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  The PJs  
Time Slot:
  Tuesdays at 9:30 PM  
Reviewed by:
  The Priestess  

I would be lying if I said that I'm not the least bit frightened when I drive through Capitol Homes on my way to and from work every day. I have to remind myself that my Aunt Barbara raised three little girls on her own in those very projects in the 1950s. And there but for the grace of God... as they say. Still, the projects are a lot different these days. And I can't claim to have even an inkling of how it might feel to live there, much less grow up there. But thanks to Fox, I can once again live vicariously in the projects. The PJs is back!

I don't quite know why it's been gone so long. Clearly, the subject matter ruffled a few feathers, particularly the puffy plumage of Spike Lee. After all, where else can you still get away with jokes about passing and good hair? Still, there are many people who value the wisdom that my senile-dementia afflicted grandfather once espoused while I was showering him down after he'd shit all over himself: "If I didn't laugh, I'd cry." Hello?! Is it just me, or is that what real comedy is about? Isn't it about that epiphanic, authentic, unnerving realism... that scary Homer Simpsonism "It's funny because it's true"? Of course the show is offensive! It's supposed to be offensive - it's being honest. And I won't argue the case for offensive comedy here. I don't have to. If it's good enough for the Friar's Club, it's good enough for me, damn it!

Let me start with the basics. The PJs is a stop-motion "foamation" animated series by Will Vinton Studios. It was co-created by Steve Tompkins (The Simpsons) and Larry Wilmore (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air), who worked together on In Living Color. The show is the brainchild of Eddie Murphy, who envisioned it as a "microcosm of society... [in which] everybody's represented." Murphy is the other co-creator and the executive producer of the show as well as the voice of its central character, Thurgood Stubbs. Eddie Murphy has been turning over my gigglebox since I was a sweet young thing staying up past my bedtime to watch "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood" on Saturday Night Live. (Do you really need me to go over his entire bio?!) Murphy actually walked out on The PJs for a few episodes last year at least in part because it was left off the fall lineup and was scheduled to return as a mid-season replacement. (In his absence, Phil Morris played the voice of Thurgood. You may remember him as Jackie Chiles, Kramer's lawyer from Seinfeld who now does minivan promos.) I suspect his walkout might also have been related to the incessant lobbying from Spike Lee and the LA-based Project Islamic HOPE, which felt the show was degrading to black people. That might have been a bit hard to stomach for Murphy, who is active in black causes such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change here in Atlanta as well as humanitarian causes for AIDS and cancer.

But again, this isn't the PCs, it's The PJs! The main character is Thurgood Stubbs (Murphy), who is the grouchy superintendent of the Hilton-Jacobs Projects. He is married to Muriel, who is a nurturing and optimistic woman - definitely his better half. Her horny sister, Bebe, is married to Jimmy Ho, who takes the African-American cause very personally despite the fact that he is Korean. While Thurgood and Muriel have no children of their own, two of the neighborhood children look up to them. Calvin is the skinny one, and Juicy is the fat one (go figure). Juicy's parents are so rotund they cannot get out the door of their apartment, and Juicy carries the sign that his mother so sweetly made for him that reads "Do Not Feed." Also in the neighborhood are Sanchez, a sometime smoker who laments the death of his beloved Esperanza through his voice box; Mrs. Avery, a crotchety old shyster; Smokey, the neighborhood crack addict (complete with eye twitch); and Haiti Lady (Mambo Garcelle), at your service with a voodoo potion or spell.

On Tuesday, May 30, The PJs returned from its too-long hiatus with two new episodes. In the first episode, "Home School Daze," a teachers' strike leaves the project tenants to home school Calvin and Juicy, and in the process, we learn that Thurgood never finished school himself. So, he too gets enrolled in the home school, and we get to see Thurgood as the class clown. In a geography lesson about Lake Titicaca, he gets all riled up about Mt. Booby-Poopoo. And that's just the beginning...

The second episode, "The Postman's Always Shot Twice," starts off being about the mailman's fear of the projects. As Thurgood says, "Projects don't kill mailmen. Mailmen kill mailmen." After Mrs. Avery mistakes the mailman for a prowler and fires on him, the show's focus becomes the issue of taking care of the elderly and, in this case, saving Mrs. Avery from the home. This too reminded me of my dear old grandad. After all, one way to care for the elderly is to tell them to "Stay in the chair!" Sound familiar? Of course, things really get rolling when they celebrate Mrs. Avery's birthday. After all, "It's her last birthday, let her live a little!" And as they are fixing her a glass of cake in the blender, Mrs. Avery escapes just before Social Services arrives. The tenants quickly disguise Smokey the crack head as Mrs. Avery, not wanting to lose custody of the woman. I won't say any more than that. You definitely want to see it yourself when they air it again, which you know they will!

The PJs is a laugh riot no matter how you slice it. And it's fresh and daring because it is not afraid to tread on the sacred ground of black pride. While some may see it as harmful to the image that some black people would like to project, I maintain that image is not reflective of most people, black or white or pink or blue. [What about us mottled green and yellow Sponge-people? Hmm... Are we less important? -- Brendan] Hell, who wouldn't like to live the idyllic life of Bill Cosby?! The PJs illuminates important cultural issues rather than just sticking its head in the sand. It depicts inner-city poverty with candor and doesn't sweep alcohol and crack use under the rug. It's certainly more realistic than the teen-age soap operas that otherwise dominate the Fox lineup. Moreover, the show demonstrates the underlying humanity that links us all. After all, who doesn't want to sit on his ass and watch Wheel of Fortune with a cold forty at the end of a long day? And when Thurgood goes to get help from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who can't relate to feeling small and powerless? Think DMV, and don't even get me started on HUD corruption!

Don't miss this week's episode (6/6) in which Thurgood gets an electrical shock resulting in a vision of a black Jesus. The experience makes him decide to be a preacher. Now that's comedy fodder! The show airs Tuesday nights at 8:30 after The Family Guy. In my book, that makes Tuesday nights second only to Sunday nights in the Fox lineup. (Ally McBeal Mondays fell from second place grace when I saw the musical season finale. Let's hope the show gets some meat on its bones by next fall!)

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