From the first shot of Showtime’s new series, Flatbush Misdemeanors, I know exactly where I am.
I could take you to that exact spot on Flatbush Avenue, facing that tall, white steeple at the corner of Church Avenue. In five minutes, tops, I could walk you to the building where I grew up, 80 Clarkson Avenue between Bedford Avenue and Flatbush Avenue. Poetically, for me at least, my old block is behind the camera, off-screen from this point of view. And as much as Flatbush Misdemeanors made me smile at the sight of the stomping grounds I know, it also reminded me repeatedly that it is far more accurate to think of Flatbush as the stomping grounds I knew.
The minute the story starts, Kev (Kevin Iso) and Dan (Dan Perlman) are already in trouble, in a sort of gentrified Brooklyn way.
When Dan, who teaches at an area high school, has his lunch delivered by Kev, who delivers food… on his bike… wearing a neon vest… they manage to run afoul of a school security officer. We know he is a school security officer and not actual police because the show tells us so with a clever caption, a device in line with the laid back comedic tone of the show, though one not quite fully figured out by the show’s writers yet.
While the officer’s ridiculous suspicion that Kev is a criminal underscores how very harmless Kev is, I was equally amused by the thought of a soft spoken “struggling artist” (Dan’s words, not mine), riding around the Flatbush of the 80s and 90s, wearing that neon green bullseye. In that setting he would have looked more the part of target than perpetrator, but hey… things change.
While this first episode never quite goes dark in tone – And I doubt the series ever will – Kev does get himself into some actual trouble with Drew (Hassan Johnson) who brings a likability to threatening a man’s life that we should all find disturbing. (But he’s just too funny to get bogged down in the fact that there’s a running gag of him looking for his gun.)
There are moments, though, when the show does ground us in reality. When Dan suggests that Kev call the police instead of, you know, letting Drew kill him… Kev immediately dismisses the notion because:
- “I’m not a snitch.”
- “They’ll probably come kill everybody.”
Remember that tall, white steeple at the corner of Church and Flatbush? I was about 15 or so, walking past that church as afternoon turned to evening on an otherwise nondescript day when my attention was pulled, with everyone else’s, to an arrest that was happening in the middle of Church Avenue. I mean that literally. Several cops had a young Black man pinned down across the double yellow line. Whatever he had done, whatever they thought he had done, he was caught and he wasn’t going anywhere. One cop, though, wasn’t content with the “collar.” I stood there, powerless and furious, as he took the time and effort to grind that young man’s Black face into that black asphalt… just because he could. I was 15, watching that, young and spry with a blown out flat top and peach fuzz on my chin. I’m now 48, middle aged and a bit weathered with locs down my back and a beard on my chin as white as that signature steeple. When Kev spit forth, “They’ll probably come kill everybody,” I smirked. Some things never change.
Though Dan, a teacher, does seem to have life a little more together than his best friend, Kev, who is crashing on Dan’s couch these days, there’s something about the way he moves through the classroom, the hallway, his role as a teacher that suggests he has found more of a hiding place than a calling, that he’s biding time until he figures out what he’s going to do with his life. Rather than making the depiction of his or, really, their meandering ways some commentary on the state of things for Gen Z, the show seems as resigned to their plight as they are. Antidepressants seem to help. And there’s talk of seeking therapy. I don’t remember much talk of either when I was growing up in Flatbush.
I may discuss that insight with my therapist. (Yeah… I guess I’ve changed, too.)
Given that laughter is the best medicine, he may suggest that I keep watching Flatbush Misdemeanors, a suggestion I make to you.
Even if you have never been to the Flatbush of any era or any neighborhood like it…
Even if you don’t take comedic comfort in dialogue that breezes past classic New York phrases like “dead ass”…
Even if you have no idea why it is hilarious for Kev’s girlfriend (maybe not quite girlfriend…?), Jasmine (Kerry Coddett), to quip that her grandmother “be sleepin through J’Ouvert”…
… there’s plenty in this show to enjoy and, maybe eventually, to love.
Sure, there are moments where the low budget shows. There are scenes that could have been tighter. There are shots that could have been better.
But there are also delightful performances by committed actors, playing out stories that manage to be silly and serious at once. And all this plays out against the backdrop of a fun Flatbush that is not quite what it was and, like Dan, Kev, and Flatbush Misdemeanors itself, is not quite what it will be.