Saturday, August 12, 2006

TV Review: Thugaboo - "Sneaker Madness"

When I first heard about Thugaboo, the new animated project for kids from the Wayans brothers, I wasn't sure what to make of it. On one hand, the Wayans' over-the-top and sometimes cartoony humor seems like a perfect fit for a kids' show. However, given that most everything they've done has been for a decidedly adult (or at least teenage) audience, I wasn't all that confident that they could make something where they would have to really limit themselves. Now that I've watched the first installment of it...I still don't know what to make of it. As an adult, I kind of enjoyed it. However, I'm not sure if this is really something for kids.

Created by Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, and Keenen Ivory Wayans, Thugaboo combines elements of shows such as Fat Albert, Peanuts, and Hey Arnold. It takes place in a fictional version of New York called Boo York and revolves around a large cast of kids. The main character of this first of three planned specials is D-Roc (George Gore). D-Roc is an aspiring rapper who lives with his mother (Kim Wayans), unseen father, and little sister Dee Dee (Countess Vaughn). Summer is about to end in Boo York and D-Roc really wants a new pair of sneakers for back to school...a pair of sneakers that cost $150. When his mother won't let him get the shoes and buys him cheap ones from the market instead, D-Roc enlists the help of his friend Soo Young (Nancy Lee) to make him a bootleg version of the shoe he wanted. The kids at the school are impressed and continually ask him where he got his shoes. Seeing an opportunity, D-Roc starts making and selling bootleg shoes for his classmates. Everyone's shoes are so low quality that people come back to him complaining. At the end, D-Roc gives everyone their money back and learns that he should be himself.

Now, that storyline doesn't sound all that bad so why am I questioning whether or not it's for kids? Because of everything else about it. Let's start with the supporting cast of characters. You name the stereotype and it's probably found in Thugaboo. There is the already mentioned Asian character Soo Young who just happens to also be adept at making bootlegs. There is a white character named DJ (Michael Rapaport) who acts black, a fat kid named Slim (Shawn Wayans), and two Latino characters including a "baby" who raps in Spanish at the end of the special. There are also race-related jokes to be found throughout the special. There were two jokes at the expense of Africans who were sent things that characters in the show didn't want. Another joke had DJ referring to himself as mixed and being laughed at for being confused. I was also surprised at a sequence of gags that dealt with God and Jesus Christ. One of these gags had Jesus Christ with a pair of cheap sneakers noting that he "can't walk on water in these."

A lot of the things associated with the humor of the Wayans appears in Thugaboo. There are some grossout gags that are funny (like when the Pigpen-esque Dirty goes into the swimming pool) and unfunny (the aforementioned Dirty using his snot to help make D-Roc's bootleg sneakers). Hip-hop references are present as well. Jay-Z (Mad TV veteran Aries Spears) appears a couple of times in the special while D-Roc's talking dog Money (Spears) is a spot-on parody of rapper DMX. There are also some funny, off-the-wall elements that really stand out. First, there's Ms. Attitude (Kym Whitley), the unseen person behind every P.A. When the swimming pool closes for the summer, she tells the kids to get out of the pool and mentions that she has own kids to take care of. When the kids at school “model” their back to school clothes, she tells one white kid that his jeans are tight...too tight to be wearing. Then, there is D-Roc's mother. She likes to spend tons of time on the phone with hilarious results. She chats up a wrong number like they're family and in one scene, is still on her corded kitchen phone even when she's at the mall.

Thugaboo isn't a terrible show. The voice cast is pretty decent and there are a good amount of laughs to be found. However, this show is really confused about who it's supposed to be appealing to. The character designs make it look like a show for kids younger than 10. The dialogue and situations make it feel like a show for older kids and teens. The use of tired stereotypes to define characters makes it feel more like a Family Guy ripoff than something intended for kids of any age. I guess the Wayans feel that it's never too early to learn that fat kids eat all the time, Asians make the best bootlegs, and white kids with black attributes are phonies who should be laughed at. I'm hoping that the next Thugaboo special will figure out what audience to appeal to but I'm not all that optimistic.

The hourlong Thugaboo special, "Sneaker Madness" will debut on Nickelodeon proper on Saturday August 12th at 9 p.m. ET. It will also air again on Nicktoons Network on Sunday August 13th at 8:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. ET.

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