Not everything great can stay on top forever. With a few exceptions, all good things usually have their down moments. Great bands release lousy albums, fantastic directors make mediocre bombs, and awesome TV shows have those one or two seasons that most people aren’t very keen about. That’s life, though, and since this month is the 10th anniversary of a certain show that fell victim to this, I figured it would be a good time to discuss the subject. But first, we need some music to set the mood. Kick it, Asheru!
On November 6th, 2005, Adult Swim premiered the first episode of the satirical animated sitcom The Boondocks. The show was based off of a widely popular comic strip by Aaron McGruder, who also served as the executive producer and its key writer, contributing to every single episode of its first three seasons. The show takes places in the suburbs of Woodcrest and follows its various inhabitants, with the main characters being its newest residents, the Freeman family: retired civil rights activist Robert “Granddad” Freeman and his two grandchildren, Huey and Riley. The series followed these characters as well as its expansive and robust supporting cast, including lawyer Tom DuBois, business tycoon Ed Wuncler, his grandson Ed III and his pal Gin Rummy (a pair of dimwitted domestic terrorists), the notoriously cartoonish racist Uncle Ruckus (no relation), various fictional rappers, and more. Across the show’s first three seasons, The Boondocks was the subject of much controversy and equally as much praise from critics and fans, and rightfully so. It was one of those shows that literally fired on every cylinder it possibly could: outrageously hilarious comedic sensibilities, witty satire and observations on modern black culture, solidly written and even emotionally-stirring character dynamics, and of course the vibrant and PHENOMENAL anime-style visuals and animation. It was like the direct inverse of Murphy’s Law: everything that could go right with this show did.
And then season 4 happened.
The fourth and final season of the show was infamous for being produced without any involvement from series creator Aaron McGruder, as he and the network could not mutually agree on a production schedule for the season (I think this was roughly around the same time he started work on Black Jesus). Most fans weren’t too keen on this detail and the season that resulted from it, as season 4 is generally viewed as vastly inferior to the three that preceded it. This reaction is quite understandable, as when any show or project loses one of its main important contributors, subsequent entries will embody a different (and often inferior) feeling compared to what has been established before. In fact, there’s a near exact scenario that I can use a comparison point. Remember what happened the last time a beloved television series decided to produce a fourth season without the involvement of its key creative voice?
Anyway, it’s been about a year since The Boondocks’ fourth season made its full run on television, and I decided to tackle the question of its overall quality, namely: is the final season of The Boondocks irredeemably terrible and lacking in any merit? Well…
If I’m being honest, I don’t really think it’s the worst thing in the world… question mark? Okay, I should probably explain. Let me use the following example (drawing from my love of music) to give an idea of how I feel about this season.
Anybody who knows my taste in music knows that Mastodon is in the top 10 of my favorite bands of all time, and they have been ever since I first heard Crack The Skye during the tail end of my high school freshman year. In 2014 (same year as season 4, oddly enough), they released their sixth album Once More ‘Round The Sun.
As someone who has loved everything they put out, when I first heard it, I … did not know what to make of it. Honestly, everything I usually expect out of a Mastodon album felt weirdly absent from it. Forming a definitive opinion on it became tough for me, as I didn’t even really think it was a bad album. Far from it: there was still plenty of good songs on it and overall I would still recommend it to people, but the stuff that I subconsciously associate with the essence of the band’s best works was gone. It was a good album, but a lousy Mastodon album.
That right there is where I’m at when it comes to the fourth season of The Boondocks. On its own merits, it’s actually not all that terrible. It’s perfectly serviceable with plenty of funny jokes throughout, and in general it’s entertaining enough for me to recommend watching, but the heart and soul of those phenomenal first three seasons, as you can guess with the absence of McGruder, is completely gone. If I had to sum up the key flaw of season 4 in three words, it would be “lack of ambition”.
As I stated earlier, The Boondocks always had a lot of interesting stuff going on in most episodes, primarily its satirical views of black society and culture in the current decade, and it always found interesting and often profound ways of making a point. There’s of course the famous “Return of The King”: an episode about MLK surviving his assassination attempt only to be put in a coma until the present day, to ask the question “What would the most famous civil rights leader of the 60’s think of black culture today?”
“The Fried Chicken Flu” satirized the public’s as well as the media’s paranoia over swine flu, even culminating in a full-blown chaotic road chase paying homage to Mad Max: Road Warrior. The Gangstalicious episodes humorously explored the subject of gay men in hip-hop, a genre that is generally considered unfriendly to that community.
Quick tangent: you ever notice how Gangstalicious’ “Homies Over Hoes” is basically the same song as D4L’s “Laffy Taffy”?
The Boondocks was always a series with something on its mind and a distinct way of saying it. Season 4, however, doesn’t have much in the way of big ideas, as much of it just kind of jogs in place, and most of the attempts at satire and parody are either kind of toothless and limp or just retread old territory. The season opener, “Pretty Boy Flizzy”, is a solid example of this. The episode concerns the titular character, an obvious parody of Chris Brown, as he seeks legal expertise from Tom after being accused of robbing a convenience store. Tom, however, is dealing with marriage troubles (as he always is), and Flizzy’s presence in the neighborhood doesn’t help matters at all. The episode itself is not too bad, with the funniest moments being Flizzy’s public “apologies” after the various crimes he’s committed, but do you sense anything familiar here? A contemporary R&B singer who ends up in Tom’s life and exacerbates pre-existing marriage troubles between him and Sarah? It’s literally just the “Tom, Sarah, and Usher” episode from season 2 all over again, just swapping in Chris Brown in place of Usher; it’s an episode we’ve seen before and done better.
Another sign of the season having no real ideas is that we have a fourth entry in the ongoing Stinkmeaner saga. As a quick refresher, Colonel H. Stinkmeaner was a bitter old man who absolutely despised everything and loved spreading hatred everywhere he could. He was used to introduce the concept of the “nigga moment”, which, as Huey explained, is when ignorance over stupid crap overwhelms the mind of an otherwise perfectly rationale black man, illustrated by his feud with Robert Freeman.
Subsequent episodes constantly expanded on the concept of the nigga moment, as Stinkmeaner always found his way back: sent back to Earth by Satan in season 2, and his old friends in the Hateocracy attempting to seek revenge on the Freemans in season 3. These follow-ups, as absurd as some of them may be, were at least grounded by the whole nigga moment conceit, with each episode having interesting things to say about it. The season 4 Stinkmeaner episode, however, does basically nothing with it. The Stinkmeaner present in this episode is a clone, which is kind of silly and dumb even given some of the ridiculous moments in the great seasons of the show, and they do incorporate the nigga moment, but instead of expanding on it, they just restate it in a half-hearted fashion with nothing new. You can tell the only reason this episode exists was just to fulfill an arbitrary checklist and have a Stinkmeaner episode for its own sake.
Meanwhile, the season DOES actually present a fairly interesting story idea with Granddad finding himself in debt after refinancing on the house, eventually becoming a slave of Ed Wuncler Jr., the only member of the Wuncler family we haven’t seen until now. This plot point serves as a catalyst for a few of the episodes in the season, as Robert tries to work his way out of debt and enslavement. However, once all is said and done, this thread doesn’t really go anyway or climax in any kind of expected fashion, although oddly enough this leads to both the best episode of the season, “Freedomland”, and the worst episode of the season, “Breaking Granddad”.
“Breaking Granddad”, as the name implies, is a fairly obvious and predictable spoof of the hit television series Breaking Bad. In this episode Now having sequences/whole episodes spoofing film and television is not uncommon for the show, as season three had episodes which spoofed and paid homage to films like John Carpenter’s Halloween and Scarface. The thing, however, is that those spoofs usually fit well and made sense within the universe of the show and led to some wonderfully hilarious moments. “Breaking Granddad” not only feels forced as an episode idea, but it is the only episode of The Boondocks that I never once laughed at. It doesn’t have the saving grace of a single good joke within it; it’s such a cringe-worthy half hour of television.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s “Freedomland”, which I feel is the closest season 4 comes to successfully capturing the spirit of what the show’s normally about. The episode concerns Ed Wuncler Jr. offering the Freeman family the chance to work off their debt as a part of his newest business venture, which is … a slavery-themed amusement park. Perhaps it’s not the most subtle of episode ideas, but then again The Boondocks, even at its best, was never really a subtle show. Despite that, it’s a well-done episode that actually feels like a quintessential part of the series, even culminating with one of my favorite Huey moments right at the end (I wish there was a clip for this, but I can’t find one). Speaking of Huey, he’s kind of shoved into the background a lot during this season and doesn’t really do much, which is sadly probably for the best in this case. Remember, Huey always survived as the show’s surrogate/creator mouthpiece: the one character that existed as a vessel for all of Aaron McGruder’s social and political viewpoints. Clearly without him at the wheel, any attempt to do anything with Huey at all would come across as a shallow pale imitation of his general personality, so I can imagine that being the idea behind him feeling like a bit player, but it does really suck.
While I’m on the subject of Huey, another unfortunate flaw of the season is how weak a lot of the character work tends to be. I always felt McGruder was fairly talented at coming up with distinctive and entertaining character dynamics, in addition to being able to craft solid moments of genuine drama and emotion. The Boondocks had a lot of scenes like this: Granddad protecting his hoe girlfriend from getting slapped by A Pimp Named Slickback, the emotionally devastating climax of season 1 where Huey prays to a God he’s not sure exists to protect an innocent man from being killed on death row (seriously, that part of the episode kind of destroys me every time I watch it), the tragic backstory of the Killer Kung Fu Wolf Bitch (did someone say kumite? *woo-tah!*) etc. Hell, the third season had an episode dedicated to exploring the backstory of Uncle Ruckus, and it’s such a depressing and fucked-up story that you actually manage to feel sympathy towards the show’s most despicable character. It’s so saddening than even Riley cries when he hears it, and that never happens because “crying is gay”. If only season 4 had anything as emotionally resonant as moments like those.
There’s one last episode I want to touch, as I think it’s the one that most perfectly encapsulates my overall feelings towards the season: “Granddad Dates A Kardashian”. In this episode, the Freeman family becomes the subject of a potential new reality show as he starts dating a supposed Kardashian sibling named Kardashia. The episode is solidly entertaining and has plenty of decent jokes throughout, but… a Kardashian parody? That’s honestly the best idea you had for a celebrity/media satire? It’s just such an obvious been there/done that idea for an episode, and while the jokes are funny, they’re also kind of tame by Boondocks standards. Just for a comparison point, the second season had two episodes dedicated to savagely mocking BET, which McGruder always viewed as one of the worst things to happen to black culture. These episodes were so relentless in their mockery of the BET network that they weren’t even allowed to air on television here in the United States. You can’t even stream them on Netflix, at least in the U.S., anyway. Both episodes premiered in Canada and are available on Canadian Netflix. In addition, season 3 (I just noticed I keep referencing season 3. God, what a great season of television) featured the highly infamous “Pause” episode, about Granddad auditioning for a role in a play written by a thinly-veiled Tyler Perry parody named Winston Jerome. This episode is one of the greatest half-hours of television ever conceived in my opinion, and it remains one of the most brutal eviscerations of any celebrity I’ve ever witnessed. Even South Park at its peak was never as savage as the “Pause” episode was.
So that’s everything I have to say in regards to The Boondocks’ fourth season. Like I said earlier, I don’t hate the season as much as I think I’m supposed to. It’s serviceable and supplies some solid jokes and watchable episodes here and there, but it’s definitely inferior to the first three, being absent of any real goals and ideas other than “get to the end” and not really having much of a reason to exist. But just remember: it could have turned out so much worse.