Web Series: Superheroes & Social Commentary Unite on 'aka Wyatt Cenac'
By day, Wyatt Cenac is a mild-mannered comedian. He sits, complains, and does little to improve his humdrum living conditions in Brooklyn. By night, however, he’s The Viceroy, a feared (?) vigilante who battles the least heinous criminals in the city-- mustard shop owners, baby stroller burglars, and perhaps worst of all, entitled yuppie parents. It may not be the crime he had in mind, but to quote The Viceroy’s sidekick, “it’s the crime that Brooklyn deserves.”
This irreverent spirit is what makes aka Wyatt Cenac one of the sharpest web series currently available for streaming. Cenac, who also writes and directs each episode, subverts the superhero genre for an honest, hilarious look at what it takes to fight crime as a grumpy hipster. Don’t go in expecting an obligatory origin story or spectacular action scenes, as the show focuses exclusively on the aftermath of The Viceroy’s adventures-- which often find him injured, out of breath, or just plain agitated to be in Bushwick after dark.
For many, the central draw for the series will be it's running commentary on modern superheroes. The minor inconveniences that get brushed over by Marvel and DC are placed under the microscope here, allowing The Viceroy to exercise his droll, observational wit. He enrolls in yoga to gain more fighting agility, only to get caught checking out his female classmates. (“I said I wasn’t gonna stare at butts and then I totally stared at butts.”) After a drug bust fails to make headlines, he sits down with a lawyer to assess his marketability. There’s even a jab at shared cinematic universes when The Viceroy bumps into a fellow vigilante named God’s Sword (a hilariously freaky Matt Barats) and debates which of their approaches works better.
Beyond its obvious parody, aka Wyatt Cenac also uses its tropes as a means of discussing topics like race, gentrification, and urban culture. In episode #842 (titled to evoke comic book issues), The Viceroy apprehends a black criminal who just assumes that he’s white. The criminal calls him a pig, clowns his "fake" deep voice, and is joined by a group of other black men who start recording the scene on their phones. The humor never ceases, as evidenced by the fact that The Viceroy ultimately decides to hang out with them, but he does take the opportunity to make some pointed remarks. “Simply assuming I’m a white dude just reinforces the culturally damaging notion that white must always be the default,” he says. “We live in a world where we could have a black president. Why can’t we have a black vigilante?” Neither cloying nor insincere, it's a credit to the show’s balanced mood that the scene goes over as well as it does.
Cenac may lack the narrative acumen of comedic auteurs like Aziz Ansari (Masters of None) or Donald Glover (Atlanta), but his incisive, plainspoken humor places him in a similar realm when it comes to representing millennial men. He manages to tap into the generation’s conflicting interests-- the desire to espouse personal views without being politically incorrect, the need to be pragmatic while pursuing one’s passion-- without offending or talking down to the viewer. Further stabilizing this tricky balance are a group of friends (Emily Tarver, Jeena Yi and Thomas Fowler) who mirror Cenac with their own specific quirks. My favorite example is when Fowler’s character chastises a couple for dressing their baby in a shirt that has drug-related rap lyrics, only to offer them weed minutes later.
To its credit, the series is just as willing to draw attention to Cenac's own shortcomings. He claims gentrification is ruining his beloved Brooklyn, yet his friends point out that he’s just as responsible for it as the yuppies he so despises: “You moved to this town too! You wanted a cool bar instead of an auto body shop.” His response-- to fight crime in a bright costume-- is justly pegged as an unhealthy way of coping. It’s this self-aware, self-effacing approach to millennial culture that allows aka Wyatt Cenac to outshine shows with similar audiences. Fans of Cenac’s 2014 comedy special Brooklyn (which is currently available on Netflix) might also spot some overlap here, as its routines are loosely weaved into each story.
All six episodes of aka Wyatt Cenac are currently available to stream on Topic.com, a brand launched by First Look Media that describes its content as “a wide range of subject matter, both fiction and nonfiction, with an emphasis on stories of consequence.” At about an hour in total, it’s a viewing experience that flies by, and makes one hope that Cenac will continue to crack wise and keep his hometown safe.
aka Wyatt Cenac is also available to stream on YouTube.