Legends Of Chamberlain Heights is the latest entry in the collection of animated series that have no limits when it comes to the comedy of offense. Like its Comedy Central lead-in, South Park, it throws caution to the wind with regard to subject matter and obscenity. It’s about three shithead teen boys, a trio of immature but occasionally earnest basketball benchwarmers navigating the ins and outs of hellish high school life.
There’s Grover, who prays to his lord and savior Lebron James and has an older brother who’s always trying to borrow cash for the strip club under the guise of “investments” (buying property on the moon and developing an app that’s “like Angry Birds but the birds is nice and shit”) and a younger brother, Malik, who’s too woke for his own good. (The funniest moments of the pilot usually involve Malik). There’s also Jamal, who can’t admit he’s caught feelings for the girl he’s hooking up with and whose prescription drug concoction “Jamallies” makes a party a little too lit in the pilot. Then there’s Milk, who catches more hands than balls because of his idiotic insistence on pretending he’s black.
Unlike South Park, Legends Of Chamberlain Heights isn’t interested in broad social commentary. It’s a more character-driven than issue-driven show, and that works to its advantage. There’s genuine character development that cuts through all the over-the-top profanity of the first two episodes. Though blown into extreme proportions, the conflicts the boys deal with are grounded in reality, and there’s a sense that they’re actually learning from their experiences, which will be crucial as the show moves forward. Watching teen boys stomp through life without much regard for other people’s emotions—including each other’s—could easily become tiring.
Some critiques land amid all the locker-room humor. On Legends Of Chamberlain Heights, white people are often the butt of the joke in a way that highlights both casual and more systemic racism. Milk is every shitty white boy who thinks he can be racist just because he has black friends. The local cops give a blatantly racist presentation on drugs in the boys’ health class, and they make sure Milk gets home safe after a party gone wrong while barely acknowledging Jamal and Grover’s existence. Legends Of Chamberlain Heights is written by an ethnically diverse staff—so there’s at least a sense of authenticity to some of these characters and how they talk about race. But the show’s condemnation of Milk’s appropriation and racism as well as its attempts at color-blind casting (Milk is voiced by Josiah Johnson, who’s black; Johnson’s fellow co-creator, Quinn Hawking, is white and voices Jamal, who’s black) are undercut by the off-putting connotations of white performers portraying black characters.
Meanwhile, most of the female characters on the show either play into harmful stereotypes—as is the case of Medina—or are accessories in the boys’ stories. There’s hope for Cindy, who gets hints of dimension in the first two episodes as Grover’s object of affection. He projects his fantasies onto her, but she continually puts him in his place and stands on her own feet, making it clear that she’s not just here to be his love interest. But that would work better if the show presented her in any other way than as just his love interest. We get glimpses of other characters’ lives outside of the main trio, but not really of the show’s women.
Legends Of Chamberlain Heights builds a distinct and immersive world right away. It has simple animation that further connects it to South Park, and the characters have a specificity to them. (Grover especially shows glimpses of complexity.) Original music from Erykah Badu (one of the best aspects of the show) also contributes to a detailed and specific world for these detailed and specific main characters to exist in. But the bold and brash humor borders on trying too hard, as though Legends Of Chamberlain Heights is so concerned with letting people know it doesn’t give a fuck that it forgets to make sure that its flippant attitude works on a deeper level. Sure, it’s an immersive world. But being inside of it grows exhausting.