The PJs: Black and Beautiful

While The PJs is stirring up controversy, Amid Amidi gives Fox's newest addition to primetime a rave review.

© FOX Broadcasting Company.

This issue also features Amid Amidi's interview with The PJs' supervising director, 17-year Vinton Studios veteran Mark Gustafson, best known for creating the Mr. Resistor shorts and directing the multiple-award winning Nissan commercial, Toys. It's hard to imagine The PJs, a harmless slice-of-life cartoon series about black people could work in our overly-sensitive and sheltered times where anything and everything is deemed offensive by people with too much time on their hands. The PJs, which stands for the Projects (a common term for low-rent housing in the inner-city), takes us to a world that most Americans can't imagine exists. Yet the show's appeal goes beyond targeting a single demographic for one simple reason: at its core, The PJs is about people pulling together in the best and worst of times, and helping each other out. Comedian-turned-actor Eddie Murphy (Beverly Hills Cop, The Nutty Professor) is the mastermind behind this endeavor, along with co-creators and executive producers Larry Wilmore and Steve Tompkins, both former In Living Color writers. While I question the sanctity of having eight executive producers on any show, everything seems to have turned out okay this time around. Leading the cast is the crusty yet good-natured superintendent, Thurgood Stubbs (voiced by Eddie Murphy), who constantly patches up the falling-apart Hilton Jacobs projects. His days are spent surrounded by a menagerie of odd yet appealing people including the senior Mrs. Avery who'd rather see Thurgood dead, Haiti Lady who performs voodoo curses on anything (and anybody), his brother-in-law Jimmy Ho - a Korean who'd rather be black, Smokey the neighborhood druggie and Thurgood's drinking buddy, Sanchez, who speaks with the aid of a voice box. Rounding out the neighborhood is the wide-eyed innocence of youngsters Calvin and Juicy along with Thurgood's voice of reason, his wife Muriel. What this animated show accomplishes is something that most others can't - creating strong and relatable characters with true personalities. There's great interplay between the residents and one can feel the relationships between the characters evolve, making them feel more alive than typical TV cartoon fare. The stories are as simple as getting a new door for the building, or trying to give the "proud" and financially-deprived Mrs. Avery a little food, but as in many classic comedies like The Honeymooners and Everybody Loves Raymond, the stories are merely jumping off points for great character-driven situations. In the hands of less-adept storytellers, the characters on this show could have merely been stereotypical figures played for cheap laughs, but The PJs clearly transcends that line and strives for greater significance. Let's not forget the wonderful artistry behind the show. The dimensional stop motion animation, coined "foamation," comes courtesy of Will Vinton Studios, the studio that made Claymation a household word with cartoons like The Adventures of Mark Twain and The California Raisins. The foam-bodied PJs characters have a distinctively unique look with hard faces and replacement mouths that seem most reminiscent of George Pal's Puppetoons. Certainly, what is most amazing is the show's level of craftsmanship and quality which is maintained throughout the grueling requirements of producing a weekly animated show on a TV budget. The animation is heightened by the attention to detail that is paid to the surroundings. The worn-look of the projects is perfectly recreated with broken bottles, graffiti galore and other authentic props. Prime-time animation has exploded in the past year and while as a whole, it's a positive trend for the animation world, the quality of the shows leaves much to be desired. The satisfaction of seeing a funny primetime cartoon that is also well animated is something to celebrate and that I will do with The PJs. Amid Amidi is the Associate Editor of Animation World Magazine

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