What we watched in 2022 : Code Switch There are a lot of TV shows to watch out there - so the Code Switch team isn't trying to bring you a list of the "best." Instead, we're chatting about the shows we watched this year that we loved, and gave us something bigger to think about, from Abbott Elementary to Bel-Air.

What we watched in 2022

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  • Transcript

GENE DEMBY, HOST:

Just a heads up, y'all - this episode contains some salty language, which means there's going to be some cussing.

B A PARKER, HOST:

Hey, everyone, you're listening to CODE SWITCH from NPR. I'm B.A. Parker.

DEMBY: And I'm Gene Demby.

PARKER: Now, Gene, the end of 2022 is upon us, and with that, you get all of these end-of-year lists, you know, like the 50 best movies of the year, top 10 literary debuts of 2022 or, you know, 20 best albums of the year that weren't Beyonce's "Renaissance."

DEMBY: And here at CODE SWITCH, we have our own little version of that.

PARKER: Today, we talk about the television shows that we really dug from this past year - shows that delighted us, shows that infuriated us and shows that shook us to our very core.

DEMBY: Parker, I'm curious, though. Like, were there any shows that did those things for you?

PARKER: I'm glad you asked, Gene. I've got to say, the show that made me want to hug myself with joy is the new "Interview With The Vampire." Have you watched it yet?

DEMBY: I have not watched it, but I saw the original version with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise from way back in the 1990s. So, like, I'm curious about this show. What's the deal with this new show?

PARKER: Oh, my gosh, it's incredible. OK, so it's on AMC+, and it's the best thing I've seen on TV all year. And I never say that. It does that thing that I'm always a little bit leery of, which is race-bent casting.

DEMBY: Right. And I guess we got to explain, a sort of comma (ph), but race-bent casting is when, like, a show or movie changes a character's race from the source material, whether it's, like, a novel or whatever, to make it more relevant or more modern or just more marketable. But for a lot of shows, you know, you just can't swap out the race of a character and not have it change other stuff because race matters enough that it will, like, affect the way other parts of the story have to work.

PARKER: Right. Race matters in the context of most things. In the original "Interview With The Vampire" novels by Anne Rice, Louis, the character that Brad Pitt played in the movie, was a slave owner in the late 1700s. And in the new AMC version, Louis is Black.

DEMBY: So probably not a slave owner in the new version.

PARKER: Definitely not a slave owner in this new version. This version is set in the early 20th century. And Louis, who is played by Jacob Anderson - y'all "Game Of Thrones" fans might remember him as Grey Worm - is Black and gay.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE")

JACOB ANDERSON: (As Louis de Pointe du Lac) Colored, white, Creole, French, queer, half-queer, mostly queer - what is it?

SAM REID: (As Lestat de Lioncourt) Non-discriminating.

ANDERSON: (As Louis de Pointe du Lac) Complicated situation we got here's what I'm saying.

DEMBY: I mean, did they say queer in the early 20th century? I mean.

PARKER: It's a bit of an anachronism, but...

DEMBY: And also, it's a show about vampires. I think we can take some liberties here.

PARKER: But they don't just make Louis Black. They explore what it means in the world that they're in. So in this instance, Louis has to make himself subservient to white businessmen in order to get ahead. And you have someone like Lestat, a 200-year-old French vampire, played by the seductive Sam Reid, who sees this situation and immediately is like, my guy, you don't have to live this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE")

REID: (As Lestat de Lioncourt) These men look down on you. I have to say, I find it appalling how men like yourself are treated in this country of yours. Do you suffer these indignities for some larger purpose?

DEMBY: And so, like, in the novel and in the Brad Pitt movie, Lestat offers to turn Louis into a vampire. Is that how it goes?

PARKER: Yes. And Louis is very sold on this idea. And something kind of magical happens - Louis is able to explore the rage he has had all this time in being forced to humble himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE")

ANDERSON: (As Louis de Pointe du Lac) I had let them talk to me like that so long, I stopped hearing it. Yes, sir. Of course, sir. Subject-verb agreement, sir. Smile, nod - yes, sir. They all came from the same organ inside me, an organ unknown to science at the time because what scientist would look for an organ found only in Black men who used their weakness to rise?

DEMBY: I mean, but wasn't the source text pretty gay before? Like, I remember the 1994 movie where Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, like, would have made so much more sense if Louis and Lestat were lovers instead of, like, moody, possessive frenemies.

PARKER: Most things would make sense that way. In the early '90s, to make a film about two overtly queer vampires would have still been taboo.

DEMBY: Of course.

PARKER: But now all that is out of the way, and Lestat and Louis are allowed to be lovers. But anyway, there are just all of these fun little nuances in the new show. It even has its own version of code-switching. So, like, in the book, Louis and Lestat turn a young girl into a vampire named Claudia. And in this instance, Claudia is a 14-year-old Creole girl. And in the lore of the show, since Louis and Claudia were transformed by Lestat, they can talk to each other through their minds, but Lestat can't hear them.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE")

BAILEY BASS: (As Claudia) So you can hear me, but he can't? That make him the dumb one?

REID: (As Lestat de Lioncourt) What's funny?

ANDERSON: (As Louis de Pointe du Lac) If he makes you, he can't hear your thoughts anymore.

DEMBY: OK, so you have these two Black characters who secretly communicate to each other in front of the white vampire that created them. So basically, we have, like, a little telepathic head nod.

PARKER: Exactly - like, a little telepathic nod.

DEMBY: That's fun. I might want to hop this show. It sounds fun. But now we should tee up some other TV faves from our team. This next one is one you might have heard of. It's an Emmy Award winner. It's a little less fantastical than gay, Black vampires in early 20th century New Orleans. In fact, it hits really close to home for one of our teammates, Leah Donnella. Leah, what's good? I'm so happy that you're here. We get to chop it up. You've been out of pocket for a little while.

LEAH DONNELLA, BYLINE: Hey, Gene. Yeah, I'm so excited to be here. I've been in Tennessee for the past couple of months, working on a little side piece, but I am very excited to be back with all of you today.

DEMBY: A side piece - I hope, you know, your fiancee is cool with that. Anyway, what TV obsession are you bringing us today? I'm fascinated.

DONNELLA: I am here to talk about "Abbott Elementary." Yes. Season 2 is airing right now, and for people who haven't seen it yet, the show is a sitcom kind of in that, like, faux documentary style, like "The Office" or "Parks And Rec."

DEMBY: Real quick, like, who are the faux documentarians in these shows?

DONNELLA: Who are they? And they have like 15,000 hours of recordings to use. Anyway, yeah, so "Abbott Elementary" follows the faculty at a majority-Black public elementary school where most teachers don't last more than a year. And the second season starts with a main character, the aggressively earnest newbie teacher Janine, who's ready to start the new school year, fresh and full of purpose until she pulls into the parking lot and sees the principal hosting a cookout.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ABBOTT ELEMENTARY")

QUINTA BRUNSON: (As Janine Teagues) Why is a man cooking ribs in my parking spot? What is happening?

JANELLE JAMES: (As Ava Coleman) It's game day, baby.

BRUNSON: (As Janine Teagues) It's Development Week.

DONNELLA: So Janine is very, very dedicated, a bit naive, and she is obsessed with making Abbott Elementary the very best it can be. And she's constantly being foiled, mostly because Abbott is a poor public school, and they have to navigate a lot of shenanigans.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ABBOTT ELEMENTARY")

JAMES: (As Ava Coleman) What do you think you're doing?

BRUNSON: (As Janine Teagues) Oh, just sprucing up the place. That charter school had that fresh coat of paint, so if we just...

JAMES: (As Ava Coleman) We're not Addington. We're an actual public school, and you can't paint the walls. Classroom decor is set by the Philadelphia Department of Education, Animal Shelters and Traffic.

BRUNSON: (As Janine Teagues) Well...

JAMES: (As Ava Coleman) Trust me, the blue looks worse.

DONNELLA: Also working at the school, there's this amazing cast of characters. So you got Barb, who's the no-nonsense veteran teacher; Gregory, the stoic but kind-hearted sub-turned-permanent-teacher; there's the slightly unhinged principal, Ava, who you've been hearing; Melissa, another veteran teacher; the young, white, do-gooder history teacher, Jacob. Anyway, all these teachers work in a school in the great city of Philadelphia, which is why I'm particularly excited to talk to you about this show, Gene. I don't know if people know you have a bit of a connection to the place.

DEMBY: I mean, it's come up once or twice on the podcast, you know what I mean? Anyway, Leah, don't act brand-new in front of company 'cause you are a Philly person, too. You are from the area. Your mom lives in Philly proper. Your little Philly accent and your little Philly sayings come out at the strangest times. We are family. You need to own it.

DONNELLA: No, it's true. It's true. And that's kind of you to say we are family. But I was definitely a suburban kid, and I feel like even though we both went to public schools in the greater Philadelphia area, those schools could not have been more spiritually or materially different. Gene, my understanding is that the schools you went to actually had a lot in common with Abbott Elementary.

DEMBY: Yeah, like, the fictional Abbott Elementary literally looks like my elementary school. It's uncanny. My elementary school was also all-Black. All but one of my teachers were Black women like Barb.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ABBOTT ELEMENTARY")

SHERYL LEE RALPH: (As Barbara Howard) Draemond was in my very first class. Oh, such a beautiful child. He was going through a lot at home.

DEMBY: As an aside, like, she reminds me so much of Ms. Washington (ph), who was my second grade teacher. Hey, Ms. Washington, if you're listening. But the hallways of my elementary school were, like, lined with these pictures with little bios of, like, Black luminaries. Like, you know those paintings where, like, Oprah is driving with Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman on the way to brunch or something, and, like, Malcolm X and Barack Obama are playing spades or whatever?

DONNELLA: Oh, what a world that would be.

DEMBY: That's kind of what it was like to walk through the halls of my elementary school. Like, you're going to get this Black history, even if it's completely shorn of context.

DONNELLA: (Laughter).

DEMBY: Also, everyone at my elementary school and my middle school got free lunches. I grew up in a poor and working-class Black neighborhood. The kids who were going to my elementary school reflected that. But I know, like, that wasn't really your public school experience in the Philly area at all.

DONNELLA: Nope. I grew up in Radnor, Pa., which is a suburb about 10 miles outside the city. And unlike your school or Abbott Elementary, the Radnor schools were kind of swimming in money. We had a literal indoor swimming pool in the building, a million-dollar turf field that was donated. It was a gift of an anonymous alumna.

DEMBY: What? Goddamn. This a public school?

DONNELLA: Mmm hmm.

DEMBY: Wow.

DONNELLA: And almost all the students who went to Radnor came from upper-middle-class or straight-up, just, like, wealthy families, which meant that teachers didn't have to worry about anything but lesson planning and coming up with these really fun, creative lesson plans. Like, when I was in fifth grade, we got to build a life-size geodesic dome to learn about geometry.

DEMBY: Wow. That sounds amazing, but I'm hearing a but/however that's kind of implied.

DONNELLA: Yeah. There are some big caveats. I mean, for one thing, it was an incredibly white school. I was usually the only Black kid in my classes. And in terms of teachers, from kindergarten through 12th grade, I had exactly two Black teachers - one in second grade, the other for eighth grade English.

DEMBY: So you saw a Black adult in your school, like, once every six years or so?

DONNELLA: Correct, except when my dad got called to come deal with our shenanigans.

DEMBY: You mischievous little Donnella scamps.

DONNELLA: Occasionally. Anyway, watching "Abbott Elementary" had me thinking a lot about what makes a "good" school - using your air quotes around good, Gene - because the school in the show is obviously struggling in a lot of ways. They have to fight super hard to get some really basic resources, everything from school supplies to a teacher's aide to a wheelchair-accessible ramp. In one episode, the district refuses to fix the broken bathrooms in the school until literally every single one of them is unusable.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ABBOTT ELEMENTARY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) I think it's broken.

WILLIAM STANFORD DAVIS: (As Mr. Johnson) Man, this is messier than Temple Homecoming '74. The kindergarten toilets somehow took out all the second floor toilets with it.

BRUNSON: (As Janine Teagues) And I just got off the phone with the city. They said they can't do anything until next week.

DONNELLA: My school did not have to deal with those things, like, at all.

DEMBY: You know, our editor, Steve Drummond - who also edits the NPR ed team, and he himself is a former public school teacher - he watches the show, too. And he said this is actually, like, a real, big policy problem that the show makes very funny. But being under-resourced like this leads to a lot of really dedicated teachers burning out and leaving the schools that really need them the most because they're just tired of, like, you know, trying to plug holes and keeping things together with duct tape.

DONNELLA: Yeah. I mean, it makes sense, and it seems like a huge problem. It's a source of so much frustration. But it's funny 'cause watching this show, I'm always still weirdly jealous of all of those kids for, one, getting to be around a ton of other Black kids and, two, being taught consistently by Black teachers. Going through a school system where Blackness isn't pathologized, as it definitely could be in my school system, seems like it might have had some psychological benefits.

DEMBY: So I feel like I'm going to regret asking you this question, Leah. But what do you mean when you say that Blackness was pathologized at your schools?

DONNELLA: For one thing, we basically only acknowledged that Black people existed if we were talking about slavery or if we were doing, like, a, you know, Black History Month lesson.

DEMBY: Of course.

DONNELLA: And then there were all these things - like, in fifth grade, my class did a little simulation where all of these white students and me were asked to hide paper dolls around the classroom. And then if you found someone else's doll and turned it in to the teacher as a deputy slave catcher...

DEMBY: What?

DONNELLA: ...You were given candy.

DEMBY: Oh, what?

DONNELLA: Yeah. And then there's a classic. When we read "Huck Finn," you know, we had to read that book aloud in class, and there was one kid who got asked to read a lot because he did the best Black voice, according to the teacher.

DEMBY: Oh, my God. Like, I bet he sounded like Foghorn Leghorn or something.

DONNELLA: If only he sounded that good. And for all of the obvious resource problems facing Abbott Elementary, it seems like something that messed-up would never happen at a school like that, real or fictional, whereas it was the kind of thing that I saw happen all the time at my very well-funded, very well-resourced school.

DEMBY: Yeah, now that I have a kid, I spend a lot of time sort of fretting about, you know, what I want for him in a school. And one of the things that's really important to me is that he grows up affirmed and supported by his school, like, the way I was at my elementary school. But, to your point, the kind of school that does those things is much more likely to be, like, poorly considered - right? - and poorly perceived because that's going to be a Black school with Black students. And there's lots of research that shows that even if a school like Abbott Elementary had student outcomes, like a better-resourced school, it wouldn't be able to, like, override the racist skepticisms about the school quality. Like, how parents rate schools in cities is shaped by their hang-ups over race and class. Like, we know that a school's overall test scores or college acceptance numbers are basically just telling you, like, what the income level of the parents are, right? So, like, "good" public schools - and, like, I'm doing the air quotes now - on paper, they will always look a lot like, well, the kind of schools you went to.

DONNELLA: Yeah, I think that's ultimately what I like so much about "Abbott Elementary." It's this very fun, silly, kind of cute show, but it - I think it does a really good job of complicating the idea and the image of what a good school is or could be.

DEMBY: Yeah, or, like, what a good teacher looks like. Like, school is where we spend so many of our waking hours until we're 18. We spend more time at school than we do talking to our parents. So it's a place that just shapes, like, our identity, our self-esteem, our understandings of how the world works. And so how we answer the question that you raise, like, what makes a school good is, like, a really personal and important question.

DONNELLA: Exactly.

DEMBY: The show is ABC's "Abbott Elementary." Our fearless editor Leah Donnella interrupted her fellowship. It's so nice to be back here with you, even just for a minute, seriously.

DONNELLA: Gene, it's so good to be back, even for a minute.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PARKER: All right, y'all. Coming up - a more serious take on a '90s sitcom classic.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BEL-AIR")

JABARI BANKS: (As Will Smith) He ain't with the culture, Carlton. And clearly you ain't either.

PARKER: Stay with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PARKER: Parker.

DEMBY: Gene.

PARKER: CODE SWITCH.

DEMBY: It's that time of year, you know, where hopefully you get a little downtime to lay around, to kick it, just catch up on some shows that you've been putting off for a while, maybe binge one or two in your downtime. So we're sharing some of our TV obsessions from the past year as suggestions for you. Our next show is actually based on a smash-hit sitcom from the '90s. Y'all know what I'm talking about. It's a story all about how one dude's life got flipped, turned upside-down when he was sent to move with his auntie and his uncle in Bel-Air. But this time, the story of "The Fresh Prince" has been reimagined as a drama.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BEL-AIR")

ADRIAN HOLMES: (As Philip Banks) Let me ask you something, Will. You care if you live or die?

BANKS: (As Will Smith) Yeah.

HOLMES: (As Philip Banks) Me too.

DEMBY: That was a clip from "Bel-Air," which is, of course, a reworking of "The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air." And this show was the choice of our teammate Karen Grigsby Bates. KGB, what's good?

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Hey, Gene. And you're right. "Bel-Air" is the darker brother of "The Fresh Prince." It starts in Philadelphia - West Philadelphia, as the theme song goes.

DEMBY: So that's where the main character was born and raised. On the playground was where he spent most of his days.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR")

DJ JAZZY JEFF & THE FRESH PRINCE: (Rapping) Chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool and all, shooting some b-ball outside of the school...

BATES: Yeah. That's it. But in this new Bel-Air, the main character ran afoul of a local drug runner and bully. They have a testy encounter on the basketball court. Someone pulls a gun, and the Will character, played by Jabari Banks, gets sent to jail.

DEMBY: Wait. So this cat's real name is Banks, like, for real?

BATES: His real name is Banks, for real. And he's very good.

DEMBY: So this role was kismet because, of course, Will goes to live with his rich family, the Bankses, in Bel-Air. So the show has the same characters and everything, same names.

BATES: Same characters, same names.

DEMBY: I haven't seen this show, Karen, but I remember that it grew out of this viral trailer that was sort of pretending to be a reboot of the original "Fresh Prince" show.

BATES: Something like that. Will Smith saw this fan-fiction trailer and loved it and helped its creator, Morgan Cooper, shop it around. Peacock immediately picked it up for two seasons, which doesn't often happen.

DEMBY: Yeah. OK, so, Karen, what was it about this show that grabbed you?

BATES: You know, Gene, I liked how race-forward it was. And it didn't feel the obligation to be cheerful just to keep the audience comfortable. And I liked the original OK, but it was not must-see TV for me.

DEMBY: Oh, it was definitely must-see TV for me.

BATES: (Laughter).

DEMBY: I watched it religiously when it first aired - Monday nights on NBC before "Blossom." I'm an elder millennial. I'm telling on myself a little bit. It's alright.

BATES: Did you wear your hat off to the side and everything, like Will?

DEMBY: (Laughter) Had to get ready. Had to cosplay for the show.

BATES: Wow.

DEMBY: (Laughter) I'm joking.

BATES: This reworking is all about family and race and community. And it touches on some things that TV didn't or couldn't talk about in the '90s.

DEMBY: OK. Give us an example.

BATES: OK. In the first episode, Will has just arrived at the Banks household, and you can feel there's some unspoken tension there. The first time Will sets foot on the campus of his new fancy private school in Bel-Air, he interrupts the lacrosse team - yes, the lacrosse team - to which his cousin Carlton belongs. And the team, including Carlton, is singing a song that liberally uses the N-word, unbleeped.

DEMBY: Uh-oh.

BATES: And Will wasn't having it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BEL-AIR")

BANKS: (As Will Smith) Yo, so let me get this straight, man. You really don't have a problem with a white boy saying nigger right in front of your face.

OLLY SHOLOTAN: (As Carlton Banks) It's just a word, dude. Chill out.

BANKS: (As Will Smith) No, I ain't chilling out. Your boy Chad was wilding, yo.

SHOLOTAN: (As Carlton Banks) First of all, his name is Connor.

BANKS: (As Will Smith) Connor, Chad, Brad, whatever the fuck his Wonder Bread-ass name is, he ain't with the culture, Carlton. And clearly, you ain't either.

BATES: And this is part of the reason, Gene, that I'm so taken with the show. They're not afraid to go there and dig into the tension. Will's not trying to fit into his new environment. He says he's going to rep West Philly wherever he goes because that's who he is. You know, the show kind of telegraphs, yeah, we see you, without having to say that. They're not doing Race 101, which I could identify with.

The other thing I really liked was how the show examines what happens when one person in the family does really well while the rest of the family is living a much more basic life. And that happens in a lot of Black families, even rich ones.

DEMBY: Yeah. You know, it's funny, Karen, the original "Fresh Prince" only sort of touched on this obliquely. But, like, we've definitely talked about this and touched on this at some point in the giant corpus of CODE SWITCH reporting out there at this point. But unlike wealthier white families, wealthy Black families are in physical proximity to poverty. But it's not just physical proximity. There's like - high-earning Black households also have familial proximity to poverty, since Black people have so little generational wealth, which means that, you know, rich, Black families are often helping subsidize the lives of their relatives, you know, paying for light bills, paying for tuition, paying for rent, things like that.

BATES: Exactly. And this whole notion of responsibility, guilt among siblings at different income levels, who stays, who gets to leave - all that can be explosive. And it did explode at Will's birthday party. Will's mom, Vy, comes to visit him and gets into it with Aunt Viv over the Banks' birthday gift to him, an outrageously expensive of super limited-edition sneakers. They still call them, right, Gene?

DEMBY: Yes (laughter)

BATES: Sneakers? Well, Viv and Vy are in a whispered fight in front of other people at the party, and Viv is telling her sister to just chill.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BEL-AIR")

CASSANDRA FREEMAN: (As Vivian Banks) Please do not make this about our issues. Will is happy with his gift. That's all that matters. Let's drop it.

APRIL PARKER JONES: (As Viola "Vy" Smith) Not when you throw your money around to disrespect me in front of my child. I just don't understand you, how you got like this.

FREEMAN: (As Vivian Banks) Like what, being successful? 'Cause that's what you're mad about. Because more of my dreams came true, so now you got to cut me down whenever you get a chance.

PARKER JONES: (As Viola "Vy" Smith) Girl, your dreams came true because Mama supported you. You were carried.

DEMBY: So, KGB, how did audiences feel about this, right? Compared to the original "Fresh Prince," which was, you know, real, real silly, this new version is kind of grim and dramatic. Maybe grim is not the right word, but it feels like it's leaning into some of, like, those very special episodes of the '90s version that were only sort of - like, we only sort of went into the heavy stuff occasionally.

BATES: It is, Gene. But this show also gives us more backstory, which I appreciated. And it shows us that while wealth has its privileges, there are real costs - psychological, social, even physical - to being a successful Black person in 21st-century America. And I think it's OK to show that without having a laugh track.

DEMBY: All right, y'all the show is "Bel-Air," and the whole first season is streaming now on Peacock. Thank you, KGB. Appreciate you.

BATES: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PARKER: And now we got another comedic TV show in our lineup. Our producer Alyssa Jeong Perry has been talking to us about this show since it came out this summer. Alyssa, tell us all about it.

ALYSSA JEONG PERRY, BYLINE: All right, Parker. I literally binged "This Fool," which is streaming on Hulu now, in almost one day.

PARKER: Oh, I haven't seen that show yet, but I do love a good binge.

PERRY: (Laughter) Me too, especially this one because "This Fool," it's about a Mexican American guy named Julio Lopez, who's played by show creator and comedian Chris Estrada. So, Parker, I love this show so much that I reached out to talk to Chris about the show and his character, Julio.

CHRIS ESTRADA: I think he's kind of neurotic and kind of has depression. And, you know, the way I kind of see him is probably like me in that he didn't go to college. You know, he kind of has a job that he fell into.

PERRY: So the job that Julio falls into is a counselor at a gang rehabilitation nonprofit called Hugs Not Thugs. And so his cousin, Luis, played by comedian Frankie Quinonez, gets out of prison, joins Hugs Not Thugs and moves in with Julio's whole family, you know, his mom, grandma.

PARKER: Oh, so like a full house.

PERRY: Oh, big time. And they all live in South Central LA, which Chris wanted it to be a central part of the show.

PARKER: That makes total sense. But also, let's face it, like, in popular culture, South Central is kind of infamous, like it or not, for gang violence. I mean, there's a whole movie and TV series in the early '90s about it called "South Central," which is literally about gang life.

PERRY: Yeah. But Chris is doing the work of complicating the go-to assumptions of South Central by bringing his own experiences to the show. He told me he wanted to show the LA he grew up in.

ESTRADA: It's pretty working-class. And, like, metaphorically, it feels very far away from every part of LA. It's very Black and Latino. And sometimes gang members and the news revolving gang violence or stuff like that is the loudest news and the most sensational news. But they're kind of the minority.

PERRY: Chris pulled from other parts of his life as a Mexican American guy.

ESTRADA: You know, I grew up with cousins who were gang members or had family who was, you know, incarcerated. The cousin character, Luis, is based off of my real cousin Luis and inspired by some of my other cousins as well.

PARKER: All right. So the show centers around Luis and Julio then, right? How does that play out?

PERRY: OK. Well, remember, Julio's cousin, Luis, joins Hugs Not Thugs, where Julio works, and they live together. So things are a little antagonistic between them, you know, sibling-like, but they're cousins.

PARKER: Oh, been there, understand. So what's something about the show that has stood out to you?

PERRY: OK. Besides the show being, like, super, duper funny, the cousins dynamic is an interesting one to me. You got Luis, who acts overtly machista, wears a Raiders hoodie and chanclas with socks.

ESTRADA: Sometimes this guy who's a little more emotionally stunted is the more sweeter one, you know, who has the hard exterior. We sort of subvert it in a way where sometimes my character is the A-hole.

PERRY: And then you have Julio, who presents as a nice guy, a little nerdy but clearly isn't the nicest guy.

ESTRADA: I don't like to focus on things like, oh, he stands out because he likes punk-rock music, or he likes films and reads books or whatever. Because I think when you focus on that, what you're saying is these things are smart. Therefore, he's smart. And these other people who make up this population of this neighborhood are not because they don't like those things. I think those are frivolous things to like. Like, they're great, and I think they inform a character, but I don't think they're defining. But I think what defines him is his existential dread.

PARKER: We love existentialism.

PERRY: Totally. The nuances are why I love "This Fool." The show does a good job of touching on structural class differences that we normally don't see on TV, like this one episode where Julio catches someone stealing recycling cans from his house.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS FOOL")

ESTRADA: (As Julio Lopez) We're poor. We need those cans.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You're not poor. You broke. There's a difference. I'm fucking poor. You ever been late on your utility bills?

ESTRADA: (As Julio Lopez) Yeah, all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Well, I've never been late on my utility bills. You know why? Because I don't have a motherfucking house to live in. Because I'm poor. I wish I was broke enough to even have a bill. Must be nice. But whatever, man, you keep them, broke asshole.

ESTRADA: That's something that actually happened in my life. I had to find a way to explain that in a way and give it context within working-class people, people who are living paycheck to paycheck. There's still a class distinction between people who are living on the streets.

PARKER: I do like that they dig deep into that because sometimes when shows have something to say about class, we just get these very rich and white characters, like in "The White Lotus" or "Succession."

PERRY: So right.

PARKER: Yeah. So "This Fool" seems to add something more nuanced to that discussion. That is to say, I need to add "This Fool" to my list.

PERRY: And don't worry, you've got time to binge this, Parker. They just got greenlit for a second season by Hulu.

PARKER: Incredible. Thanks, AJP, for bringing "This Fool" to us.

PERRY: Thanks, Parker.

PARKER: And that's our show, y'all. You can follow us on IG @nprcodeswitch. Our email is codeswitch@npr.org, and subscribe to the podcast on NPR One or wherever you get your podcasts. Just wanted to give a quick shout-out to our CODE SWITCH+ listeners. We appreciate you and thank you for being a subscriber. Subscribing to CODE SWITCH+ means getting to listen to all of our episodes without any sponsor breaks, and it also helps support our show. So if you love our work, please consider signing up at plus.npr.org/codeswitch.

DEMBY: This episode was produced by Alyssa Jeong Perry. It was edited by Dalia Mortada and Christina Cala. And a big shout-out to the rest of the CODE SWITCH massive - Lori Lizarraga, Karen Grigsby Bates, Kumari Devarajan, Jess Kung, Diba Mohtasham, LA Johnson and Veralyn Williams. Our intern is Yordanos Tesfazion. And I'm Gene Demby.

PARKER: I'm B.A. Parker.

DEMBY: Be easy, y'all.

PARKER: Hydrate.

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