddow. It’s in the Maddow-guesting second episode in which one of Bell’s funniest moments occurs in which he explains to President Obama that despite his non-allusions to being so that Obama IS indeed the president of Black America, shown through various videos, stills and Bell’s signature Powerpoint slideshows. Notably, the core of the show is actually filmed on the day of broadcast in order to stay totally topical, which is pretty intense to pull off and admittedly cool. Though a bit nervous in episode one, Bell is now relaxed and handles the show’s humor and news well, giving audiences a great option outside of The Daily Show and the evening news.
Other than Black Dynamite and Totally Biased, there wasn’t too much that really stood out to me this summer outside of Corey Reynolds’s emotional performance on the penultimate episode of The Closer (which I wrote about HERE). Though Suits was among the best shows this summer with it’s half-season, they didn’t really focus or give Gina Torres as much to do as I would have liked. It’s not her show, we know, but her Jessica Pearson is so cool of a character that I still want to see more of her. Still, it was a lot more than last season.
Yesterday S&A writer Natasha Greeve’s provided a breakdown of shows with Black cast members that premiere this month and next that you can see HERE.
A few of these shows have free previews that I watched last week. The first one, Ben and Kate, is surprisingly better than I expected. Placed in FOX’s Tuesday comedy block with New Girl and The Mindy Project (more on Mindy below) it stars Dakota Johnson and recent Oscar winner Nat Faxon (he co-wrote the adapted screenplay for The Descendents with Jim Rash from NBC’s Community) as the brother and sister title characters and Echo Kellum as Ben’s equally nutty partner-in-crime (see: BBF – best Black friend) Tommy, who is as in love with Kate as he is in doing silly things with Ben. Ben’s spontaneity is in direct contrast with Kate’s responsible edge, and they clash constantly albeit never confrontationally as he was the guiding rock for her when they grew up with parents who always fought. Always in out and of her life, Ben decides to finally stay once he realizes that Kate and her daughter Maddie need his much-needed chaos into Kate’s overly stable world. He starts by looking after Maddie so Kate can get back to making life-building mistakes, since the one real “mistake” she’s made (getting preggers with Maddie) turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her. Kellum is also good on the show and has good comedy timing. I just hope they won’t Winston him (which I was using to reference Lamorne Morris’ character on New Girl but I just realized also applies to Ernie Hudson’s Ghostbusters character). The show is much more along the lines of FOX’s Greg Garcia produced comedy Raising Hope, which precedes it on Tuesday nights and less like New Girl though. Watch the preview HERE, though you only have three more days to do so.
Tyler James Williams was also pretty good on the preview for Matthew Perry’s new show GO ON. He plays a pretty docile young man that is in therapy to work out his issues about his older brother’s death. Pretty heavy, so we’ll see what else they give this great young actor to do. Once again, see that below.
Meanwhile, The Mindy Project is in previews as well for another three days. Starring and executive produced by The Office co-star Mindy Kaling, it follows a woman who, despite being a successful OB/GYN, is “unlucky in love and desperately needs to get her personal life back on track before her friends and colleagues are forced to stage an intervention.” The show is kinda corny, with the only bright spot being movie actor Chris Messina as her colleague Dr. Danny Casetllano. Still, it’s a pilot and I won’t judge it to harshly yet, but the sad side is that in trying to appeal to a mainstream audience, Kaling reflects nothing of her Indian heritage. See the first 15 seconds of THIS CLIP for what she seeks in a man and watch the show preview on Hulu and online.
Lastly, as Courntey posted earlier this week, a full episode preview of Giancarlo Esposito in REVOLUTION is available on NBC.com and can be seen below. I haven’t gotten a chance to see it yet but will share my thoughts on it next week.
That’s it for this week. Next week (yes, we’re back to weekly as of today) I’ll predict who will actually win the Emmy’s before the September 23 broadcast and highlight some other new shows as well. If there’s anything I missed, comment below let me know!