Matthew A. Cherry’s new animated series, based on his Oscar-winning ‘Hair Love’ short, offers an honest, heartfelt, and comedic take on a millennial couple and their young daughter as they juggle careers, parenthood, social issues, and multi-generational dynamics while working to make a better life for themselves; show debuts September 21 on Max.
From a wide receiver for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens to a renowned live-action TV director and Oscar-winning director of the animated short, Hair Love, Matthew A. Cherry has enjoyed a rather unorthodox career path. And, for his latest project, he focused on the rather unorthodox lives of millennial parents.
“I've never seen a young millennial couple that had a kid in an animated series,” says Cherry. “I live in LA and, particularly within the entertainment industry, people here are having kids later in life. Me included. But, in the Midwest, it’s very different. People are starting their families in their 20s there, and that gave us a unique perspective on the animated family sitcom. While trying to be present with their kid and their family, they’re still trying to achieve their dreams. And sometimes they're faced with these hard choices like, ‘Am I going to take the job or am I going to be able to pick my daughter up from school?’”
Based in Cherry’s hometown of Chicago, Young Love begins two months after the events of Hair Love. The 2D-animated series, produced in partnership with Sony Pictures Animation and debuting on Max Thursday, September 21, shares an honest, heartfelt, and comedic glimpse into the lives of African American millennial parents Stephen Love (Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi) and Angela Young (Issa Rae) as they experience the relatable ups and downs of modern life. In remission following a battle with cancer, Angela struggles to balance her work as a stylist with the demands of parenthood, while Stephen attempts to carve out a career as a musician in an ultra-competitive industry.
“Animation is tricky,” notes Cherry. “We started this journey in 2020, and the things that were going on then aren’t as topical anymore in 2023. So, we tried to bring in things that felt like universal topics, that really weren't going away anytime soon. There’s obviously the issue of homelessness, gender roles, but also what happens when you're working as a freelancer and people don't pay your money on time.”
Along with their fearless daughter Zuri (Brooke Monroe Conaway), the tight-knit Young family juggles careers, marriage, parenthood, social issues, grilled cheese a-la iron, and multi-generational dynamics while striving to make a better life for themselves. It’s a lifestyle Young Love’s supervising director Mark Davis is extremely familiar with.
“That was me when I was younger, being a young couple, not married, with a child, and a mom that would keep checking in, even to this day, with, ‘Make sure to feed your children,’” shares Davis. “The only difference between us and the Young family is that we had a boy. Running late to your child’s performance because you’re out working and hustling and trying to make things happen is something I can relate to. Maybe too much.”
During production, Davis sat in the show’s writer’s room, getting to add some personal stories to the script as well as making sure all the little details of the series were adding up.
“I’ve worked with one of our showrunners Carl Jones on The Boondocks and Black Dynamite and he was one of the people who sought me out for this,” says Davis. “I specialize in certain cultural authenticity when it comes to animation, so I was honored to jump on a show like this. I knew it was something special. Lineups, fades, stuff like that; I pride myself on those little details because someone like me is going to be watching and they are going to notice if it’s not right.”
The show’s large amount of detail was one of the reasons the series couldn’t include as much hand-drawn art as Hair Love. “You’ll see it with a lot of cartoons that they are wearing one outfit for the duration of the show,” notes Cherry. “But Chicago is cold. They can’t be walking around outside in just a T-shirt all the time. This is also based on a short literally called ‘Hair Love,’ so we wanted to give characters the opportunity to have a variety of different hairstyles. Zuri’s best friend has the Venus and Serena Williams beaded braids, Steven has locks, grandma Gigi has smaller sister locks, and Zuri has her Afro-puffs. We pushed to make this show feel like it exists in a real city, because it does.”
He continues, “We still used a lot of the same tools, like working in Harmony, but the TV grind didn’t give us as much time with the art as we had on the short,” says Cherry. “We had two years for six minutes, and three years for 12 episodes.”
But Cherry knew the team had to get as close as possible to the aesthetics of the original short and its New York Times bestselling picture book. “The short was the barometer,” he notes. “Almost 100 million people have viewed it on YouTube now and the book has shipped over 1.5 million copies worldwide. So, we didn’t want the series to look too different or be super jarring.”
And where the animation production lacked in time for hand-drawn finesse, it made up for in incredible creativity. This show not only incorporates Chicago fashion, but actually expands upon it.
“I’m a sneakerhead and in one of the episodes, without giving away too many spoilers, Steven and his nephew go to get this particular type of sneaker and I took a combination of all my favorite sneakers and just combined it all into one to make this sneaker that they're camping out in line to buy,” explains Davis. “I’ve never camped out in line, but I have a group chat that is just about sneakers, and it really helped give me ideas for including certain grills and heights in this design.”
Cherry and Davis also discussed how they wanted each frame of animation to pop and look like “something you’d want to hang on your wall,” in the words of Davis.
“There are some moments we call, ‘world-building moments’ where we have establishing shots of the city back-to-back,” says Davis. “And those shots are amazing. Those are the ones we really hope make the audience feel like they're in the city and make the city feel as beautiful as possible. Those frames are going to get printed up for sure. When they were first being created, I kept saying, ‘I want that one.’”
While the Young Love crew hopes to make Black culture not feel monolithic and aimed to bring in as much relatability and versatility as possible to the storytelling, Cherry also makes clear that there’s power in connecting with one’s community and that accurate, authentic representation is one of the most important aspects of storytelling.
“I knew that I loved entertainment, but I never thought that I'd be working in it, let alone at a high level,” he shares. “It's all been a bunch of pleasant surprises. I started as a production assistant and was really lucky to be in situations where I was seeing people who looked like me directing and writing and creating things themselves. Representation truly matters. If I had not seen people who looked like me doing what they were doing, I don't think I would have even thought it was possible.”