(Sony) (3 DVDs)
It seems that certain people just can’t take a joke…especially when it’s pointed at themselves.
As even the most casual reader of Aaron McGruder’s comic strip-cum-animated series The Boondocks knows, its creator never shied away from controversy. Whether it was lead character Huey Freeman’s advocacy of more extreme black politics or McGruder showing a very different view of Hurricane Katrina victims, he would draw an equal number of screams of indignation to howls of pointed laughter.
Not that he’s the first. There are still those who want to ban Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn out there. By that I don’t just mean public schools, either.
The other thing about comparing social satirists Twain and McGruder is they were/are both highly successful creators in their respective times. The anger over their methods usually only fuels the fires of their supporters, as well as line their pockets.
And let’s be honest, when Adult Swim unveiled the first season of the animated version of The Boondocks, it turned into their most successful show on that network. Even when it turned a very discerning eye on black culture with such episodes as “The Return of the King,” “The Trial of Robert Kelly” and “Let’s Nab Oprah,” the more it drew the ire of certain sectors of the black and non-black audiences, the more people would watch them.
Then again, one has to say McGruder and company painted with a much broader brush that first season. White culture got raked over the coals as much as black in those early episodes, particularly in the forms of characters like Wurzel, his grandson W, W’s pal Gin Rummy and the mysterious agent my buds and I liked to call the White Shadow.
I don’t know what truly motivated McGruder’s story selection for this second season, but there was a noticeable shift. Wurzel and the Shadow are not to be seen, with the former only being mentioned in passing in the episode “Thank You for Not Snitching.” W and Gin Rummy are in there, but not the true focus.
The main focus of the entire season was McGruder setting his sights on the evils he sees inside black culture. It’s like he took the incredible sermon Dr. King made in “The Return”, and the criticism it aroused, to heart and lashed out. Not that what he said didn’t have its truths. At the same time, one could say he beat it to death.
One could say his targets deserved all they got. The aforementioned episode about snitching has a lot of ramifications. The same could be said for his rappers Gangstalicious and the newly introduced Thugnificent. In fact, it seems that McGruder has some particularly potent venom for the entertainment industry, especially black entertainment.
Which, of course, leads to the most controversial episodes of the second season, “The Hunger Strike (a.k.a. BET Sucks!)” and the “Uncle Ruckus Reality Show.”
As is now well known, both shows never aired on Adult Swim, although rumor has it they apparently were shown in other parts of the world. In these episodes, McGruder bludgeoned Black Entertainment Television. He also went after his former partner/producer, and now BET President of Entertainment, Reggie Hudlin as well as Hudlin’s boss, Debra L. Lee. He had the character based on Lee, Dr. Leevil, say it is BET’s ultimate dream was “the destruction of black people;” something Jim Crow, slavery and malt liquor failed to accomplish. He portrayed her as a dark clone of Austin Powers’ arch-nemesis Dr. Evil, constantly stroking a dead cat and in perpetual need of high heel shoes. He also had Leevil get down on her knees when the one (white) power that be shows up in her office and calls him “master.”
Yet McGruder saved his most poisonous attacks for Hudlin. Now dubbed “Wedgie,” he’s portrayed as a clown who constantly brags about going to Harvard and forces all the other BET execs to read his version of Marvel’s Black Panther. He also reminds them their daily free orange is their comprehensive health program.
As is now readily apparent, BET didn’t think much of this. According to a recent article published by the Tribune Group, BET threatened to sue if the episodes aired. Personal sources inside Cartoon Network stated to Newsarama they wanted to air them, but couldn’t. What’s annoying is even though McGruder and fellow producer Rodney Barnes do talk about being banned in the commentary tracks, they still won’t name names.
Actually, the commentary tracks (and the optional introductions) bring up some other interesting points. For starters, McGruder states that he had attacked BET many times before in his comic strip. There were not threats of lawsuits then. He also states it wasn’t his idea to do the episodes, but Barnes, who cops to it.
Whatever or whoever wants to take blame, these scathing episodes lead to a bigger issue.
As stated before, one big difference between this season and the first is McGruder and company truly focused on black-on-black issues. Episodes like the first season’s “The Itis” and even the pilot were more black-on-white. Somehow, with the tightening of the focus, the humor shrunk with it. Second season episodes such as “The S Word” and “The Story of Thugnificent” just don’t have quite the same appeal as any episode from the first year. Yes, there are times when the show gets back on track, like in “Stinkmeaner Strikes Back” and especially “Home Alone,” but these episodes also don’t concentrate as much on issues. They are just wickedly funny.
One thing that improved geometrically though was the animation itself. The color scheme virtually pops out at you. The line work is also much sharper and defined. The characters themselves are much more expressive, especially when you look at the aforementioned “Hunger Strike” or “Invasion of the Katrinians.” The action timing in episodes like “Home Alone” is also crisper and overall better.
The voice cast also sounds like they’ve gotten the feel for their characters. Regina King makes her transitions from Huey to Riley seem almost seamless. John Witherspoon and Gary Anthony Williams repeatedly nail it as Granddad and Ruckus, respectively. The way Katt Williams now plays Pimp Called Slickback this season makes one understand why voice director of the stars Andrea Romano would love to do a series just on this character. So yes, the story elements are dicey, but the quality of everything else is improving dramatically.
There’s one last critical detail that must be considered in reviewing this set. If you listen to the commentary track to the very last episode, “The Story of Gangstalicious Pt. 2,” McGruder and Barnes make some interesting side remarks.
First and foremost, McGruder admits he has a completed script introducing the last great character from the comic strip, Caesar. Apparently all he is waiting for is “the right woman” to voice the role. He also says letters demanding Brooklyn’s #1 comic strip character is still the most numerous one he gets.
This leads to a second remark though, one that makes one think. Both Barnes and McGruder make it a point to have their fans right letters for a third season. When an inquiry about such a season was made to Sony, they admitted there is no announcement for one; i.e. there might not be one. The reason? While Sony won’t say, some blame the potential of litigation from BET and its parent company, Viacom.
Personally, I’m hoping that’s not the case. If so, that’s one ugly way to end a show that had such incredible potential.