Right from the first episode, FX’s Archer won me over with its astonishingly transgressive sense of humor, its superb cast, and the occasional surprise when the show reveals that it has a much warmer heart than the surface crassness would suggest (usually right before the transgressive sense of humor kicked in again). So, the good news is that FX’s new animated comedy series Chozen reminds me a lot of Archer, with a comparably transgressive sense of humor, a superb cast, and the occasional surprise when the show reveals that it has a heart. The bad news is that Chozen reminds me a whole lot of Archer, and sometimes ends up feeling a little derivative as a result, even if I am laughing more often than not.
The title character of Chozen (Bobby Moynihan) is an oversized gay white rapper just released from a decade in jail after being framed by an ex-member of his rap band, Phantasm (Method Man). Phantasm has since gone on to be a rap superstar, making Chozen even more determined to claw his way back to the top with the help of his old crew Crisco (Hannibal Buress) and Ricky (Michael PeĂ±a). While crashing in the dorm room of his put-upon sister Tracy (Kathryn Hahn), Chozen picks up the remaining members of his crew: a drug-addled roadie/photographer/pyrotechnics expert/budding smut impresario Jimmy (Danny McBride), the tech nerd Troy (Nick Swardson), and the pretty frat boy Hunter (Ike Barinholz) who soon becomes Chozen’s chosen boy.
In its pilot episode, Chozen starts off with much more ambition than Archer‘s did, throwing many more major characters in the mix and establishing a large, overarching plot that seems set to pop up periodically throughout the season. To be honest, it doesn’t leave the most favorable impression, but it certainly draws enough laughs from Chozen’s outrageous and often highly obscene antics. FX has always been extremely liberal with episodes on their season premiere screener packages, and in Chozen‘s case, this definitely works to their advantage. The show rapidly picks up steam over the span of the five episodes provided, losing none of its sense of the ludicrous or the subversive and building up its many different plot elements as it goes. Hunter goes from being little more than a punch line to a real character, while the romantic rivalry between Troy and Ricky for Tracy’s affections becomes a running gag and a non-trivial element to at least two sub-plots throughout the five episodes. I’m also impressed and greatly amused by the way the show exploits Chozen’s homosexuality by taking a lot of gay stereotypes and recasting them in the hypersexualized-but-otherwise-completely-straight sensibilities of rap, subverting them both in the end. If I had to choose, I think that’s probably Chozen‘s greatest trick.
Bobby Moynihan is about as perfect for Chozen as H. Jon Benjamin is for Sterling Archer. Moynihan’s performance is appropriately larger than life and twice as dense, communicating Chozen’s distinctive mix of earnestness, brashness, determination, callousness, and straight-up stupidity. His rapping is actually done by Grant Dekernion, the series creator, and the fact that the show manages to come up with at least one new plot-specific rap number in every episode is a pretty noteworthy achievement in itself. The remaining cast is solid, although I can’t say that I find them quite as funny as Archer‘s supporting cast. Ricky and Crisco get their share of entertaining line, but Tracy is left a little high and dry as the show’s designated straight woman — a far cry from the sassy and hilarious Lana Kane. Nick Swardson is also perfectly convincing as the nerdy Troy, but he’s also not showing the same level of development as Chris Parnell’s Cyril Figgis.
Despite whatever criticisms I have above, they’re relatively minor and I did definitely like what I’ve seen so far of Chozen. Even so, I am left wondering why I don’t like it more. It might be that I’m not as connected to Chozen‘s world — I like rap but the last crew I spent any serious time with was Run-D.M.C. in the 80’s and 90’s, and while I don’t think you have to know much or anything about rap culture to enjoy Chozen, I do have much more affection for the spy genre that Archer spoofs. As I noted in the opening paragraph, the show may be a little too close to Archer in its animation and general sensibilities, which makes it feel somewhat derivative no matter how good it is. I wonder if the positions would be reversed if Chozen were the show that premiered in 2009.
None of the above is really intended as a put-down of Chozen. If it reminds me of Archer in a lot of derivative ways, it also reminds me of Archer in its capacity to make me laugh — hard — as I ask myself, “Did they just go there?” Chozen makes for a solid second act on FX’s version of Fox’s “Animation Domination” block.
Chozen premiered on FX on Monday, January 13, 2014; new episodes are scheduled for Monday nights at 10:30 PM (ET/PT).