TV Series Review
Jesus hung out with sinners all the time. But He never sinned. Cartoon Network's Black Jesus, on the other hand, hangs out with sinners and sins with them.
And that's a problem.
The premise of Black Jesus, which is scheduled during the channel's late night Adult Swim block of programming, is as follows: Jesus (or a man who thinks he's Jesus) once again walks among us—only this time in Compton instead of Jerusalem. And his first goodwill mission is to help his tiny band of fledgling disciples build a community garden.
A community garden devoted to growing marijuana.
Everyone knew that Black Jesus was going to be controversial. And creators Aaron McGruder (of The Boondocks fame) and Mike Clattenburg obviously designed it to be so. McGruder has long been a cultural provocateur, and nothing gins up publicity like religious controversy. And, indeed, a number of religious organizations have reliably scourged the show.
"If it's possible for a cable television to set a new record in deplorability, Black Jesus did just that," said Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association. One Million Moms fired off a press release before the first episode aired, calling it "blasphemy" and hoping to keep the series from ever finding its way into homes.
That tactic didn't work, of course, and the show has now become a ratings winner—consistently logging in as one of the most-watched cable shows on Thursday nights. (Its premiere drew more than 2 million viewers.) The outrage seems to have settled into a long simmer as episodes come and go, and more than a few TV critics say that Black Jesus is just all right with them.
James Poniewozik of Time wrote, "You might expect McGruder, given his Boondocks history, to be out for pointed religious satire, but Black Jesus is really more of a stoner hangout comedy with a heart." Soraya Nadia McDonald of The Washington Post said, "If anything, it seems McGruder is trying to tell his audience that if Jesus is just like us, maybe it's not so much of a stretch for us to be just like him." Even the Catholic League—no stranger to cultural outrage—revealed that the Jesus in Black Jesus is "irreverent, and can be downright crude, but he also has many redeeming qualities."
Black Jesus' decidedly unsanctified titular protagonist is indeed a caring, forgiving guy—a man with some pithy things to say about unconditional love and our sometimes topsy-turvy sense of priorities. He gently scolds those around him for being selfish and vain. He clearly cherishes everyone he meets.
A quick example: When he wakes up a drunk named Lloyd, the homeless guy says, "Jesus, you smell like s---." Then Lloyd pauses and says, "Maybe that's me." And he passes out again. Jesus' response? "I love you so much, Lloyd," he says with both sincerity and weary exasperation—which is kind of the way I picture the real Jesus talking to us in our not-so-great moments.
But here's the thing. Jesus probably really did smell bad at the time … because he had just gotten back from a profanity-riddled escapade to steal horse dung for the community pot garden.
And so we come back to the comedy's theological calamity. With all due respect to McDonald, Jesus is not like us. He was both fully human and fully divine—paradoxically God in human form. He lived among us to cleanse our sins—not to excuse them and certainly not to help us commit them.
I can see why McGruder errs on the human side of the human/divine equation, though. Most of us tend to err in that same way these days. In our effort to wrap our minds around the fact that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was fully human, we can lose sight of what it simultaneously means for him to be fully divine. We remember how much He loves us but soft pedal the rest of His nature. He was a perfect soul encased in an imperfect body—light years from the Black Jesus we see on Cartoon Network.
The show has scads of other issues (as perhaps you've surmised). The language is more than earthy, it's downright filthy (and, on iTunes, completely uncensored). Allusions to sex are frequent. Drug use is common.
But it's the fact that Jesus himself engages in so many of these problematic elements that makes Black Jesus such a sad and perhaps damaging half-hour comedy. To showcase very imperfect people, that's one thing (and in terms of content, certainly problematic enough). To showcase a very imperfect Jesus, well, that is blasphemous. There's just no other word for it.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Gerald 'Slink' Johnson as Jesus; Charles Q. Murphy as Vic; Kali Hawk as Maggie; Corey Holcomb as Boonie; Andra Fuller as Fish; Andrew Bachelor as Trayvon; John Witherspoon as Lloyd; Angela Elayne Gibbs as Ms. Tudi; Valenzia Algarin as Dianne; Antwon Tanner as Jason