Kevin, Papa and Jake: The kids forced to grow up too fast
Middle school pals Kevin (Moonlight star Alex Hibbert), Papa (Shamon Brown, Jr.) and Jake (Michael Epps) are thick as thieves, hilarious and incredibly foul-mouthed. Their rough and tumble banter with each other -- Kevin calls Papa a "fat ass" and Papa rides Kevin for having no luck with girls, calling him a wanna be "Denzel mother----er" -- is delightfully mischievous. They talk like grown men, which might create a kind of fissure in some viewers' minds: Do little kids talk like this? And what's it like getting tweens to curse like soldiers?
"The kids they loved it," Waithe told TV Guide, who said their F-bombs and graphic sex talk reflects real life. Like the boys, she heard more than she probably should've at a young age too. "If you go on a bus or or a train in Chicago, or I'm sure New York, kids are talking like little adults." Hibbert, in the seventh grade last year when Moonlight made him a movie star, said he knows he's doing a job -- which means there's a hard line between work and home life. He told TV Guide that his mom has told him, "'You're working - do what you have to do.' But at the end of the day, I know when I'm in her house I won't be doing none of that grown stuff."
Papa, from a religious household, plays tough but knows he's not and gets teased for it; Jake wears dreadlocks, because as Waithe said, "That's what he thinks it takes to be a man." His dreads, like their coarse talk, is an appropriation of what manhood looks and sounds like although the reality, of course, is that they're still very much children. Nonetheless, they're exposed to adult situations all the time -- most alarmingly when Kevin witnesses Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) murder a kid which in turn makes Kevin Ronnie's No. 1 enemy. One of the enjoyable tensions of the first few episodes was seeing Kevin juggle an impossible duality: pining for the affections of a classmate, Andrea (Mariah Gordon) while literally running for his life from an out of control man who could very well kill him. As dangerous as their lives are though, the boys still party and chase girls in their complex and contradictory world. "Black parents can't afford to be helicopter parents," said Waithe. "That does change him. He has to become someone in order to protect himself rather than going to an adult. All that speaks to kids in Chicago -- which way they can go."