Jabari is a street artist and comic book creator, who just moved into a weirdly awesome apartment in Manhattan (think Friends Where sex in the city strangely awesome). An ex sees him cycling past a nearby sidewalk cafe. Later, they have drinks, and more, but Jabari prefers to dive into Manhattan as a bachelor with a new pad while pursuing a creative new gig in a “bright, white, and light” workplace. Then he meets an interesting new neighbor with her own budding creative career and a fabulous apartment.
This is the configuration for entergalactic, “the TV event” which debuts Friday on Netflix as an animated feature (but not a characteristic Where an episodic series, Netflix spokespeople repeatedly recall) show creator/star Scott Mescudi and executive producer Kenya Barris (writer/producer of Blackish and its many spin-offs, Girls trip). On the same day, an album of all the great music from the show, along with four other songs, will be released by prominent hip hop producer/artist Kid Cudi, who technically is the same person as Scott Mescudi.
The story doesn’t break much narrative ground: guy meets girl, guy has minor complications with ex and loses girl, guy and girl (2) find out. But this one comes from black creators and characters, presenting specific sensibilities and cultural touchstones that aren’t getting enough airplay in mainstream media. Throw in some great animation and music, and it’s a different take on a familiar genre.
The “TV Event” is definitely for adults, an animated rom-com featuring ample and relatively explicit sexual scenes and conversations, lots of smoking, and foul language.
The show has a packed cast, led by Mescudi and Jessica Williams, but also featuring Timothee Chalamet, Vanessa Hudgens and Keith David.
The show itself was built in an iterative process around each of the tracks Mescudi created, he said, as he considered stringing songs together in a narrative line.
“The music was kind of informed by the story and what I wanted to tell,” Mescudi said. “I had to piece the story together before I even went in and started writing the scripts, because I wanted to be the narrator throughout the show. I would sit and think, ‘Okay, he has to there’s a moment when he sees Meadow for the first time. What’s it like? When they first have sex, what’s it like? Their first unofficial date, I guess when they walk in the rain what does it look like and I just re-enacted all those moments together.
As Kid Cudi, Mescudi has been a distinctive presence in seemingly every corner of hip hop, including producer, vocalist, DJ, and film composer. But he also had a long string of acting performances as Scott Mescudi, with major runs on shows such as How to do it in America, Westworldand we are who we are. Mescudi said he was tempted to structure the show more from a television perspective than a music one, but backed away from what made him famous.
“Ultimately, I approached it like I was doing any other album I’ve ever done, and everything every album I’ve ever done has been about (is) the feeling”, said Mescudi. “I didn’t just want to say, ‘Oh, I’m doing this with this TV show component. Let me start thinking about it like a producer and doing all these other things. It’s like, ‘No, let me stay in the art, and just work from that perspective,’ you know?”
About this animation. I told Barris that his super-saturated colors, fractured imagery, and often trippy scenes reminded me of “impressionism meets street art.” Barris quickly agreed, “Exactly right. That’s what it’s called.
Guillaume (2 Dope Queens podcast co-host, Love life), who voices neighbor/love interest Meadow, had never done animation work before, but said she was drawn to the opportunity to work with big-name creators such as Mescudi and Barris.
“I had to trust that their vision would turn out well, which I think it does,” Williams said. “And I just had to be interested in the spirit of Kid Cudi and want to do it, which was 100% why I did it. And I think Meadow is a really good character because she She’s warm, she’s strong, she’s independent and thoughtful. And I think it’s really cool to see someone who looks like her in animated form falling in love in New York.”
Unlike Mescudi and Williams, this was not Barris’ first animation tour, having directed an animated episode of Blackish among some small projects, “but not at this level”.
“I really feel like this process is as collaborative as ever,” Barris said. “And I really felt like I was lucky to be on a (Netflix) contract at the time, and I could help do that because that was…one of the things that I’m the proudest ever.
Barris said he liked “the lack of boundaries you can have in animation”.
The project was originally conceived as a live-action project, but the executives involved in the process pushed to make it an animated project. This decision was important. Barris said animation can have a more timeless quality, name checking Bambi, heavy metal and the fact that his own children are still watching 2016 Moana in strong rotation.
“When you take music and animation, it can go on forever,” Barris said. “And we also felt the idea of what we could do in terms of using New York as a character. And using modern culture and fashion and things like that in a way that budget restrictions wouldn’t be there, we could do things that felt really exclusive and special to us, and I think the idea of the music blending in with everything else makes it such an, excuse me, it’s such an immersive experience.