In 2017, inspired by online videos of fathers lovingly styling their daughter’s hair, director Matthew A. Cherry launched a Kickstarter campaign (full disclosure: I was one of the backers) for an animated short film called Hair Love. He wanted to bring more diversity into the realm of animation and decided to take matters into his own hands after studio executives did not see the lack of representation as a pressing issue. Proving his doubters wrong, the short film went onto to win an Academy Award in 2020 and even spawned a popular children’s book of the same name.
Now holding the key to doors that only an Oscar can unlock, Cherry is once again showing everyone that there is plenty of humour and heart to be found within Black middle-class families. Re-teaming with Sony Pictures Animation, the same studio who produced the original short and whose inclusive blockbuster hit Across the Spider-Verse gleefully pushed the boundaries of animation earlier this year, Cherry has expanded the world of his short film and turned it into the entertaining new Crave animated series, Young Love.
Picking up where Hair Love left off, young Zuri Love (Brooke Monroe Conaway) and her family are acclimatizing to their new normal now that her mother, Angela Young (Issa Rae), is back home from the hospital after a battle with cancer. While Angela’s health issues are no longer a top concern, there are still plenty of challenges that the family must face – one of the recurring stress points is how they will manage to cover their rent each month.
Although Angela returning to her job as a hairdresser will help bring in some stable income, her music producer partner, Stephen Love (Kid Cudi), is still looking for his big break. Despite getting the opportunity to provide beats for famed rapper Lil Ankh, it does not immediately turn into a paying gig, a point that their landlord, Angela’s father Russell Young (Harry Lennix), is frequently reminding them about.
The Love family may not have the disposable income of the Banks family in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or the Johnson family in Black-ish, but this Chicago-based trio is rich in their own way. Young Love shows that monetary wealth is fleeting and not as valuable as having a loving family unit in your corner. Whether dealing with the ups and downs of Angela and Stephen’s respective careers or highlighting the latest scheme that Zuri and her friends come up with at school, the familial bonds remain at the forefront of everything.
Being an animated series about an unapologetically Black family unit, there will no doubt be comparison made to the The Proud Family. However, Young Love has its on distinct vibe, one that feels more akin to sitcoms like Roc, Abbott Elementary, or Good Times, shows where Black people are allowed to exist and be awkward as they do their best to navigate daily life. Outside of brief fantasies when hopping into Zuri’s vivid imagination, the series keeps itself grounded in reality.
Constructing a comedy that the whole family can enjoy, one of the show’s greatest strengths is how effortlessly it uses humour to address themes and topics many will identify with. An early example of this is the sense of anxiety Angela feels returning to work knowing everyone still views her with the same eyes they did when she was sick. Another episode finds Stephen dealing with the misguided nature of allyship in the corporate world with music executives looking to bring in diversity. In the “Charity Love” episode, the series offers a unique take on the unhoused and the way people use social media to exploit them for clicks.
While many of its themes are universal, Young Love refreshingly does not sugarcoat the fact that it is coming from a Black perspective. It adds comedic depth to the family dynamics, especially with Russell and his wife Gigi (Loretta Devine) constantly sharing their unfiltered opinions, and brings interesting layers to the social and economic commentary sprinkled throughout the series. Regardless of the topics raised, the series approaches it all with humour, love, and hope.
Offering an amusing and entertaining slice of everyday life, Young Love is a charming series that reminds us that nothing is unreachable when one has family lifting you up.
The first four episodes of Young Love are now available to stream on Crave. Four new episodes will air Thursday, September 28, followed by the final four episodes premiering Thursday, Oct 5.