Ex-Bear Thomas Q. Jones stars in, produces TV series that defies Black male stereotypes
‘Johnson’ premiered this month on Bounce TV. It’s about four lifelong friends — Black men with the same last name — dealing with fatherhood, careers and everything else.
Black men in mainstream television and movies often are relegated to two types of roles — athletes and criminals.
A TV series produced by former Bear Thomas Q. Jones aims to change the pace.
“Johnson,” which airs 7 p.m. Sundays on Bounce TV, details the lives of four lifelong friends — Black men with the same last name who aren’t related — dealing with fatherhood, careers, the stigma regarding mental health, divorce, relationships, entrepreneurship, microaggressions, barbershop appointments and massaging hair care products into their lovers’ scalps, among many other topics.
“This is an original show, an original idea and an original concept,” Jones says. “The whole show is seen through our perspective. No veering left or right at all. We keep our narrative consistent. It reinforces everything that we put together — all the money, time, sweat and tears.”
Jones, a running back, played 12 NFL seasons — three with the Bears — before moving on to acting. He’s probably better known for his roles in “Straight Outta Compton,” “Luke Cage,” “Being Mary Jane,” “P-Valley” and “Bosch” than as a football player.
“I think I went into it with the mindset — to be honest — wanting to reinvent myself and get away from football,” says Jones, who plays Omar in the series. “I’m not the guy who just played for the Jets and Bears. I wasn’t a football player — I played football.”
Why “Johnson?” Series creator Deji Laray (“Bosch,” “Greenleaf”) says it’s because it’s such a common surname among Black people.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that Black men and Black women historically haven’t been accurately represented in the media,” Laray says. “Johnson is the most common African American last name in the United States. We all know a Johnson. We’re all related to a Johnson. We all have the same experiences as Black men, but you know when you go to our first names — Greg, Omar, Jarvis and Keith — you peel back those layers, and you see how different we are once you get past the last name.”
Cedric the Entertainer is an executive producer, and fellow “Kings of Comedy” star D.L. Hughley plays a recurring character.
“Johnson” debuted this month to two million viewers, which made it the most-watched half-hour series ever on Bounce, which is available on many cable and satellite systems and Chicago’s Channel 38.2.
“We’re happy that people respect how grounded the show is,” Laray says.
Jones remembers the response he received from industry gatekeepers when he was trying to sell the pilot for the series.
“They just didn’t think that people would actually tune in for 10 episodes of Black men having a voice in something not being street drama or a straight comedy,” Jones says. “One person we pitched the show to has brothers and uncles, so, when she saw the pilot, she understood completely. It took one person.”
The series also normalizes a niche — often met with amazement and ridicule — rarely seen in movies and TV: Black hockey fandom.
“I think what we do there is that we make the audience aware that there is this mindset that [hockey] isn’t 100% accepted in the Black community,” says Laray, who plays Greg in the series. “You know there is that stereotype about this sport, but we also normalize it. It’s really up to the audience to figure out who they’re gonna side with on their opinion on this.
“Greg and Jarvis [Derrex Brady] make a pretty good case that this is a sport like any other sport, and there’s nothing wrong with people loving hockey, people playing hockey and finding it a great sport to watch.”
He says the show aims “to show Black men in all of our glory and in all of our flaws as well. We’re chasing greatness. We’re brothers, we have goals, we have dreams, and we have good intentions.”