Anyone who felt that Eddie Murphy had lost his edge after the string of family friendly films he made in the mid to late 90’s should have taken a look at The PJ’s, the stop motion animated series Murphy co-created with Larry Wilmore (who went on to help create The Bernie Mac Show) and Steve Tompkins (whose credits include The Simpsons and In Living Color). Murphy starred in this prime time series that premiered in 1999 and ran for just two seasons. In in, the great comedian created one of his most hilarious and perhaps richest characters in nearly a decade. Season 1 of the show was unceremoniously released on DVD earlier this month, presenting a great opportunity for fans of Murphy, animation and comedy in general to give the show a second look.
Murphy’s character was Thurogood Stubbs, the large bellied, cantankerous chief superintendent of an inner city housing project, Stubbs lived in a run down apartment with bars on the window with his sweet, loving wife, Muriel (played by Loretta Devine, whose voice is just that). Stubbs wasn’t just cranky; sometimes he was just downright mean. However, he also had a loyalty streak a mile long, joining a long list of gruff, big-hearted characters who have populated the medium since television was created.
Despite Thurogood’s similarities to such characters as Ralph Kramden and Archie Bunker, what separated The PJ’s from so many other sitcoms, classic or otherwise, was its blunt depiction of life in the inner city. In The PJ’s there are drive by’s, crackheads, drug dealers, gang bangers and sometimes more weapons than on an episode of The Wire. Despite the serious overtones, the show is often hilarious. In my opinion, one of the reasons the producers were able to pull off such comedy within the confines of a dark situation was because of the use of animation. Furthermore, Murphy’s clout, along with that of executive producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, gave the writers a little more leeway than your average sitcom.
Unfortunately for this bare bones DVD, we don’t hear any stories about Murphy or the producers or any of the challenges they faced with Fox and the Nielsen ratings. There are absolutely no bonus features on this DVD collection, which makes this release a bit of a letdown. Any time a groundbreaking show like The PJs finds its way to home video, you expecting something- anything- to enhance the fans knowledge and appreciation. In this day and age when so much content is available and actors are willing and excited to discuss a project of high regard, we get nothing. Of course the episodes are great and will keep you in stitches; well worth the purchase price. However the fans of The PJs deserve more, especially the faithful ones who stuck with the show when it jumped networks over to the WB. One can only hope that when season 2 gets its own DVD release, bonus features will be included to make up for this one’s shortcomings.