It’s been a long time since a TV show was willing to toe the line between humor and being downright offensive. South Park has been toeing the line of being offensively funny since 1997 and at this point, we’re very accustomed to the creators providing an opinion on the world that can run contrary to popular views. South Park makes some laugh, but leaves others disgusted.
Legends of Chamberlain Heights, a new show airing on Comedy Central, attempts to bridge this gap and bring a different brand of humor than some of its predecessors. Comedians are heavily criticized for the topics they choose to focus on – having to contend with notions of being racist, sexist, homophobic, or displaying an aversion to a specific group of people. For a comedy show to come on air and to not receive an onslaught of criticism, it has to offend equally, offend with purpose, and display the message that lies beneath the crude humor.
Legends follows the lives of three high school freshmen, Grover, Milk, and Jamal, who have dreams of working their way off of the high school basketball team bench and become legends on the basketball court, their school, and in life. Along the way, the three have to deal with the pressures of being high school freshmen and the problems that come with trying to fit in. They run into issues and try to find ways of fixing their problems – sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding.
Although this show may be compared to other shows like The Boondocks and South Park – the latter precedes the show on Wednesdays – the humor in Legends is centered around the development of the main characters; whereas, other comedy shows focus on sole topics of humor rather than the characters. This difference is essential because it almost feels as if you miss an important development in the main characters’ stories if you do not catch an episode, but with shows like Family Guy, a viewer can come in at a random point and still understand what’s going on.
This character-based storytelling also creates a dynamic of familiarity with the audience that allows them to connect to the characters. On this topic of familiarity, Josiah Johnson, one of the producers and voice actors (Grover and Milk) on the show told Inverse, “Well, we’re using high school basketball as the vehicle to tell the show. I think coming from the lands of benchwarmers is very relatable to people. No matter where you are at or people that play sports at whatever level — at some point in your career, you are going to find yourself at the end of the bench. What you do from there and how you go from there will really establish you for the rest of your life.”
The show gives us a basis that we can all identify with in order to draw us in, but the humor is what makes us stay. As an urban animated show, it is allowed to touch upon socio-political issues in a way that verges on offensive, but is still funny unless you are a stickler for political correctness (in which case, you should not watch this show). They do not try to force political issues down your throat, but show you how hilarious and ridiculous a lot of the issues we tend to focus on, actually are. It’s able to do so because the quality of the writing staff is some of the best in comedic writing, including Brad Ableson (The Simpsons, Good Vibes) and Carl Jones (The Boondocks, Black Dynamite).
When asked about the diversity and quality of the writing staff, Quinn Hawking, another producer and voice actor (Jamal) for the show said, “We’ve got literally a mix of race in our writers’ room. Everybody comes from a pretty, natural place. We all just throw ideas out there and the best ideas stick. But, we’ve got writers from all backgrounds and everyone is pretty strong-minded in that writers’ room so you get a lot of different opinions.”
There is nobody or nothing that the show is not willing to take on. When asked if there is any topic that they will avoid, both Josiah and Quinn responded with an emphatic “Nom,” Josiah added. “We don’t really give a fuck”.
This type of disregard for anybody and everything is beautiful to witness. This show gives us the ability to laugh at ourselves and topics that some may feel are too controversial to address. Legends of Chamberlain Heights inspires conversations about things like our obsession with material wealth, the foundation of ISIS, and drug use. In the moment we can laugh, but as we reflect on each episode, we can attempt to unpack the purpose. The show already has a Season 2, which means that it is likely to continue for a long time – unless, that is, viewers find the comedy to be too much to enjoy.
Legends of Chamberlain Heights premieres September 14 at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central.