Cartoon Network’s late-night Adult Swim block goes into lulls where it seems to bide its time between cool new ‘toons, over-hyped one-season wonders and new seasons of its stately franchises (still waiting on Season 5 of One of the Best Things on TV, The Venture Brothers), often filling the gap with live-action Dadaist crap by some guy who knows the Tim & Eric Awesome Show yayhoos. I’m not sure what category Black Dynamite, the animated adaptation of Scott Sanders, Michael Jai White and Byron Minns’ over-the-top 2009 blaxploitation-spoofing feature film, will fit into just yet — other than it is not in the latter one because it made me laugh.
Black Dynamite, which premiered as a series Sunday night, plays as a hybrid of ’70s Quinn Martin Production detective show and the mirthfully preposterous and cavalierly violent grindhouse feature films that inspired it. The hallmark of the show is its ultra-stylized design — its animation, not coincidentally, recalls one of Adult Swim’s prestige shows, The Boondocks, on which its producers Brian Ash and Carl Jones also worked. This high-end-anime-meets-comic-book look actually fits the ’70s-set blaxploitation aesthetic even better — hearkening in particular to the idealized movie posters of the period — and offers a broader, darker-hued canvas for both preposterousness and violence, as when White’s title character kicks things off by blowing up an entire city block populated by rebellious ninjas.
That, however, is just precursor. White’s Black Dynamite himself is a funny enough creation, a private eye/superspy/kung fu master/vigilante more badass than Shaft, Superfly, Truck Turner, Sweet Sweetback and Black Belt Jones all rolled into one (and I stole some that from the movie trailer). BD’s waking up with a disturbing realization and a “fine foxy” bedmate comforting him is standard enough, but it becomes hilarious when all four women in his bed wake up and his ire builds as he has to repeat his reassurances that he is fine.
But funny as he is, he is almost the straightman to his daffy vigilante team, Honey Bee, Bullhorn and Cream Corn (Minns, Kym Whitley and Tommy Davidson, all reprising their film roles), much less to the hyperbolized pop cultural characters that cross his path. In the 2011 one-off pilot for the series, the team encountered fed-up fictionalized versions of the Muppets-gone-gangsta. In the series’ Episode 1, we see Cream Corn ditching the team’s latest caper to dance on Soul Train, where he is mesmerized by musical guest, The Jackson 5, albeit a twisted iteration of the Motown greats.
Four of the five Jackson brothers almost immediately reveal the wormholed joke, performing with bruises and casts on various limbs, obviously hearkening to the fact that their father Joe Jackson was later alleged by his children to be an abusive Svengali to the group. This offers context to the episode title, “Jackson 5 Across Yo’ Eyes.” But before Cream can get backstage for an autograph, we are given the big reveal that the beast of the family is, in fact, its youngest, Michael, a venomous, perfectionist enfant terrible. Joe, in fact, is heroically about to end Michael’s reign of terror with a lead salad until Cream, catching only the late stage of the exchange, leaps to take a bullet for young Michael.
A grateful (but insidious) Michael enchants the team, hanging out at BD’s Whorephanage (a place for whores and orphans), crooning songs specifically for them, even as he lures Cream into a textbook abusive relationship, eventually to reveal the alien origins that explain his morphing into a creepy monster. BD, being the perfect blaxploitation male specimen, falls for nothing. When Michael’s cloying stirs his ire and the latter pleads sweetly for BD not to hit him, BD says with White’s perfect smooth-bore-tempered-steel voice, “Trust me, Michael Jackson, if I was gonna hit you, you woulda already been hit.”
Yet it’s even funnier when that voice needs to become the voice of reason to the lunacy all around, as when he admonishes the team, “All right, look, from now on, nobody’s allowed to run off to Soul Train and take a bullet for a motherf—er without Black Dynamite’s prior express written consent.”
There’s more with aliens, ninjas and the show’s dazzling, appropriately cavalier, lushly animated violence, but I won’t spoil it for any who didn’t catch the first broadcast.
Between this and the Muppet-themed pilot, you have to like where BD is going, not so much trying to milk mileage out of its genre satire as it is doing what Adult Swim shows have long done, smashing icons with gleeful abandon, knowing irony and a lot of bleeped swears. Poking fun at the bizarre retrofitted sideshow Michael Jackson truly, sadly became might not fly everywhere, but here, it’s another funny day of the week. Black Dynamite, if it maintains this keel, could pose a beautiful bookend to The Boondocks’ more contemporary, razor-sharp social/political satire and give Adult Swim a merciless one-two punch.
New episodes of Black Dynamite air Sundays at 11:30pm/10:30CT on Cartoon Network Adult Swim.
Photos and video: © 2012 Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.