I was introduced to The Boondocks by way of a constant comparison. My mother started it. “You sound like the lil’ Black boy in the comic strip in my newspaper.” Not long after came other people making quips like “What’s up, real-life Huey?” or “You sit, smirk, scowl, and stare exactly like Huey Freeman.” I had no idea who Huey Freeman was, but after finding out, I became obsessed with him and the strip in which he lived.
I have every bound collection of the comic ever published, and for several years, tried to keep up with every media appearance and every single interview its creator, Aaron McGruder did. So when the strip transitioned into a full-fledged animated series in 2005, I was as ecstatic as other devotees. And yet, when I see criticisms about the now Aaron McGruder-less season of The Boondocks on Adult Swim that premiered this week, my reaction is, “Uh, where in the hell have y’all been? It’s been hit or miss.”
Make no mistake that I, like other fans, would prefer the show be ran by the person who had the vision for it and whose voice fills each and every character. Still, no matter who shepherded this show’s fourth season, The Boondocks as an animated series has long felt like a missed opportunity.
As a strip, it was funny, smart, and wildly satirical in its commentary about race, hip-hop, politics and select facets of pop culture. And some of that was present in its first and second seasons of the show – namely McGruder’s clear annoyance with President Obama and the borderline idol-like worship he received from Black people. It was also interesting to see McGruder’s interpretation of the R. Kelly trial and the support he received from people who turned the other way to accusations of child molestation because Pissy was so good at making people’s bodies move like a snake.
When the show was good, it was good. When it wasn’t, I wanted to shake my cable box for some spare change to compensate for the time wasted.
By the third season, The Boondocks started to feel like it was perpetuating some of the very behavior it used to skewer as a comic strip. Now, I respect people’s choice not to use the word “n*gga,” but like Paul Mooney, I tend to find it whitens my teeth so I still use it fairly often. Yet, even I was taken back about how belligerent the characters were with the word. To this day, I can remember yelling back at the TV during one episode, “Damn, n*gga, we get it.”
Frankly, if I could sum up the third season in seven words, I’d go with the following: Nigga, chicken, kung-fu, nigga, pause, nigga, no homo.
Speaking of “pause” and “no homo,” the constant gay jokes were a lot to bear – particularly “A Date With The Booty Warrior.” I seriously wondered how the people behind this show knew more about anal sex than a dildo at a lonely gay’s house. Fans can recall McGruder’s poking fun at hip-hop’s ironic case of homophobia given the genre was marred in homoeroticism, but his own categorization of gay men wasn’t that much more involved.
Equally problematic was The Boondocks’ depiction of women. As Buzzfeed’s Heben Nigatu pointed out (via the Twitter), “Rewatching season 2 of Boondocks and I'm wondering if McGruder has actually ever spoken to a woman or if he just thinks they're imaginary.” It’s a critique I can recall hearing from other women friends of the show at the time, and it comes across as a constant of the show with or without Aaron McGruder.
I feel bad even critiquing the premiere as I’m a fan of the writer who wrote (please don’t hate me), but honestly, if you’re going to parody Chris Brown’s life, try to make it as funny as that Law & Order: SVU episode. Now that was comedy. Moreover, for the life of me, I don’t understand why Huey Freeman took a backseat on the long awaited return of the show.
Perhaps like Chappelle’s Show before it’s abrupt end, The Boondocks has had a bit of a back and forth as to whether or not it’s supposed to be poking fun of the culture or playing along. Whatever the case, again, while I understand the disappointment in the visionary being missing in action, I feel like critics of #NewBoon are dabbling in a bit of revisionist history. It was always hit or miss.
You can put lipstick on a pig, but a new shade can’t change the fact that it’s still Babe. But if you want to continue pretending otherwise, whatever works for you. I guess.
Michael Arceneaux is the author of the “The Weekly Read,” where tough love is served with just a touch of shade. Tweet him at @youngsinick.