It's never fun to be cynical, but sometimes the news gives you no choice. In a move that was likely intended to engender optimism about America's unwavering condition of racial inequity, it was announced this week that an animated reboot of the classic 1970s TV series Good Times was coming to Netflix. The 10-episode re-imagining of the iconic Black sitcom would bring the show's original producer, Norman Lear, together with NBA star Stephen Curry's production company, Unanimous Media. So far, so good. The series would also enlist the help of Seth MacFarlane, of Family Guy, for its development. Not so good.
Both Act III and Unanimous are based at Sony Pictures TV, which is behind the animated “Good Times.” Carl Jones, whose credits include animated series “The Boondocks” and “Black Dynamite,” as well as TBS’ Tracy Morgan starrer “The Last O.G.,” will create, showrun and executive produce the project. Per the logline, the new animated series will follow “the Evans family as they navigate today’s world and contemporary social issues. Just as the original did years ago, ‘Good Times’ strives to remind us that with the love of our family, we can keep our heads above water.”
A modern incarnation of Good Times is a pretty decent idea on its face. We are, after all, deep in the throes of a pandemic-driven flashback to an earlier era. It was only this past weekend when a live-streamed duel between singers Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight emerged as essential primetime viewing. What seems like less of a good idea (a charitable way of saying it's a bad idea!) is having the progenitor of Family Guy, which for 18 seasons trafficked in lowest-common-denominator humor masquerading as satire, attached to the project.
The current moment — the unending list of souls reduced to names commemorated on t-shirts and hashtags and magazine covers — has forced long stagnant industries like film and television to take a firm look at the ways in which Black voices are presented writ large.
Even if you haven't spent the past decade dodging conversations about Family Guy, about how the character Cleveland, and the show's many other attempts at racial humor, were never even a little funny. How it took until as recently as June for anyone to think the white voice actor Mike Henry might not be the best person to play the show's only Black character. You can probably think of a handful of better names to attach to this particular project than Seth MacFarlane.
In a statement, Unanimous Media said that "we think, now more than ever, the world needs to see a show with hope and positivity.” Sure, but maybe the world doesn't need a Family Guy-style reboot of a Black sitcom.