“Once upon a time in the projects…”
Eddie Murphy co-created this controversial situation comedy that aired first on Fox and was later picked up by the WB. It was quite an original undertaking. The show was made using stop-motion. The process was very much like the traditional claymation process that brought such classic favorites like Gumby to life. But since the models were made of foam instead of clay, the process was dubbed foamation. There’s a bit of a coincidence at play here since Eddie Murphy often played a version of the Gumby character on a regular basis during his stint with Saturday Night Live.
The premise was simplicity itself. Thurgoode Stubbs (Murphy) was the superintendent of a HUD projects building. While the city was never named, the project building was known as the Hilton-Jacobs building. Stubbs was married to Muriel (Devine) who tried her best to support him during his trials and tribulations with HUD and the wacky assortment of tenants. He would often complain and had a rough exterior, but he actually cared deeply for the neighborhood and was often looking for ways to bring the community together. Unfortunately, he was often lazy. He had a television and recliner in the boiler room where he often hung out drinking beer or taking a nap. So, the tenants were always complaining about the building’s state of disrepair. Stubbs was often joined by two of the building’s young boys he was quite fond of. They were Calvin (Scales) and the overweight Fat Albert lookalike Juicy (Morgan). His mother made him wear a sign that read: “Please Do Not Feed”. Both boys were actually voiced by female actors ala Bart Simpson. Stubbs complained a lot. His motto was “Heavy is the hand that holds the plunger.” Still, you got the idea he was content with this life.
The building was populated by a crazy assortment of tenants. There was Mrs. Avery (DuBois) a shotgun-totin’ cranky old woman who was always on death’s door. She had more strokes than Fred Sanford had heart attacks. Bebe (Lewis) was Muriel’s sister and was not a fan of Stubbs. She was married to Jimmy Ho (Chan) who wanted to be a black man and talked like he was street black. Haiti Lady (Harrington) was a voodoo witch who was always throwing curses at Stubbs and clogging the toilet with goat heads. Sanchez (Serna) was a chain-smoking Latino with no voice box, so he had to carry around one of those vibrators. Walter (Wilmore) was the bombastic know-it-all in the building. Finally, there was Smokey (Howard). He wasn’t a tenant, but a crackhead who hung out in the lobby of the building.
The show caused quite a bit of controversy. The characters and situations were obviously rooted in black ghetto stereotypes. The guys hung around drinking 40’s. 911 has the building call blocked because cops are unwilling to go into the ‘hood. Just about every ghetto stereotype is explored at one time or another. A storm system is identified as El Negro and described to break all records in destructiveness. Instead of snow angels the kids make snow victims. The show takes shots at HUD in almost every episode. I’m not sure that a white team could have gotten away with this kind of humor. Even still there were protests. Spike Lee was outspoken against the show.
The dirty little secret about the show is that it’s pretty funny. It still shows up on Adult Swim, and now it’s finally available on DVD.
Each episode is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The show looks older than it is. One gets the idea it was made in the 70’s and not this past decade. The image is often rough with colors not quite shining through. Black levels are weak. The picture is just good enough to give you an archive copy of a show that might not be in too high demand, but should be.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is as generic as they come. You can hear the dialog clearly and without noise. Expect nothing else and you’ll be happy.
Like South Park, this is the kind of show that gives political correctness a push down a flight of stairs. I’m sure that for some folks part of the fun is the chance to laugh at subjects that are too often taboo in today’s society. With so many celebrities being called on the carpet for the most innocent statements, I’m quite surprised that Lionsgate took a chance on this one. It may not look like the best of the sit-coms coming out on DVD, but “This is the projects. You’ve got to expect a little wear and tear.”