The news: The Boondocks' middling Season Four debut aired on Adult Swim last night, raising an important question for fans: Is the show still relevant?
It's surprising that things have come to this. Since its 2005 premiere, Aaron McGruder's cartoon has made its name skewering contemporary politics and black pop culture, mainly as seen through the eyes of Huey Freeman, a scowling 10-year-old militant. The series is based on the creator's newspaper strip of the same, which was famously banned from several publications for its "controversial" content.
Needless to say, both strip and show struck a nerve for a while with whatever made America tick.
Image Credit: Noble Realms
Then things began to change. Since 2010 The Boondocks has been on hiatus, and when it finally returned, it did so without its creator and original showrunner. McGruder addressed his disappointed fans in a letter last month, which only vaguely answered their screams of
"The Boondocks pretty much represents my life's work to this point," he wrote. "Huey, Riley and Granddad are not just property to me. They are my fictional blood relatives. Nothing is more painful than to leave them behind."
He adds that the program "was always done with a keen sense of duty, history, culture and love. Anything less would have been simply unacceptable." However, "[to] quote a great white man, 'Hollywood is a business.' And to quote another great white man, 'Don't hold grudges.'"
A cursory read between the lines suggests that "creative differences" may have contributed to his departure, but we may never know for sure. As a result, last night's debut was met with decidedly mixed reactions.
Image Credit: The Root
How bad was it really? Fans will certainly still appreciate Grandad's selfish grumpiness and the vile rants of Uncle Ruckus, but as Matt Zoller Seitz points out at Vulture, the episode felt "more leaden and tedious than most." Even aside from the uncomfortably sexist subtext of many of the jokes, which often involved references to beating women, perhaps the most fatal flaw was its lack of topicality.
Where the comic strip benefitted from a week-to-week format that kept it on pace with current events, Season Four of the show, perhaps more than any other, seems late to the party. I mean, for real: A Chris Brown allegory? Was anything he did ever funny?
But... If a satire feels this dated the moment it comes out, you also have to consider its place in the broader cultural landscape. The Boondocks was always great at representing diverse opinions within the black community, as many have pointed out. It routinely shot down the notion that black Americans are a monolithic unit, where everyone thinks and feels the same.
Yet NPR argues that this role has been usurped by online forces, from #BlackTwitter to web series like Issa Rae's Awkward Black Girl. Diversity of black thought and outlets for black comedy, whether high- or low-profile, have never been on broader display than during the Internet age, nor have they been more topical. Online is now the premiere platform for instantaneous responses to cultural events. While The Boondocks wasn't always the quickest to hit us with satire, at least with McGruder it was one of the smartest.
If this new season premiere is any indicator, those days are fading, if not already gone. There's obviously time for improvement. But only time well tell if The Boondocks reemerges at the peak of its game, or evaporates into irrelevance, a whimpering shadow of its former self.