Woke

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Emily Clark

TV Series Review

Keef Knight has always prided himself on not being controversial. His popular comic strip, “Toast and Butter,” is light and happy and uniquely apolitical. In fact, it’s so mellow that people are actually shocked to discover that the cartoonist is black.

But Keef doesn’t care when people say, “I don’t see color,” because that non-distinctness is exactly what’s made “Toast and Butter” so successful—enough so that it’s on the verge of becoming nationally syndicated.

However, that all changes when Keef gets racially profiled and tackled by police.

Getting Woke

Ordinarily, Keef probably could’ve just walked it off and maintained his status as the “keep it light” guy.  His black roommate, Clovis, strongly encourages him to do just that so that he won’t ruin his blossoming career.

Except for just a few factors…

Keef wasn’t doing anything wrong; he was hanging up flyers for GoldenCon (a convention for cartoons and comic strips). He wasn’t holding a weapon; he was holding a stapler (the one he was hanging flyers with). He wasn’t resisting the police, but when Gunther, his white roommate, assaulted a cop in response to what was happening to Keef, the officers put their guns away and told Gunther to calm down while still holding Keef at gunpoint. And perhaps most importantly, the only thing that Keef had in common with the mugger the cops were looking for was the color of his skin.

The whole ordeal awakens Keef to something he’s always known but perhaps never truly understood: It doesn’t matter how you dress, talk, act or even who you hang out with. If you are a person of color, you can still be racially profiled.

And to make matters even worse, every time that Keef tries to ignore the sociopolitical injustices (however small they may be) around him, he hallucinates inanimate objects coming to life to tell him exactly how it is—while also making him seem a bit crazy as well.

Stay Woke, or Stay Away?

The word “woke”—as derived from the expression “stay woke”—is an adjective meaning that someone is alert to social and especially racial injustices. It’s the title of this series (which is based on the real-life experience of award-winning artist Keith Knight), but it’s also the theme.

For some people, this type of show might be a non-starter because of its obvious activist standpoint. Even the title itself might turn some people off. It can also be incredibly triggering (we see depictions of brutality against people of color and we also see some disturbing stereotypes against police). And it has, as we’ll see, plenty of content issues. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a timely message.

This isn’t a political drama, it’s a comedy that (according to Eric Deggans of NPR) encourages audiences to “laugh at all of the absurdities surrounding today’s racial and social politics, while also reminding us of why staying woke is ultimately so important.”

Woke still might be a non-starter based on its other content. Language is really harsh: In addition to frequent f-words and s-words, we also hear the n-word several times. I’ve already mentioned violence in terms of what Keef experiences at the hands of police. There’s multiple drug and alcohol references (we see characters smoking marijuana and it’s also implied that Gunther sells cocaine). And the show also has quite a bit of sexual content, including some brief nudity, same-sex couples, drag queens and euphemisms.

Episode Reviews

Sept. 9, 2020, Episode 1: “Rhymes with Broke”

After Keef gets racially profiled and tackled by police, he starts seeing inanimate objects come to life, encouraging him to recognize the racial injustices happening all around him.

An unmarried couple kisses a few times and we later see them get into bed together (though nothing critical is seen, it’s obvious she’s only wearing a large t-shirt). A drag queen wearing a provocative dress asks a man to sit on his lap. People make jokes about sex and talk about male and female genitals. A womanizing man lies to several women with the intention of having sex with them. We see a man wearing nothing but a bathrobe. Someone talks about gonorrhea. We hear about a sex toy. There is a joke about “coming out.”

Keef is held at gunpoint, tackled and handcuffed by police. A mugger with a gun in his waistband robs Keef and pats him down looking for valuables. A man throws a trashcan at a window, hoping to break it, but it bounces off harmlessly. Someone brags about bruising a police officer’s wrist. We hear about a man who raped horses.

Gunther tries to convince his roommates to invest in an “energy drink” that they highly suspect is cocaine. People drink whiskey. Keef imagines that two bottles of malt liquor have some to life, and they encourage him to buy them. A woman talks about being drunk. Someone asks Keef if he would like some marijuana. We hear about some other unspecified drugs.

There is a large focus on sociopolitical injustices, which includes discussions and jokes about race, inequality, gentrification, and stereotypes against people of all races, as well as stereotypes against police officers. We also see a perceived instance of black face. Keef compares forgetting about slavery to forgetting about Jesus. (Someone later says that Jesus hates him.)

When Keef and Clovis find a lost wallet, Clovis tells Keef that they can’t “do the right thing” and turn it in to the police because the owner is a white woman, and he believes they will be accused of raping, killing and robbing her since they are black men. Keef later says that Gunther should have (and would have) been shot by the police if he had been black.

We hear the f-word, s-word and n-word multiple times, as well as “a–,” “b–ch,” d–n,” “h—” and “p-ss.” We also hear misuses of God’s and Jesus’ names (sometimes paired with “d–n”).

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Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

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