If you’re looking for a more honest, genuine, and vulnerable portrayal of Black men on the small screen, then look no further than Bounce TV’s Johnson.
Executive produced by Cedric the Entertainer, the series centers around four Black men, Omar (Thomas Q. Jones), Greg (Deji LaRay), Keith (Phillip Smithey), and Jarvis (Derrex Brady), who met in grade school and have been best friends ever since. Though they aren’t related, they also all share the same last name, hence the title of the show. After 25 years of friendship, they find themselves in vastly different places in their lives all while confronting and finding humor in the most current controversial social issues from the Black man’s perspective, ranging from love, marriage, sex, business, politics, and religion.
And while the premise of long-term friends doing life together may callback to popular shows of a similar premise, what makes Johnson different is the fact that it’s told from the Black man’s perspective. And while yes, the characters on the show are trying to overcome their own flaws and are aspiring to be the best versions of themselves as possible—Johnson does so in a way that’s insightful and entertaining without feeding into any stereotypical narratives or story arcs that would otherwise alienate its audience or come across as out of touch. It also provides plenty of fodder for fans to live tweet about from week to week.
“This show is made for conversation,” Jones told The Root during our Zoom interview. “It’s told from a Black male POV [point of view] but we want to open up the floor for comments, feedback, and honest conversations. Because I think that’s the only way we’re going to be able to open up the divide that social media sometimes causes between Black women and Black men. And there has to be some sort of truce in order for us to move forward. Everyone has their own specific perspective, everyone has their own truth but how are we benefitting each other as a culture?”
The Root Recently got the chance to talk with costars and showrunners LaRay and Jones to discuss season two of their new show, the importance of true Black male representation on TV, and how they hope audiences feel walk by the end of this new season.
The Root: In comparison to season one, what were some themes and issues that you all were eager to explore more of in this second season.?
Deji Laray: For the show, we definitely try to make sure we touch on topics that are very relevant to the culture, relevant to the community. And for season two, we just wanted it to be bigger, more entertaining and definitely keeping with the same theme of not being afraid to spark conversation when it comes to some of these issues. And we do that in season two.
We talk about some of the stereotypes of Black men and Black women, specifically like the absentee father when it comes to Black men. I think all of us on this call know that it’s a big lie that’s been told for a long time. There’s a lot of statistics that definitely debunk that myth. We dive deeper into religion, we talk about fascism. But we don’t do it in a way where we’re beating people over the head, it’s organic. It’s really just a part of the storyline and the narrative and it’s very entertaining in the way that we bring up these topics or offer different perspectives. So you will be enlightened but you’ll also be entertained.
Thomas Q. Jones: We have a very unique experience as Black people and what Deji and I try to do on this show is make sure that we’re touching on topics that a lot of people might not want to talk about because they’re scared of backlash. We have a lot of audacity on this show, but I think it’s for the betterment of our show as Black people and it’s also entertaining at the same time.
TR: How much of yourselves can you see or do you put into your characters?
DL: I think initially, in crafting these characters, the goal was to make them a true representation of the broad spectrum of Black men. Now, obviously, we’re not gonna cover every single Black man. And there are other shows that do cover certain types of Black men that we don’t care to cover on this show. We want to show the vast majority of us, show how we are in our natural element, how most of the Black men in my life are. Nobody on this show is out there dealing drugs or anything crazy like that because that’s not how the vast majority of us are. That’s not how any of the people in my life are. I don’t know anybody like that currently that’s in that world. So we wanted to represent the vast majority of us and so that was the initial idea—to craft these characters that provided a deeper range of the Black man. As far as the characteristics, we just tried to put people in roles that were very natural and that could give the full effect of these characters.
TR: What do you think this show get right about its portrayals of Black men?
TQJ: I think that what we get right is that we show our vulnerability. A lot of times when Black men are written in TV or film, their vulnerability is hidden. And I think that might be a social thing just with men in general. But it’s an extreme version of that with Black men, almost like we can’t feel, like we can’t be emotional, or like we don’t have feelings. And that’s just not true. We do have feelings and we do express those feelings but usually its to other Black men—because a lot of times that’s kind of the only safe space we feel we can be vulnerable and be emotional. Because with other people, sometimes even including Black women, your vulnerability and showing emotions could be seen as soft or weak. It’s uncomfortable for us and a lot of times that’s just how we’re taught and raised, too.
So I think showing Black men’s vulnerability and our honesty is what we get right on the show and that’s what I’m proud of. I’m proud to be a part of the show as a producer and a showrunner with Deji but also as an actor because I’m finally able to say ‘this is how I feel about a situation’—and I’m showing it through a character.
DL: I also feel like the way a lot of other shows portraying us that we’re one-dimensional. They’ll oftentimes use us in ways to where we’re supporting a larger narrative and we’re there for a very specific purpose as opposed to diving deeper into our motivations, our backstories, how we became who we became, how we became this man, how we became that man. Those types of stories are rarely ever told because I think the powers that be never really felt like people were interested in diving that deep—but I think Johnson has proved a lot of that wrong.
TR: How do you hope audiences feel by the time season two ends?
DL: I think the key word that I want people to walk away with after watching season two is that they feel refreshed. It’s refreshing that we were able to talk about a lot of these things that definitely causes healing for people. We get a lot of messages, DMs, Facebook messages from people who watch the show and they’ll tell us how this particular scene or character inspired them to fix a relationship that they didn’t have any plans on fixing or attend counseling. We feel like being inspired and being refreshed are key words that we want people to feel.
And also refreshed that there’s a show out here that you can watch and see us in this image. These guys on this show are not void of flaws, we have flaws, we make the wrong decisions sometimes. But the key thing is we have good intentions, so just follow us on that journey and get to know all the Johnson’s on that show.
New episodes of Johnson premiere Sundays at 8p.m.ET only on Bounce TV. The entire first season is available to stream now by downloading the Brown Sugar app.