Today, Adult Swim is debuting its latest digital short series, Alabama Jackson, on their YouTube channel, following the titular time traveler (voiced by Donald Faison) and Harriet Tubman (Wanda Sykes) as they protect Black history from the machinations of Woodrow Wilson (Seth Green) and the KKKabal. Alabama is a hilarious combination of suave and bumbling, often saved by Harriet’s quick thinking.
The stop motion animated series sounds a bit like a fever dream crossed with a 30 Rock bit, but series creator Faison (Scrubs, Clueless) was initially inspired by Indiana Jones (which makes sense once you consider Alabama Jackson’s name) and his swashbuckling archeological adventures.
“I was like, you know, this dude’s going across the world—he’s in Africa, sometimes he’s in China—and there’s so much history, there’s so much Black history out there that nobody’s investigating. Wouldn’t it be really dope if there was somebody like the Black Indiana Jones, who was going across the continent and trying to find all of this Black history?” Faison tells me over Zoom from the floor of his closet. He has all the trappings of a home podcaster, thanks to his show with fellow Scrubs alum Zach Braff, Fake Doctors, Real Friends.
“When you try to do a show about an African American archeologist looking for artifacts, you run into problems, because a lot of our history is being erased…as time goes on,” he says. “One of the people that did a lot of erasing of Black history is Woodrow Wilson. And so I thought, how cool would it be if it’s a time travel show, and Woodrow Wilson is going through time now trying to erase Black history instead of trying to destroy books and curriculum in schools.”
Faison’s idea came up at a San Diego Comic Con Panel, and the head of Stoopid Buddy Stoodios—the animation studio behind Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken—was interested. It was the perfect match, as Faison’s love for stop motion animation runs deep.
“It’s my passion, actually,” he admits when I ask him about the craft. He even interned at Stoopid Buddy to learn more about the art form, and has lent his voice to a number of Robot Chicken characters. Faison credits his longtime friend and Stoopid Buddy co-founder Seth Green with helping him delve into stop motion.
“[Seth] introduced me to a bunch of animators, and I was able to convince one of them to come back to my house and teach me how to animate,” Faison explains.
Now, with Alabama Jackson, his passion project is coming to life.
“Things like this don’t ever happen, ever. But it happened this one time and I’m really excited about it,” he gushes.
The show’s writers include Faison, Seth Green, Lee House, Ashley Ray, Chris Waters and Faison’s mother, Shirley. Shirley’s background as a genealogist and African American history major meant that she gave the fictional exploits of Alabama Jackson real-life context.
“A lot of [the show] is made up, don’t get it twisted,” Faison says with a laugh. “Some of it is true and we are portraying history, but…we’re throwing Woodrow Wilson and Harriet Tubman and Alabama Jackson into the situation, making it a fantasy.”
Working with his mother didn’t phase the actor, since she’s apparently “been trying to be part of my career since I became an actor.” She even covered Faison’s agency job when he left temporarily to work on Clueless, only for him to come back and discover she’d made the position her own.
“She’s gone on to become a great agent and, you know, now a writer. This is her first time, so it was a lot of fun to work with her,” he says.
Unlike his mother, Faison is not much of a history buff, which meant that writing the series also turned into a learning experience. He was surprised to learn about just how racist Woodrow Wilson was (between his support of the KKK and the notoriously hateful film Birth of a Nation, Wilson sucks), and renewed his interest in Black historical figures like Tubman (“I don’t think there’s a bigger badass than Harriet Tubman,” he proclaims) and Martin Luther King Jr.
“History is really important. To know your history is to know yourself, and to know history in general is to know yourself. And we’re going through a lot right now with…what history people want to teach the children or what history they don’t want to teach the children. And, you know, if they’re not going to teach it in school, some kids can come and laugh with us and learn a few tidbits here and there. We’re not sitting here saying that everything that we’re doing is exact history, but we’re dropping some jewels on you in these episodes, we’re giving you knowledge, we’re giving you something to say, Oh, shit, I didn’t know this happened,” Faison says.
In some ways, the goofiness and historical settings of Alabama Jackson remind one of The Great, the satirical and not-entirely-accurate series about Catherine the Great. Even if elements of history are twisted or changed entirely, both series provoke enough curiosity that hopefully viewers will do some digging of their own. In the meantime, you’re going to enjoy more than a few laughs.
Watch the Paste exclusive look at a future Alabama Jackson episode below.