The new Hulu series called “Woke” is quite possibly the best new show -- comedy or drama -- that I have seen this year.
It also represents the best treatment of the hot-button issue of race that I have seen produced for television this year. I based this opinion on the premiere episode, which ran for 34 minutes. The show starts streaming on Hulu on Wednesday (September 9).
The show tells the story of one African-American man’s awakening to the realization that black men such as himself are sometimes treated differently in society -- both by police and fellow citizens (both black and white, as the episode demonstrated).
In short, as the result of a series of events in the first episode, this man, whose name is Keef Knight (played by Lamorne Morris, pictured above), becomes “woke.” This new awareness will now change his life in ways that will be revealed in episodes to come.
Filmed in San Francisco, the show springs from the mind of Keith Knight, a comic-strip cartoonist who happens to be African American. The show seems to be based loosely on his life.
In the show, Keef is a cartoonist too. He is on the cusp of fortune and fame, thanks to a comic strip he draws in which a cute piece of toast interacts with an even cuter pat of butter. The strip is called “Toast -N- Butter.”
The strip is decidedly non-controversial, and Keef wants to keep it that way. “It's just a strip about bored breakfast food,” he says with a shrug, when a female fan -- a young African-American woman -- encounters him in a comic bookstore.
She apparently perceives points of view in his work that he never intended. “I love how ‘T -N- B’ [“Toast -N- Butter”] talks about race and color in America,” she says excitedly. “Like when Toast gets too dark, and the man scrapes it off and puts Butter on it!”
The rest of this conversation is an example of stellar writing for TV that is all too rare.
“Wow, that’s the first time I heard that one,” Keef says.
“I just love your work and what you say with it,” she continues. “I work for a new publication -- The Bay Arean -- and we’re looking for controversial artists who are confronting the s---storm of race and class …”
“Yeah, but I’m not controversial,” Keef interjects.
“But you’re a black cartoonist,” she tells him. “You're controversial just by existing.”“Why is it that us people of color are always having to stand for something or, you know, say something in our work? I’m just a cartoonist,” Keef says.
If you watch the show, please note the pronunciation of the new publication the woman works for -- The Bay Arean, pronounced like “aryan.” This is high-level satire -- a woke person not having the self-awareness to detect any irony or absurdity in the title of the woke publication she works for.
Keef's Toast and Butter cartoon characters reveal him to be a man with a vivid imagination when it comes to inanimate objects. In his presence, they sometimes become animate, and talk to him.
In the premiere episode, three of the voices of some of these objects belong to Cedric the Entertainer (a trash can), JB Smoove (a Sharpie marker) and Eddie Griffin (a bottle of malt liquor in a convenience store) -- which is as stellar a cast of voice artists as any one show could ever hope to assemble.
That is only one feature of a show that is original in every way, and light years better than any other comedy I have seen (and possibly reviewed) so far this year.
The refreshing thing about “Woke” is that it treats its racial subject in ways that are not quite serious, and also not quite lighthearted. It walks a tightrope between those two extremes and never loses its balance, a rare feat for a TV show.
“Woke” starts Wednesday (September 9) on Hulu.