Chozen is the new gay show for straight people. Its queer-guy-for-the-straight-eye star is a beefy, ex-con “rappist,” voiced by Bobby Moynihan as the most obnoxious guy in the room. Chozen is a libidinous fellow whose exploits include barging in on two guys in a bathroom stall and raping a fellow prisoner—offscreen, of course. The great flaccid joke of television is that even shows about gay men feature more tits than dicks. Never mind erections—the most common human experience not fit for broadcast. The censor bar covers up Chozen’s hard-on, which is somewhat funnier than not seeing it at all, but with so many racks in the frame, the point stands. Chozen wants credit for a provocative protagonist without doing the work of actually challenging any norms.
The third episode kicks off with Chozen attending an LGBT student association meeting and getting the wrong idea about the topic of the day: the media portrayal of gay men as shallow, oversexed deviants. The joke is that Chozen is exactly that. Chozen the character starts celebrating, hoping to get an orgy started. Chozen the show hustles to the next scene—nothing to see here. Hold your applause, progressives. Like a latter-day Tim Whatley, Chozen’s just gay for the jokes. And they aren’t even good jokes.
The premise is almost as convoluted as its no-homo sexuality. Some years ago, Chozen was in a rap group called Phresh Phriends, but his habit of upstaging everyone led partner (not like that) Phantasm (Method Man) to frame him for a comically elaborate host of felonies. When a newly macho, aggressive Chozen gets out of prison, he reunites with the other members of the group, Crisco (Hannibal Buress) and Ricky (Michael Peña), and enlists dirty-photographer-of-all-trades (Danny McBride) as manager to take the skyrocketing celebrity Phantasm down. But with nowhere else to go, Chozen has to stay with his sister (Kathryn Hahn) on a college campus. She’s dating some frat bro, but nerd Troy (Nick Swardson), Chozen’s bitch—at least as far as computers go—has the hots for her. So does Ricky, who has a bunch of kids. Got it? Chozen follows this outsize hip-hop feud, but the B-plots counterbalance with bizarre domestic flights involving cheating and repo men. The total effect is messy, but it puts the Chozen-Phantasm war into perspective: These aren’t fabulous superstars, they’re aging weirdos totally missing out on life.
The gayness is just a gimmick. It’s a modern twist for a majority-ally youth audience that might be interested in a new bad-behavior cartoon from Eastbound And Down writer’s assistant Grant Dekernion on a network that specializes in jagged comedy. But Chozen isn’t that, either. It’s a do-gooder dressed in trash clothing like Unsupervised or Good Vibes, short-lived animated comedies about pairs of hyper-enthusiastic, rule-abiding poor kids. For example, the most prominent message of Phresh Phriend’s music is to abstain from drugs. The look of the show resembles Archer—both being animated by executive producer Adam Reed and Floyd County Productions—but the content is closer to Good Vibes, which was co-created by Reed’s fellow executive producer David Gordon Green. Schemes backfire, lessons are learned, and relationships are strengthened.
Despite a handful of cutting moments, Chozen isn’t very funny in its first five episodes—though as the man says, it gets better. Part of that is the inundation. If everything is outrageous, it doesn’t take long to adjust until nothing is. On the other hand, with Moynihan screaming every line, McBride’s quieter, weirder work as the group’s manager stands out even though everything he says is predictably gross. And every so often there’s a gag just crazy enough to surprise, like the sudden diving accident in episode two. The aggression naturally settles down as the episodes progress so that the third one, for instance, makes time between blue balls and bouncing breasts for actual jokes, like a museum display of a literal Spike Lee joint and 2 Chainz’s two chains.
In fact, the hip-hop milieu provides the comedy’s most fertile ground, keeping in mind that’s a relative term. Each episode makes time for musical sequences or at least a track from Chozen or Phantasm. They behave like numbers from traditional musicals—sometimes they’re subjective fantasies shedding light on characters, sometimes they’re plot-advancing montages, sometimes they’re just volleys in the show’s small-time rap rivalry. But musicals are so rare on television—and rap musicals practically unheard of—that Chozen starts to feel alive every time it breaks into song.
That makes it all the more disappointing that Chozen is so limp in its provocation though. It’s the story of a gay, white rapper that couldn’t appeal more to the establishment if Chozen were hawking McDonald’s. The four episodes following the pilot improve on the premiere in almost every way, but Chozen’s still saying one thing while being another. “Call yourself what you like,” Chozen tells the LGBT student association. “Own that shit.” The show has the first part down. It’s the second that rings hollow.
Created by: Grant Dekernion
Starring: Bobby Moynihan, Method Man, Hannibal Buress, Michael Peña, Kathryn Hahn
Debuts: Monday at 10:30 p.m. Eastern on FX
Format: Half-hour animated comedy
Five episodes watched for review