“The PJ’s” (1999-2001) was a stop-motion animation created by Eddie Murphy, Larry Wilmore and Steve Tompkins. The show centers on the main protagonist Thurgood Stubbs (voiced by Eddie Murphy) who is the chief superintendent of and lives in a housing project with his wife, Muriel (voiced by Loretta Devine). The show as well as centering on the awkward adventures of Thurgood followed the escapades and personalities of the myriad residents living in the housing project. The show has been heavily criticized for depicting negative racial stereotypes of life in the projects by many social activists, including the great director Spike Lee, and the cartoonist Aaron McGruder even accused “The PJ’s” of being nothing but a host and list of stereotypes in his comic strips “The Boondocks”. I agree with these accusations, along with feeling that the show in a whole relied on labels and simplistic characterizing which didn’t always seem the reality of representation to either minorities or those of the captured classes who must deal with living in socially neglected lower income housing. The show seemed to also for the most part ignore the subject of poverty too often and neglected to touch on the subject of discrimination of lower classes. That is, except for the third episode in the first season.
This episode, titled “The Door”, begins with the inhabitants of the building expressing consternation about the front door constantly breaking and leaving them victim to (what they perceive as) criminal elements of the neighborhood. Thurgood at first dismisses these complaints, but eventually is compiled to secure a new door for the building. Everyone falls instantly in love with the new high tech and exceedingly secure door, feeling it will give them the protection they need. These hopes are destroyed soon after the door is found to have been stolen – only to be returned by criminal gang who decide to occupy the project house.
What worked in “The Door” is that the viewer is exposed to the problems and dangers poor people must face continually in the milieu of there neighborhoods and in the social planning they are forced (by money) to inhabit. The shows succeed by detailing the residents of the project in the human terms of people striving to secure a place of living which is safe and protected. Though “PJ’s” was made for comedic effect, this episode features a heartbreaking scene where Thurgood strolls down the hallway of the building while the residents one by one look out of their apartment with statements such as: “I’m frightened!” to which Thurgood only can answer with the powerless reply: “I’m sorry”.
The Door” depicts the characters of “The PJs” as sympathetic and likeable, fully humanized. The show wasn’t able to do this in any other episode and was inclined towards a meager portraiture of characters to laugh at. The characters are depicted as poor (and also all of them are non-white), and simply laughing at them for this is extremely problematic and without empathy. Yet with “The Door” the characters actually display something thought- provoking about poverty: how vulnerable and trapped the people living in it are. This is an important subject to think about right now, especially with the ascendency of poverty, and the schism of inequality, has climbed in the past few years.
So check out the third episode of the first season of “The PJs”. It’s a very solid episode, even if the rest of the show wasn’t. The whole episode is featured below in three parts.