A while back, I spoke with the co-creator of Flatbush Misdemeanors, Dan Perlman, about classic MTV message movies like Coach Carter and Freedom Writers and how they framed the relationship between students and their educators. “I hate and love those white savior teacher movies,” he told me, laughing about all the standard tropes that are abused in those types of films, particularly the heavy licensing of Tupac’s most radio-friendly hits. “In those movies there’s always a montage at the top of all the other teachers and the principal will be like, we’ve gone through 30 teachers in three months and nobody can teach these kids to read, and like, Matthew Perry comes in or whatever. For me I was like, my guy would be one of the 30 who failed the kids, but they just left him there because nobody cares. They just left him to fail the kids consistently.”
It’s a very informative lens through which to analyze Dan as a character. There’s nothing that indicates he has much of an aptitude for teaching, but it seems to be the path of least resistance for him to maintain gainful employment. Of all the characters in the neighborhood, Dan has arguably made the least substantive growth, save for his tenuous relationship with sobriety, and yet he is well on his way to having his full lifestyle restored to him as it once was, free and clear. All he needs to do is be in the right place at the right time, engaging in the performative ritual of a monitored teaching assessment, and everything eventually falls into place, despite his best efforts at self-sabotage.
The relative ease with which Dan regains his footing is at direct odds with the other people in his world. He shamefully listens along during NA as Drew continues to detail the fallout of being in the right place at the wrong time: visiting Zayna’s school while there was a warrant for his arrest. Drew is still trying to adhere to a checklist of demands from his lawyer while growing increasingly fatigued from maintaining a risky professional lifestyle that has diminishing returns and many unknown variables outside of his control. His drug business coming to Zayna’s front door was the last straw. “You might be strong enough to handle the pain; don’t mean you deserve it,” he muses during the weekly session to empathetic glances over surrendering to a higher power. Of course, the great irony is that most of them still don’t know that Drew is a distributor, not a consumer.
Regardless of which side of the supply chain Drew sits on, the reality is that it is still quite hard for him to leave the infrastructure he knows to go “clean” and operate in more legitimate taxable employment. With an arrest record and a limited résumé, it isn’t as if he can walk up into any office, and he has obligations to his family to uphold that require he maintain a certain income threshold. It is that exact mix of urgency and desperation that has led many people down a path of get-rich-quick schemes and digital scams known as NFTs, or, as Drew describes it, “art shit” — being sold on the concept by a reminder of Jay-Z’s 4:44 album and its numerous art references — and he quickly transitions from being a welcome distraction to Kevin’s fellowship to an active disruption. The disruption, though, is multilayered; as Kevin has divined, the artists in the fellowship are working to package versions of Blackness that can be easily digested and commodified while still branded as expressive and authentic. Drew, with all his bombast and real-life problems, cuts through the noise of that rat race, both through interfering in their shameless career-seeking as well as clear lack of deference for protocol in the fine-arts world. His priority is his family and survival, as crudely as he may apply it at times.
While Dan may not be much of an instructor — the charade of his lesson plan on female condoms was endlessly amusing, from the whiteboard text saying “what is a penis?” to him claiming that “the best of the best” use female condoms, such as Mary J. Blige and Megan Thee Stallion — he has shown over the course of the show to actually care about the students and their quality of life, protecting them when possible. When Zayna’s best friend is stuck with a bag full of promethazine in health class because her boyfriend got sent to Rikers Island before telling her where to leave the stash, Dan helps them get the bag out of school and to Zayna’s uncle Drew — but not before a bottle rolls out during his health lesson, prompting a cringe-inducing sequence of quick thinking where purple cough syrup is promptly used as lube in a female-condom application demo.
It’s a truly preposterous lesson plan, made even more absurd by his own students calling him a crackhead at the end of the class. But by the close of the episode, it’s his success in taking care of his students in crisis without escalating to the authorities that proves he’s just as competent as any other teacher in that building. Dan still has a bit to learn about how to control the classroom and gain respect. At minimum, however, a teacher should put his students’ interests over his own, and in his own backward way, Dan has shown he’s willing to do that, which is a far cry from the teacher who originally asked his students to forego their basketball scholarships to vouch for him. Perhaps there is a chance for Dan yet.