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‘Hood Adjacent with James Davis’ is Comedy Central’s Most Exciting New Show in Years

With a foundation of empathy and a fresh approach to a familiar format, this series has the potential to be a network staple.

"Hood Adjacent with James Davis"

“Hood Adjacent with James Davis”

Peter Yang

Comedy Central’s newest wave of programming has been built around individuals, doubling down on the past achievements of their comedian hosts. Moshe Kasher’s “Problematic” grew out of complex discussions in a public forum. “The Jim Jefferies Show” is an extension of his frequent call-outs of strange behavior both in America and abroad. One of the reasons the network’s newest series, “Hood Adjacent,” works so well is that it comes from host James Davis’ similarly distinct perspective, delivered with fast-paced, sly cultural commentary that’s heavy on laughs.

A blended mix of stand-up, monologue, “Daily Show”-style field pieces, genre parodies and interviews with notable figures, “Hood Adjacent” uses all of these comedic tools to look at different corners of the black experience, in the area of Los Angeles near where Davis was raised and beyond. Though the format approach changes by subject — ranging from food to police relations to life on college campuses — each segment returns the audience back to Davis’ studio audience. On stage or off, Davis has a welcoming presence that doesn’t sacrifice how incisive the show can be, even at its most absurd.

In Wednesday night’s new episode, which takes a broad view at black activism in America, Davis describes a “lack of empathy” that’s come to dominate much of America’s public discourse. Combating that missing sense of respect and understanding is the guiding principle behind what makes this more than a race-adjacent sketch show. Not only is “Hood Adjacent” subverting assumptions and illuminating truths about different areas of black life, it’s doing so in a way that shakes up the familiar comedy show format of hopping between a live studio audience setup and pre-recorded segments.

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Lying somewhere near the stylistic intersection of W. Kamau Bell’s excellent CNN show “United Shades of America” and an Anthony Bourdain travel/culture series, “Hood Adjacent” actively pushes back against the usual news investigation “field piece” approach that often treats these issues and discussions as a voyeuristic peek into a unfamiliar community. As the show’s title and the opening minutes of the first episode explain, Davis is up front about the idea that, in some ways, this show is a learning experience for him as well.

“Hood Adjacent” doesn’t present Davis as a grand arbiter of all things black, nor should it. Still, it takes a particular delight in winking at the fact that audiences of all kinds will be tuning in, and some of them aren’t going to know what “dry snitching” is.

"Hood Adjacent with James Davis"

“Hood Adjacent with James Davis”

Ali Goldstein

In the opening batch of episodes, Davis is quick to cede the floor to help make for a stronger segment. The initial “hood pass” segment from the show’s pilot acknowledges that the process of producing this show is inherently coming from an outsider’s point of view. But rather than exploit that difference for simple comedic effect, “Hood Adjacent” draws its laughs from the more universal experiences of being saddled with a new nickname, unsuccessfully trying to change your culinary tastes, or being interrupted by someone at work. The emphasis is on making a connection between host, subject, and audience; identifying a common ground that can help best combat negative stereotypes.

It’s also impressive how much material “Hood Adjacent” manages to fit into each half-hour episode. The extra production legwork that goes into making even one of these on-location pieces come to life usually means that shows like this will pad their runtime with live bits edited down later for content. What “Hood Adjacent” squeezes into an average episode means that it can address more entry points into the particular theme without having to rely on one individual or one interview moment to represent an entire topic.

The featured remote pieces succeed because they don’t entirely depend on the comedic timing of random participants. These premises — a crosswalk survival kit, a black life-themed Escape Room — are solid jokes in their own right and watching the show introduce an element of chaos with some unpredictable participants validates that the comedy on this show is built from the ground up, not by rolling a camera and hoping for the best.

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Like some of its Comedy Central ancestors, “Hood Adjacent” frequently sets up shop where goofy and insightful intersect. The recurring “Between Two DeRays” segment, featuring activist and podcast host DeRay Mckesson, sharpens some of his more salient points by giving him a foil. But it also acknowledges that these ideas don’t exist in a vacuum and that a little bit of irreverence can lead to an added layer of understanding.

There’s value in a show that looks at issues — like black pedestrian deaths and the inequities of the college athletic system — and delivers findings solely from a soundstage. But by adding a proactive, interactive approach to these insights, “Hood Adjacent” adds more stories to the stats. It’s a show that doesn’t pretend to have any overarching magical solutions, except the ones that come from opening your eyes and ears. As a means for finding common ground, it’s one of the most exciting new series on television; one that will stay relevant as long as people continue to search for that same sense of understanding.

“Hood Adjacent with James Davis” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Comedy Central.

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