Not all great shows start out that way. The first season of Parks and Rec is entirely forgettable. The Simpsons didn’t really start finding its footing until its second season, and began morphing into its most brilliant moments in its third season. So my disappointment in the new animated series Legends of Chamberlin Heights should be taken with a grain of salt. This Comedy Central series hasn’t found its footing in the two episodes presented to critics, though it may just be the victim of growing pains as it tries to find itself.
Legends of Chamberlin Heights focuses on three friends that are all reserves on their high school basketball team. There’s Grover (Josiah Johnson), the brother of a former high school star, Jamal (Quinn Hawking), the overweight member of the crew, and Milk (Johnson), the lone white member of the crew. The trio are benchwarmers, and Grover finds himself fantasizing about fame and fortune while riding the pine during their games. These young men can’t find respect anywhere; their teammates mock them, women ignore them, and their teachers talk down to them.
Created and written by Johnson, Hawking, Brad Ableson, and Michael Starrbury, Legends of Chamberlin Heights has its moments that are amusing and somewhat thoughtful, such as a moment when we see Grover in the midst of prayer only to have it be revealed that he is praying to LeBron James. Those moments are relatively few and far between over the course of the first two episodes, as the series really seems to be content in crafting its humor in a way that might’ve been cutting edge had it come out in the late ‘90s.
With a liberal use of the N-word and some focus on some societal issues, Legends of Chamberlin Heights seems to be treading in similar waters as The Boondocks, but without the same sharp edge or assured viewpoint. Over its first two episodes, the series employs certain stereotypes for its characters, like Grover’s older brother as a mooching layabout and his younger brother as drug dealing child, but both the social commentary and the jokes surrounding these characters fall flat. Some might find these portrayals problematic, but I find them to be tricky subjects to lampoon without the confidence in its perspective to effectively garner laughs.
There are some interesting aspects to Legends of Chamberlin Heights that might become more resonate as the series progresses and hopefully finds its footing. There’s the character of Milk who represents the willingness of white culture to unapologetically appropriate black culture. It doesn’t work well in the first two episodes, but there is plenty of humor to be found in the suburbanite who thinks himself a hardened urbanite. The series also hits on the struggles of youth in trying to find acceptance by any means necessary, a youthful uncertainty with one’s self that leads teens to make bad decisions in the hopes of some kind of popularity, even if fleeting.
The first two episodes of Legends of Chamberlin Heights are undoubtedly disappointing, but with the series already renewed for a second season and episodes left in the first season, it’s entirely possible that the show will find its voice in future episodes. There’s certainly enough ingredients that Legends of Chamberlin Heights could become a vital, funny examination of sports, race, and society. I won’t give up hope that the show finds itself this season, but it’s going to need a drastic improvement upon its first two episodes.
Legends of Chamberlin Heights
A comedy series in search of its voice, Legends of Chamberlin Heights has some promising aspects that aren’t brought to fruition over its first two episodes.