This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Matthew A. Cherry has come far since he raised close to $300,000 for his animated short film Hair Love on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. Along with winning an Oscar for his critically acclaimed short, the athlete-turned-filmmaker has clocked in several hours as a television director for Grand Crew, Bel-Air, and the much-talked-about Abbott Elementary. With so many credits under his name, Cherry has proven he is a certifiable storyteller. Now, the creator is expanding on the tale that made him a household name with his new Max original animated series, Young Love. Like the short film, Cherry brilliantly utilizes animation to comment on Black millennial parenthood. However, what separates the animated family sitcom from the short is that it also captures the people, places, and culture that make Chicago a vibrant metropolis.
Young Love follows Chicagoans Stephen Love (Scott Mescudi, aka the multi-hyphenate talent Kid Cudi) and Angela Young (the iconic Issa Rae) as they juggle parenting, career aspirations, gentrification, and romance. After entering remission from cancer, Angela struggles to adjust to her role as a devoted mother and professional hairstylist. At the same time, Stephen tries to make a name for himself as a music producer with his creative partner Star (Tamar Braxton). Their small but loving family includes six-year-old Zuri (Brooke Monroe Conaway), a precocious but bright child, and a grumpy pet cat. Though the cards are stacked against them in their ever-changing city, the couple has Angela’s parents, Gigi (Loretta Devine) and Russell (Harry Lennix), to provide them with good old-fashioned wisdom and parental support.
Many adult-oriented animated shows on streamers and networks tend to be juvenile or grotesque, both in design and story. Of course, series such as Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Squidbillies deserve their place in the American animation landscape. Unfortunately, audiences looking for something different, or dare I say mature, will have to accept the few scraps available within shows like King of the Hill or Close Enough. That is why it is refreshing to see a family sitcom that balances the fantastical elements of animation with the reality of unpaid bills and unresolved dreams.
One moment in Young Love that brilliantly conveys the mundanity of everyday life is when Angela finds her post-cancer to-do list in Episode 2’s “Just Love.” As Angela wrestles with her insecurities, a prescription drug ad appears on her television and motivates the mother to live in the moment. It is not too far-fetched to imagine a live-action sitcom conveying Angela’s insane quest for self-fulfillment. Look at how old-school sitcoms like Parks and Recreation escalate situations with sight gags and jokes. However, the visual delights of animation allow for more entertainment when Angela drives her family mad as she attempts hot yoga and trains doves to dance.
Cherry and his team of talented writers make it easy to root for Stephen and Angela’s family. As broke millennials, their only source of transportation is an old decrepit car while home ownership is a pipe dream. Yet the series portrays their struggles with authenticity. Take, for example, Stephen’s career as a budding music producer. While the musician grapples with unruly clients and unpaid invoices, what keeps Stephen going is the joy his music brings to others. The show’s portrayal of Zuri as an agent of chaos is also cute, for the most part. Like many overly precocious children of sitcom fame, she has a penchant for saying words far beyond her age and weaponizing her cuteness to manipulate adults. This portrayal of children is a bit dated, but the writers manage not to gild the lily.
Overly rambunctious children aside, the animation team at Sony Pictures Animation beautifully highlights what makes Chicago a great place to raise a family. From the black hair salon to the intricate textured-haired styles to Stephen and Angela’s cozy apartment, the attention to detail in Young Love makes it a worthwhile viewing experience. It can be difficult to adapt an animated short film, even an award-winning one, into an episodic series for the small screen. Fortunately, Cherry is the right creative for the job.
New episodes of Young Love drop every Thursday on Max.
Featured image courtesy of Max/Sony Pictures Animation
'Young Love' - 9/10