I would be lying if I said that I'm not the
least bit frightened when I drive through Capitol Homes on my
way to and from work every day. I have to remind myself that
my Aunt Barbara raised three little girls on her own in those
very projects in the 1950s. And there but for the grace of God...
as they say. Still, the projects are a lot different these days.
And I can't claim to have even an inkling of how it might feel
to live there, much less grow up there. But thanks to Fox, I
can once again live vicariously in the projects. The PJs
I don't quite know why it's been gone so long. Clearly, the
subject matter ruffled a few feathers, particularly the puffy
plumage of Spike Lee. After all, where else can you still get
away with jokes about passing and good hair? Still, there are
many people who value the wisdom that my senile-dementia afflicted
grandfather once espoused while I was showering him down after
he'd shit all over himself: "If I didn't laugh, I'd cry." Hello?!
Is it just me, or is that what real comedy is about?
Isn't it about that epiphanic, authentic, unnerving realism...
that scary Homer Simpsonism "It's funny because it's true"?
Of course the show is offensive! It's supposed to be
offensive - it's being honest. And I won't argue the case for
offensive comedy here. I don't have to. If it's good enough
for the Friar's Club, it's good enough for me, damn it!
Let me start with the basics. The PJs is a stop-motion
"foamation" animated series by Will Vinton Studios. It was co-created
by Steve Tompkins (The Simpsons) and Larry Wilmore
(The Fresh Prince of Bel Air), who worked together
on In Living Color. The show is the brainchild
of Eddie Murphy, who envisioned it as a "microcosm of society...
[in which] everybody's represented." Murphy is the other co-creator
and the executive producer of the show as well as the voice
of its central character, Thurgood Stubbs. Eddie Murphy has
been turning over my gigglebox since I was a sweet young thing
staying up past my bedtime to watch "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood"
on Saturday Night Live. (Do you really need me
to go over his entire bio?!) Murphy actually walked out on The
PJs for a few episodes last year at least in part because
it was left off the fall lineup and was scheduled to return
as a mid-season replacement. (In his absence, Phil Morris played
the voice of Thurgood. You may remember him as Jackie Chiles,
Kramer's lawyer from Seinfeld who now does minivan
promos.) I suspect his walkout might also have been related
to the incessant lobbying from Spike Lee and the LA-based Project
Islamic HOPE, which felt the show was degrading to black people.
That might have been a bit hard to stomach for Murphy, who is
active in black causes such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Center
for Non-Violent Social Change here in Atlanta as well as humanitarian
causes for AIDS and cancer.
But again, this isn't the PCs, it's The
PJs! The main character is Thurgood Stubbs (Murphy),
who is the grouchy superintendent of the Hilton-Jacobs Projects.
He is married to Muriel, who is a nurturing and optimistic woman
- definitely his better half. Her horny sister, Bebe,
is married to Jimmy Ho, who takes the African-American cause
very personally despite the fact that he is Korean. While Thurgood
and Muriel have no children of their own, two of the neighborhood
children look up to them. Calvin is the skinny one, and Juicy
is the fat one (go figure). Juicy's parents are so rotund they
cannot get out the door of their apartment, and Juicy carries
the sign that his mother so sweetly made for him that reads
"Do Not Feed." Also in the neighborhood are Sanchez, a sometime
smoker who laments the death of his beloved Esperanza through
his voice box; Mrs. Avery, a crotchety old shyster; Smokey,
the neighborhood crack addict (complete with eye twitch); and
Haiti Lady (Mambo Garcelle), at your service with a voodoo potion
On Tuesday, May 30, The PJs returned from its
too-long hiatus with two new episodes. In the first episode,
"Home School Daze," a teachers' strike leaves the project tenants
to home school Calvin and Juicy, and in the process, we learn
that Thurgood never finished school himself. So, he too gets
enrolled in the home school, and we get to see Thurgood as the
class clown. In a geography lesson about Lake Titicaca, he gets
all riled up about Mt. Booby-Poopoo. And that's just the beginning...
The second episode, "The Postman's Always Shot Twice," starts
off being about the mailman's fear of the projects. As Thurgood
says, "Projects don't kill mailmen. Mailmen kill mailmen." After
Mrs. Avery mistakes the mailman for a prowler and fires on him,
the show's focus becomes the issue of taking care of the elderly
and, in this case, saving Mrs. Avery from the home. This too
reminded me of my dear old grandad. After all, one way to care
for the elderly is to tell them to "Stay in the chair!" Sound
familiar? Of course, things really get rolling when they celebrate
Mrs. Avery's birthday. After all, "It's her last birthday, let
her live a little!" And as they are fixing her a glass of cake
in the blender, Mrs. Avery escapes just before Social Services
arrives. The tenants quickly disguise Smokey the crack head
as Mrs. Avery, not wanting to lose custody of the woman. I won't
say any more than that. You definitely want to see it yourself
when they air it again, which you know they will!
The PJs is a laugh riot no matter how you slice
it. And it's fresh and daring because it is not afraid to tread
on the sacred ground of black pride. While some may see it as
harmful to the image that some black people would like to project,
I maintain that image is not reflective of most people,
black or white or pink or blue. [What about
us mottled green and yellow Sponge-people? Hmm... Are we less
important? -- Brendan] Hell, who wouldn't like to live
the idyllic life of Bill Cosby?! The PJs illuminates
important cultural issues rather than just sticking its head
in the sand. It depicts inner-city poverty with candor and doesn't
sweep alcohol and crack use under the rug. It's certainly more
realistic than the teen-age soap operas that otherwise dominate
the Fox lineup. Moreover, the show demonstrates the underlying
humanity that links us all. After all, who doesn't want to sit
on his ass and watch Wheel of Fortune with a cold
forty at the end of a long day? And when Thurgood goes to get
help from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who
can't relate to feeling small and powerless? Think DMV, and
don't even get me started on HUD corruption!
Don't miss this week's episode (6/6) in which Thurgood gets
an electrical shock resulting in a vision of a black Jesus.
The experience makes him decide to be a preacher. Now that's
comedy fodder! The show airs Tuesday nights at 8:30 after The
Family Guy. In my book, that makes Tuesday nights second
only to Sunday nights in the Fox lineup. (Ally McBeal
Mondays fell from second place grace when I saw the musical
season finale. Let's hope the show gets some meat on its bones
by next fall!)