By Christine Hnath
If my diploma matched what I actually spent the most time doing in college, I’d have a degree in marathon TV watching. My friends and I spent hours consuming whole seasons of our favorite shows like greedy pop-culture locusts. Watching episode after episode without pause, we soon realized we favored certain shows based on how short their opening credits were. Lost was the gold standard, at about fourteen nearly-silent seconds; Six Feet Under, at over a minute and a half long, was insufferable. As I queued up the first three episodes of Chozen once again, trying to figure out what needed to be said about them, I realized that the brevity of the opening credits–thirteen seconds of CHOZEN, in screen-filling white font that pulsates to a heavy hip-hop beat before cracking apart–is just one of many reasons I’m growing to love it.
I’ve watched these first three episodes of Chozen, a new FX animated series, about three times each, musing over what this new show–so far flying under the radar–has to offer. I initially became intrigued when I saw promos during commercial breaks of American Horror Story: Coven, the Archer-style animation and pitch—the adventures of a gay, white, animated rapper–drawing me in with its sheer novelty. The producers’ previous credits, Archer and Eastbound & Down, only solidified my resolve more: I would give Chozen a chance. And I’m glad I have.
The show follows the character of Chozen, voiced by SNL’s Bobby Moynihan, an aspiring rapper who served a decade in jail after fellow rapper Phantasm (Method Man) framed him. Chozen was straight-up lame back then, his lethargic rhymes resembling something from an elementary school assembly: “You like drugs? That’s dumb. I like friends and havin’ fun!”
By the time Chozen gets out of jail, he’s a new man. Prison has given him muscles, a do-rag, and an eponymous tattoo. Phantasm has changed too: he’s now famous, having bullied his way to the top, and Chozen is out for revenge–if he can get back on his feet. With nowhere to go, he crashes with his younger sister Tracy (Kathryn Hahn), a college student living on campus.
Chozen is the bizarro-world version of Piper Chapman from Orange is the New Black. Instead of the white preppy girl being dropped into prison culture, it’s the jailbird being dropped into the white-bread world of a frat-heavy college. The difference is that Chozen, unlike Piper, holds the cards here. While his new prison-found habits clash with the world around him, they also give him the upper hand. Chozen is hard; he has almost completely forgotten how the “real world” works. He leaves the bathroom door open to watch out for “homies creepin’” and defends a new nerdy friend, Troy (Nick Swardson), from bullying jocks by growling, “I saw this fish first!” and watching them back away.
Like Sterling Archer and Kenny Powers, Chozen is a man who behaves badly enough to be interesting, and the jokes are mostly mined from throwing his brand of acerbic wit at the dumbfounded people around him, including his former fellow rappers, his sister, and the new friends he’s meeting post-prison. His mischief is mostly harmless: he smokes a few joints, gets a little too drunk at a “Cheesy Charles” kids’ arcade, rents GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra six times on his sister’s Pay-Per-View cable to jerk it to Channing Tatum…
Oh, right—because Chozen is also totally gay.
When I first heard the promos announce Chozen as the first gay, white, animated rapper while the clip showed him gyrating with men in Miley Cyrus-inspired bear masks, I cringed a little. I assumed Chozen’s sexuality would be mined for laughs. It would get old before the first commercial break and offensive long before that.
But instead of pillaging Chozen’s orientation for jokes, the writers of Chozen have instead made it almost not worth mentioning, and that is the show’s greatest feat. There are jokes that rely on his sexuality, but no more than they would rely on a straight rapper’s affinity for women, and Chozen always has the upper hand. He is hardly closeted. His rhymes drop references to “dudes with smooth skin” the way Drake mentions how much he likes girls with hair wet from the shower. He hits on men, he has sex with men, he tells his friends about his hookups with men. And there is no pause for laughs; his sexuality is accepted to the point where it’s not mentioned as being different. This is amazing.
And this is precisely the way any good character is crafted–by being a fully realized person, and not relying on a single characteristic to define him or her. It’s particularly important when that characteristic is being on the LGBTQ spectrum, because it has the potential to influence a larger conversation. I’m not suggesting Chozen is a fully realized character yet, or that FX’s new series is a triumph for gay rights. But by sidestepping the temptation to go for cheap laughs, the creators of Chozen have given American TV the first animated gay man who isn’t just a punch line.
Art, in all its forms, has the power to influence the cultural conversation. In the ideal world, one’s orientation shouldn’t be the deciding factor in their success, any more than their skin tone, gender, or income. And Chozen–even with its silliness, and even though it is still a minor player in media as a whole–wields its power admirably.
You can catch Chozen Mondays at 10:30pm on FX.
Christine is currently keeping five plants and one fish alive. She loves really bad movies, really good movies, karaoke, and music festivals.