S1: Surprisingly non-controversial, but quite enjoyable in a low-key amiable way
By the time I finally got around to watching this show, I had actually forgotten the main reason I had been interested in the first place – which was the involvement of Boondocks creator McGruder. Knowing his work on that show when it was still good (so pretty much season 1 and a few isolated episodes since then), I had probably made the assumption that everyone else made, which was that Black Jesus was going to be just as controversial and baiting as the title suggested. I would not say this was my 'hope' but I did wonder if he could really pull off something smart involving race and religion as its base.
It was really very surprising then, to find that Black Jesus is really not controversial at all, and doesn't appear to have very much that was done deliberately to get controversy. In fairness, this does not include the base concept of Jesus being black, living in Compton, swearing and using drugs – all of which I guess could offend if you really wanted to be offended by it. The reason then I say it is not offensive is because actually the show is a very amiable and gentle show which is essentially based on biblical principles. The modern touches aside, essentially Jesus leads a small group, taking local action, and always focused on doing onto others, avoiding violence, and spreading the love.
Speaking on this, it was actually the other surprising thing that the show was less contained like Boondocks, and much more low-key and sprawling. The plot gently wanders across the length of the season, focused around the idea of a community garden and drug use. The writing is equally not tight or to the point, with broad characters, slower movement, and a general more relaxed air that actually fits the non-confrontational material pretty well. The big likable title performance from Johnson helps ground the show in this approach. Around him the other characters are fairly generic, but the cast do well with them and over the course of the season they work reasonably well. The two main characters outside of the group are probably the most enjoyable – not least because of the talents of Murphy and Witherspoon, who are good throughout.
Generally speaking, the show is rarely hilarious, but is consistently amusing. The swearing and drug narratives will provide offence for those seeking it, but otherwise the first season provides a gentle and positive piece of entertainment – which is both its appeal and also its weakness. I will follow it into season 2, not because it is brilliant but rather because it is easy to like, amusing, and generally quite a cheering piece of work with its good heart worn large across all elements.
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