Adult Swim’s latest late night animation acid trip–Tyler, The Creator-created The Jellies–stars a teenager named Cornell who finds out he was adopted by his parents, who are jellyfish. Most other characters are normal(ish) humans, except their neighbor, who’s a whale.
“A jellyfish would have a whale living next door,” The Jellies star Phil LaMarr, who plays the lead character Cornell Jelly, told GameSpot. “That just makes sense.”
That’s one way to look at it.
The Jellies has been adapted for Adult Swim from a series that was only available on rapper Tyler, the Creator’s multimedia phone app, Golf Media. In the original incarnation, Cornell was white. Now, he’s black, which Tyler explained thusly when challenged by an audience member at San Diego Comic-Con this year:
“How many f***ing black cartoon characters is it on TV right now? Name five. I’ll give you time…It is none. They canceled Static Shock. Nobody remembers Fillmore, like, we don’t got s**. The only other black character is this f***ing weird-ass–oh no, they killed Chef off f***ing South Park. So we don’t have s****. So I said f*** that. We about to make this n**** black, and he ain’t got no guns, he ain’t shoot no f***ing basketball, and he a f***ing goober, and we gonna put him on TV. And he’s the lead character. He ain’t the comic relief. He ain’t the sidekick. He the lead n****.”
“That’s actually revolutionary,” LaMarr elaborated. “There are these weird little mini revolutions that happen, and having a black, male, leading character that’s a ‘goober’ is, weirdly enough, revolutionary in America. You know? He is not cool, in any way shape or form. And to me, that’s real.”
“We get enough of The Rock, you know?” he continued. “That’s the predominant image of the black man. And even though this is not, you know, a $600 million action movie that’s going all over the world, it’s still out there. And I think people are going to respond to the truth of it–black people and non-black people, just because it’s speaking something that you don’t get to see, and it’s saying it in a way that’s authentic. That’s what I love about it. He is a goober, he is a hormonal teenager, and he’s also the star of the show. All of those things have individually been true at different points; none of them have ever been true together.”
There are a million ways to read into the character of Cornell Jelly. He’s a young black man who was raised by jellyfish, struggling to define his place in the universe. But there may be no one, definitive answer as to what it all means. If there is, it’s locked away tight in Tyler, the Creator’s brain.
“There’s no answer to ‘why jellyfish?'” LaMarr explained. “And the only answer to ‘Why not jellyfish?’ Is because nobody’s done it before.”
“I wish I understood how [Tyler’s] mind works,” said Carl Jones, a producer on the show. Jones is known for his work on shows like The Boondocks and Black Dynamite. “He will come up with ideas that seem like it’s out of the blue, then when you put it all together it works in this really weird, fantastical way.”
Episodes of The Jellies see Cornell trying to find his birth parents, or dragging a washed-up singer out of retirement to woo his gelatinous adoptive parents back together. Its humor bounces all over the map, from riffs on the fact that some of the characters are marine animals, to more obscure ’90s reference than you’d think it possible to fit into 15 minutes of television. LaMarr said the show doesn’t exclusively live in the past, although it’s not entirely topical, either.
“I think this show is more than of this time; I think it’s the sort of thing that people are going to be able to watch at any point,” he said. “It’s not about, like, ‘What happens after a black president?’ It’s not about right now, as much as it is, so much of this stuff is just like ‘Who am I?’ Identity, you know?”
Whether you’re black or white, young or old, human or jellyfish, that should be something you can relate to. The Jellies premieres on Adult Swim this Sunday, Oct. 22.