Hulu’s Woke Wants to Start a Conversation About Police Brutality

The 8-episode series stars New Girl’s Lamorne Morris

The comedy, starring Lamorne Morris, lands on Hulu Sept. 9. - Credit by Hulu
Headshot of Kelsey Sutton

Hulu’s upcoming comedy Woke, premiering Sept. 9, couldn’t be arriving at a better time.

The eight-episode series follows the fictional story of cartoonist Keef as he grapples with what it means to be a Black man and artist after experiencing police brutality. While Woke was filmed before the nationwide protests about police brutality following the deaths of Black Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the show’s creators and writers say that the show has taken on a renewed importance.

“Watching the world change after we got [the show] in the can was sort of surreal,” co-creator and executive producer Marshall Todd said during CTAM’s virtual press tour, a partial replacement for the annual Television Critics Association’s summer press tour that was canceled this year due to the pandemic. “With each passing event, we became more and more relevant.”

The series, which stars New Girl’s Lamorne Morris, was written and wrapped filming before the Covid-19 shutdown and before the new wave of protests, which director Maurice “Mo” Marable said was indicative of the timelessness of stories like the one Woke aims to tell.

“At the end of the day, this story is evergreen,” Marable said. “What happened to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, those have been going on longer than I’ve been alive, longer than my parents have been alive. When you look at it on the surface, it’s like this is a groundbreaking story, but it’s not—this story has been told over and over and over. Hopefully we’ll put a modern spin on it that people will like and hopefully learn something from.”

Woke is closely mapped on cartoonist Keith Knight’s experience in San Francisco, where an encounter with police deeply affected his perspective. The cartoonist, known for comic strips like The Knight Life and The K Chronicles, co-created the series with Todd and also executive produces.

“I had an incident with the police that sort of set me on a bit of a journey,” Knight said. “I had been doing comics about police brutality but once it happens to you, it’s different, it’s very intense. And it just made me double and triple down on the work that I’m doing.”

Knight’s hopeful that the absurdity of the show—in which Keef’s cartoonist imagination begins to graft onto the real world around him as his PTSD from the encounter manifests—offers a new lens through which viewers can view heavy topics. “[Cartoons] are able to say things and speak truth to power in a way that people can’t,” Knight said.

Woke isn’t the only original comedy arriving to Hulu next month. The second season of the breakout comedy hit Pen15 is also arriving to the streamer on Sept. 18, and it will also tackle heavier topics compared to its deliciously cringey first season, in which co-creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play 13-year-old versions of themselves as they navigate middle school and all of the awkwardness that comes with it.

Konkle said the second season is aimed at exploring more serious issues, like mental health, divorce and maturing relationships.

“Those darker feelings started introducing themselves at around 13 years old for me, and we felt we could be real and honest while also being funny and even magical,” she said.

Like the first season, Pen15 won’t offer viewers “a happy ending or a lesson,” Konkle said. “Hopefully there are things coming through that are motivating or hopeful, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to hold a mirror to our experiences and to human experiences, and show it in a way that was funny to us, or honest to us.”

Hulu, which last year made waves for ambitious, unique comedies like Shrill and Ramy, is digging deep into the genre. The Steve Martin and Martin Short-led comedy Only Murders in the Building, which Hulu previously announced, also has another big name attached to it, the streamer announced today. Selena Gomez—who, as it happens, is also working on a reality cooking show for HBO Max—will join the main cast of the series, which follows three true-crime super-fans as they investigate a murder.

The streamer is also pushing into other genres. No Man’s Land, premiering Nov. 18, follows a French man who believes his estranged sister has joined the Kurdish YPG militia to fight ISIS jihadists. The series, which follows Antoine (played by Felix Moati) as he joins forces with the unit of Kurdish women fighters, already won best project at the French festival Series Mania, where it was shown under the title Fertile Crescent.

Hulu has also ordered the drama The Girl From Plainville, a true-crime series following Michelle Cartner (played by Elle Fanning) who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter encouraging her then-boyfriend’s suicide in 2017. Additionally, the streaming service has ordered six-part docuseries The Next Thing You Eat, which among other things examines Covid-19’s effects on restaurant industry.

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@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.