The Boondocks has been the guilty pleasure of African American cartoon aficionados since its debut on Cartoon Network back in 2005. Returning to Adult Swim Monday, its controversial, no chaser storylines are sure to make some uncomfortable with the subject matter. Prudes have screamed about there being too much profanity. Others have objected at its intentional buffoonish take on black people. While some had a problem with the way the show’s writers often joked about and questioned the most popular black entertainers of the day. But not all saw that. Intelligent, witty and satirical of the black cultural experience in America, The Boondocks is unafraid to ruffle feathers. R. Kelly, Tyler Perry, Al Sharpton, Usher, conservative pundit Ann Coulter and a slew of other real and re-imagined celebrities have all been within the cross hairs of Aaron McGruder’s brainchild at one point or another.
Featuring a list of characters who are pulled from the very fabric of modern black ideology – male more often than not – the main characters Riley and Huey Freeman, both voiced by actress Regina King, represent an extreme version of the dichotomy that exists between contemporary African American males. Consumerism versus community activism, intelligence versus willful ignorance and individuality versus popularity. Granddad aka Robert Freeman, played by comic actor John Witherspoon, represents a highly critical paternal figure who is in theory a responsible adult, but in practice fearful and reactionary. When given the choice between listening to the sage advice of young Huey, he picks the ignoramus approach offered by Riley more often than not. Characters such as Uncle Ruckus, voiced by Gary Anthony Williams, as the black racist who believes he’s really white; and the sweet but naïve little bi-racial girl Jazmine Dubois, voiced by actress Gabby Soleil, round out the cast. Add recurring characters like washed up rapper Thugnificent and Ed Wuncler III and you have a cast of miscreants who are ready made to clown just about any cultural, political or racial phenomenon in America making not a single episode unlikeable.
But the always amusing habit of The Boondocks is it being an animated television show that can illicit visceral responses from critics and fans alike. During one memorable episode, the writers take major shots at Tyler Perry by way of a cross-dressing character named Winston Jerome whose plays feature him dressed as a stereotypical black matriarchal figure. The episode gets its name, “Pause,” from a running joke among African American males that is used to clarify any unintended double entendre that could be misinterpreted as implying homosexual orientation. “Pause” is normally followed by the phrase “no homo.” And the hilarious part of this episode’s focus on the title character is a Madea knock-off named Ma Dukes. She/he makes his/her grand entrance descending on a gold elevator while singing “It’s All Right to Cross-Dress for Christ.”
Needless to say, Tyler Perry was not remotely amused. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Pause” took over a year to write and Turner Broadcasting, the owner of Cartoon Network, had to urge McGruder to change the character's name to Winston Jerome from one that was phonetically identical to Tyler Perry. Despite the edit, Perry was so ticked off that he contacted Turner Broadcasting and threatened to remove his two series, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and Meet the Browns, from TBS. Of course this didn’t happen. And “Pause” lives down among animated TV’s most controversial history.
Another favorite episode is "The Color of Ruckus.” Debuting during 2010’s season three, Uncle Ruckus mentions multiple times that he has reverse vitiligo. Vitiligo is a condition that causes the depigmentation of skin. But in Ruckus’ warped world believing he was born white, his dark color has come because of vitiligo. In "The Color of Ruckus,” writers take creative license by borrowing parts of the Brad Pitt film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to tell of Ruckus’ origin. But what McGruder and his team were doing was actually making light (pun intended) of a black cultural phenomenon in which some will downplay their obvious African ancestry in favor of a hint, rumor, or legend of some distant French, Irish or Native American heritage that may or may not be genetically accurate. How many times have you, dear black reader, heard someone say, “I got Indian in my family?” In the immortal words of comedian Paul Mooney, "Everybody wants to be black, but nobody wants to be black.”
With other standouts being “Ann Coulter,” “The Trial of R. Kelly,” “The Fund Raiser,” and “It’s a Black President, Huey Freeman,” the last new episode of The Boondocks was in June 2010. But Monday's Cartoon Network 10:30pm timeslot sees the return of The Boondock without creator Aaron McGruder attached. This has some wondering if the show will still stick to its honest, gully, progressive brand.
In press statements released by Adult Swim, McGruder’s departure is explained by saying, “A mutually agreeable production schedule could not be determined." The following is a portion of the statement McGruder released when revelations of his removal from the show initially came to light.
What has never been lost on me is the enormous responsibility that came with The Boondocks – particularly the television show and it’s relatively young audience. It was important to offend, but equally important to offend for the right reasons. For three seasons I personally navigated this show through the minefields of controversy. It was not perfect. And it definitely was not quick. But it was always done with a keen sense of duty, history, culture, and love. Anything less would have been simply unacceptable.
Yes, The Boondocks was filled with all kinds of buffoonery and was oftentimes profane. But the intelligence that is hidden within the dialogue and the satirical take on time honored instances of black cultural contradictions and silliness are what drove many to watch each episode more than once since The Boondocks’ hiatus. Now season four is upon us and we wonder how it'll be without the McGruder imprint. Can we expect the same amount of intelligent discourse? Or will we witness a bunch of coonery that is fashioned for the sole purpose of cheap laughter?
No one can be sure of anything other than the first episode of the new season being called "Huey’s Redemption" where our favorite 10-year-old revolutionary is back up to his old tricks again. Although we won’t know if this season will have the same intellect as those of the past until three or four episodes down the line, some suspect this may be The Boondocks last season. And most hope that the ghost of McGruder’s philosophical fingerprints are indelibly placed upon the soul of The Boondocks.
Here's are some video clips from some of our favorite the Boondocks episodes. Enjoy!
It's a Black President, Huey Freeman (Fast forward to 8:40 for the Obama song. Hilarity personified!)
The Color of Ruckus