Hit or Sh**: The Legends of Chamberlain Heights

Posted on Saturday, December 31st, 2016 at 11:32 am

[Originally written for and published by Crossfader Magazine]

Reviewing THE LEGENDS OF CHAMBERLAIN HEIGHTS feels futile for two reasons: It’s already been renewed for a second season, and it really isn’t that funny. It’s a lazy and crass comedy that takes a premise that, despite seeming “done before,” has some relevant legs. Even if it didn’t have the desire to ground itself and instead wanted to be an outlandish cartoon, it should’ve striven to back itself up with a little more intelligence or nuance. The show certainly has personality, but it’s often mean spirited without other merit to be propped up by. The tragedy, or maybe the bright side to consider, is that a version of THE LEGENDS OF CHAMBERLAIN HEIGHTS could certainly be great. This is not that version.

Comedy Central’s latest animated outing follows three high school freshman basketball players at Michael Clarke Duncan high (the only good thing this show has going for it), who more often than not take up space on the bench. The rapscallion trio hit on women, dream of being heroes of the school, and frankly just want to party all the time. But of course, academics and dreams of NBA stardom get in the way. It’s like HOOP DREAMS plus SOUTH PARK, especially with the attempts at social commentary and parody. If only it were as good as either.

the legends of chamberlain heights yelling

Me yelling at this show for not being better

The show’s design and animation are pretty startling. It’s a simple look, excessively so, harkening back to the scrappiness of, again SOUTH PARK. They animate weakly and barely, like a Newgrounds animation from 2005. Yet the quality of an animated show is, these days, rarely a point of criticism (looking at you, Adult Swim original programming). Instead, it’s seen as an additional result of the showrunners’ unique sensibilities. It has a charming look, if not a rough one. Every character’s got a little caricaturistic aspect to them, and there are some decent background gags here and there, though even they can’t distract from the show’s weak writing.

the legends of chamberlain heights antenna

Tag yourself, I’m the antenna

THE LEGENDS OF CHAMBERLAIN HEIGHTS seems to be going for this “make fun of everyone equally” tone, which becomes apparent with pretty bad jokes about Asians, women, overweight people, the mentally ill, and more. One such joke, in response to an obese, black female character, was simply “Welcome… to Jurassic Dark.” Or, for instance, in response to someone yelling at them, one of the kids says their “breath smells like he ate a dookie taco.” The characters then laughed, kind of indicating that the voice actors were just having a good time riffing. Even if the jokes were remotely clever, it would still feel pointless and weak, not to mention stilted, while other shows like this have managed to create an air of fun, spontaneity, and intelligence.

the legends of chamberlain heights forest

Though I love this joke, Forrest Whitaker deserves better. We all do.

There’s some attempt at satire going on here, especially with the characters Milk, the white kid of the main trio who acts like he’s black, and Malik, the black radical little brother of our protagonist. The prior gag has been done many times, and here it’s especially grating, though they try to keep it in check enough. One joke about white privilege, suggesting that “God helped [Milk]” was okay, as well as the line “going white boy and shooting up the school,” which was particularly bold; honestly, all the jokes at the expense of white people are alright, if not slight. But such jokes are then diminished by… well, any other line on this show. Here’s one: “Looks like you’ve got the touch [for taking care of babies]. You should try to touch these… nuts!” Woof. It all just feels lame and/or done before, perhaps better. Malik is interesting, but barely holds up as a moral center or counterpoint to the show’s aggressive nature. Where THE BOONDOCKS can have its cake and eat it too, THE LEGENDS OF CHAMBERLAIN HEIGHTS lacks any bite or heartfelt truth.

The most interesting thing about the show, and maybe most wasted aspect of it, is its perspective. It’s a show about diverse urban youths with big dreams, as audacious as they are. Turning a satirical eye from within this corner is obviously ripe for potential. The show seems to be pretty aware of its diversity and what comes with that, but it never makes full moves outside of cheap, stereotypical jokes, or standard drug and sex comedy. Considering they’re freshmen, maybe there’s a perspective-centric justification, but the show doesn’t balance itself out well enough to swing it.

the-legends-of-chamberlain-heights-kids

I’m going to have kids so I can not show them this show

It’s a shame, because there can be art and merit in the lowbrow. This show has potential, but right off the bat it digs so deeply into quick, rancid humor that the rhythm and joy that comes in even the rudest sense of humor is lost, replaced by a feeling of satire so blatant and lacking in its own soul that it becomes gratingly relentless. Vine and Instagram sketches have more truth, parody, satire, and expertise than this show, which flows into a form that is begging to be put down, or at least be broken. It’s obvious these guys like SOUTH PARK. But SOUTH PARK is SOUTH PARK, and everything else that tries to be SOUTH PARK fails in a crash landing; this should be known by now. The creators of THE LEGENDS OF CHAMBERLAIN HEIGHTS should know that their show might not care who it offends, but that it offends on even base levels of existence. Inexplicably so, THE LEGENDS OF CHAMBERLAIN HEIGHTS already got picked up for a second season. Perhaps it’s that potential that Comedy Central saw that made them give the show legs. Let’s hope they follow through, because this is a rough, ignorable, and ultimately disappointing first impression.

Verdict: Sh**

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