Oscar-winning, six-minute 2019 animated short film with virtually no dialogue “Hair Love” Matthew A. Cherry was inspired by videos on social media of black fathers taking care of their children’s hair. With her new series “Young Love,” Cherry has expanded on that premise with a 12-episode animated comedy for Max that focuses on the close-knit family at the center of the story.
My mother is Angela (Issa Rae), a hair stylist who is getting her life back together after an illness. The father, meanwhile, is Stephen (Scott Mescudi, a.k.a. rapper Kid Cudi), a struggling music producer who holds down the fort. They live in a tree-lined area on Chicago’s West Side, specifically West Garfield Park, and share a multi-family home with their six-year-old daughter, Zuri (Brooke Conaway), an energetic child who’s not afraid to stand out. or his/her preferences. They’re up there. Downstairs are the grandparents (Loretta Devine and Harry Lennix).
The show focuses on the little details that make up life. We hope a working parent can make time to attend a school event. Or like a sleeping child in your bed rolling over and unintentionally slapping you in the face. Or a short but sweet scene where Angela drives Zuri to school and looks at her in the rearview mirror. The little girl looks out the window and nods happily to the music, but she senses her mother looking at her and turns to make eye contact. It’s a great moment of connection that makes these two characters seem like people rather than cartoon creations.
The charming but not treacherous series starts off strong, and I appreciate the occasional straight-faced comedy. After falling into a pile of trash, Angela reassures everyone that she’s okay: “This bag of glass bottles broke my fall.” Stephen is unimpressed when he notices the family cat putting its paws over his ears as he works on his latest beats: “Who asked you?”
Unlike Disney’s “Pride Family,” which had a wittier, more bombastic pace and energy, “Young Love” is in the same vein as something like “Bob’s Burgers,” but it’s also gentler in many ways. And it doesn’t exactly aim to be HE fun. But I appreciate that this one sentence works: Walking through a gentrified neighborhood, Angela squints at the word “artisanal” and asks, “Why does every sign say ‘artist anal’?” he asks. This is an “Arrested Development” level joke! But this chapter also overlooks the issues that make gentrification concerning. The guy who once had a restaurant in the area now has a food truck, all is well!
Zuri is smart and confident, and as a result, can be the bane of her teacher’s existence. Holding up a storybook for children about an athlete named Tisha the Turtle, she says: “Who cares if Tisha can run fast? Tisha should teach us children how to develop into healthy, competent adults who can support themselves financially and contribute to society.”
Do 6-year-olds talk like this? Not a lot! But it does not matter. Zuri is a total soda, and while some of her antics, including some early obsessions with teen-style rebellion, seem a little old for a freshman, she feels like a real person.
Mom and Dad are lovely people who aren’t immune to making bad decisions, like Angela opening her home to a family in need and just using it for social media clout. Pretty awful! And she knows it! Both parents are working through their professional disappointments, including Stephen’s misadventures working with a ridiculous rapper named Lil Ankh who becomes a running joke throughout the season. Money’s tight and it’s like, Finally, a fictional depiction of the financial realities many of us face right now, but they’re mostly a happy family. And here is the rare animated show that puts millennials’ black parents at the center.
Cherry is a Chicago native, and you can see the care taken to capture the city, even if it’s a version constantly exposed to warm weather. The visuals are unmistakably Chicago (Ed Li, the show’s art director), from images of the downtown river to the converging letter “L” to the recognizable wooden back porches atop three brick apartments. I also love composer Taylor Graves’ crooning opening credits.
Is it a beautiful family? Check. A great portrayal of Chicago plus terrific performances? Check and check. “Teenage Love” is a worthy entry into the pantheon of animated family comedies.
“Young Love” — 3 stars (out of 4)
Where to watch: Maximum
Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.