Last Season on Hulu’s Woke, we met Keef Knight (Lamorne Morris) as he tries to navigate life after a brutal encounter with San Francisco PD. As a cartoonist of the locally famous comic strip, Toast and Butter, Keef is excited for his comic to be syndicated nationally. He’s planning on getting a luxury apartment with his girlfriend of two years and finally raising his stock. He’s played the game for years and is finally seeing his efforts pay off.
As if on cue, Keef is plastering flyers for a convention appearance and cops mistakenly accost him and throw him to the ground. He’s scared, he’s embarrassed and he gets woke. Suddenly he begins to see things he’s never seen before, the malt liquor, the trashcan, and most importantly his trusty marker all come to anthropomorphic life. Their words and tone hold playful mocking as he starts to realize he’s a part of the community he ever really considered from the outside.
During season one we meet Keef’s circle. His roommates and a new friend are characters in themselves. There’s Clovis (T. Murph), a womanizing hustler who doesn’t always understand Keef, but always supports him. Gunther (Blake Anderson) is the well-meaning white boy who tries to find his own connections to Blackness but usually ends up just showcasing how absolutely white he is (he knows). Finally, there’s a newcomer, Ayana (Sasheer Zamata) who is the Editor-in-Chief of the Bay Arean, a local paper that discusses important and often controversial issues.
After Keef’s woke episode, he melts down and loses his job, girlfriend, and financial stability. Throughout the season we see him become more in touch with his wokeness and find a way to express his art and continue his activism, with hits and misses.
When the second season opens we see Keef take this further and find ways to be an artist/activist or “artivist.” Keef has dazzled supporters with a speech that declares: “without the black lines, the white page is nothing.”
He struggles to find another source of inspiration to continue the march towards equality but is overwhelmed. Between the sheer number of “issues” and his lack of concrete knowledge, it’s safe to say that while Keef may have admirable aspirations, he’s woefully out of his league.
His efforts caught the eye of small business investor Laura (Aimee Garcia). She’s interested in helping Keef create a non-profit, but it may be discovered that while the two have the same goal, the ways of getting there are fundamentally different.
Season one of Woke faltered slightly by having a strong, but ultimately short-lived premise. Keef experienced brutality at the hands of law enforcement and it’s a heady enough topic without adding on a cavalcade of personal issues, and his often questionable decisions. Keef is a cartoonist so after his “woke” incident, objects around him take on cartoonish shapes and voices.
It’s understandable, but it’s a gimmick that quickly loses steam as many of the items don’t have much to say. They mock him for taking so long to get woke, and while possibly deserved, its charm has a short shelf life. The items start with Black voices, but soon white and other ethnic voices enter the mix, making unclear their purpose.
Blake Anderson’s “Gunther” and T. Murph’s “Clovis” add decent enough comic relief, but the connection between the three is vague. Are they college friends, or are they just chance roommates? The inclusion of Ayana is welcome, but her character is a bit chaotic and without rooting. The show is compelling enough to get viewers to return from week to week, but it lacks a consistent pull. Season 2 improves on the concept is by focusing on fleshing out their existing characters.
We see Clovis’s family in his father, who is played by the iconic Isiah Whitlock, Jr. We learn more about his abrasive behavior and it adds heart to his personality. With Ayana, we see how the responsibility she’s taken on weighs on her. It informs some of the relationships she finds herself in.
She learns that not always being a superhero is detrimental to her character. All of this flows smoothly around a core central plot where Keef tries to juggle gaining a platform the right way and for the right reasons. Garcia’s Laura is a fantastic addition and represents the corporate stance on charity and activism. This is equal parts illuminating, frustrating and thought-provoking.
This time around, there are far fewer talking objects. Though they do appear from time to time. At first, it seemed centralized to Keef’s drawing pen, voiced by JB Smooth, but again, while it has lots of thoughts about the need for action, it doesn’t provide many answers or solutions.
Ultimately I think the show will be best served to either re-focus these additions or phase them out. Woke is on the cusp of being a solid series that lovingly investigates the successes and hypocrisies of “woke” culture, especially as it’s been co-opted. The second season builds and improves on the first and is well worth the watch.
Woke premieres on April 8, 2022, on Hulu.
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Stacey Yvonne is an entertainment journalist who is often found in some corner of the internet pontificating about pop culture and its effect on women, Blackfolk and the LGBT+ community. You can see more of her work at https://syvonnecreative.com