Hot off the heels of an interesting article I read two days ago regarding VH1’s influence on Black America, I decided to make this post about a beloved comic turned book turned TV series: The Boondocks. Created by the very taleneted and very political Aaron McGruder, The Boondocks TV series tells the story of Huey and Riley Freeman, who are taken in by their grandfather Robert Freeman and live together in the posh, predominantly white suburban neighborhood Woodcrest. Riley is the stereotypical gangsta wanna-be (this is intentional) while Huey is the outspoken yet eloquent Leftist Black Militant (again, intentional).
The Freemans are surrounded by a multitude of colorful supporting characters: The Stereotypical rich old white businessman Ed Wuncler (along with his grandsom and recently introduced son who are both named Ed Wuncler), the biracial Dubois Family (Tom who’s black, Sarah who’s white and their daughter Jasmine) and the controversial Uncle Ruckus (Literally an Uncle Tom but there is truth mixed with the racist rhetoric he spews).
Now before I get into why Season 4 will be noticably different, it’s important that I point out The Boondocks was a comic strip at first. About 12 years ago, McGruder published some books with actual stories to flesh out the characters. The Wunclers are Uncle Ruckus were introduced in the TV series by the way. I first got wind of the TV series in 2005 after my sister, who read the comics during much of the 1990s told me about it.
Major props go to Cartoon Network for giving Aaron McGruder a chance when even Comedy Central wouldn’t touch it. The reason: McGruder’s insistence that the word/phrase “Nigga” not only be included in the dialogue but be left uncensored. Cartoon Network refused at first too but after reviewing the already finished pilot episode they greenlit the series’ first season. As indicated by the commentary on the DVD Set, Cartoon Network refused to air one episode from Season 2 and edited another episode from the same season to avoid legal trouble with another cable channel. Notice I said unaired and not banned. If it were banned, it wouldn’t have been included with the DVD set.
The unaired episode, titled The Uncle Ruckus Reality Show is included with the DVD box set and after watching it, it’s easy to figure out why Cartoon Network refused to air it. It wasn’t until after I read the article referenced above that I understood the full conext of the unaired episode. The unaired episode, as the name implies is about a reality show deal Uncle Ruckus does with BET (“Black Evil Television”), which is portrayed as an evil network in The Boondocks (hint: It actually IS a bad network with bad programming!). For obvious reasons, Cartoon Network didn’t want to touch the firestorm airing it would have caused (nowhere near the same as South Park and The Simpsons cleverly throwing jabs at other networks) but thankfully, it was cleared for home release.
Now, The Boondocks isn’t for the faint of heart. While many other TV shows skirt around or outright avoid talking about real issues facing African Americans, The Boondocks confronts them head-on. Take this scene from the episode featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Honestly, I can imagine Dr. King saying something along those lines if he was alive today. He’d also be disgusted with his own children, whose very public bickering spits in the face of their father’s legacy. Anyway yeah, The Boondocks tackles tough topics head on. It does to enlighten, educate and entertain. It also does because let’s be honest, there are only two other black entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry willing to go this deep: Spike Lee and Tyler Perry. It’s as Spike Lee, Steven Spielberg and Michael Moore have said over the years on separate occaisions: Don’t bother making a movie about sensitive subject unless you’re willing to be real and authentic.
McGruder had the same thing in mind when he brought The Boondocks to Adult Swim. That said, now we’re going to talk about the fact Aaron McGruder is no longer involved with HIS show. For starters, those who make the jump from print media to TV/Movies are very aware that unless they own a studio (Perry) or fund everything themselves (Lee) they’re going to lose at least some creative control for the sake of the TV Show/Movie. Those with the DVD sets for Seasons 1 and 2 know both seasons were done at the same time. This is why there was such a small wait between them compared to Season 3.
Season 3….whew. Folks worried about Season 4 need only look at Season 3. The signs were there. Four of the episodes were loosely based on a combination of pop culture, 24 and two movies (Contagion and Scarface. Guess which ones). Episode 8 is an interesting one if you know the story behind it. For those who don’t know, Aaron McGruder doesn’t like Tyler Perry’s “Empire of Ignorance”. McGruder isn’t the only black entrepreneur who’s gone on the record and said they don’t like Perry and/or huis product and probably won’t be the last. A few years back, Spike Lee stated in an interview for a movie he was doing he considers the influence of the Tyler Perry brand a threat to black people. The reason I’m mentioning Spike Lee is because like McGruder, it’s just hatin’ on his part because it’s the cool thing to do. And in Lee’s case, people aren’t listening to him anymore.
Anyway, Episode 8 of Season 3 was an obvious Tyler Perry dis: The episode is about Robert getting cast in a play by Winston Jerome, whose persona “MaDukes” is very popular to black people. It’s an obvious parellel of Tyler Perry and Madea. Coincidentally, Tyler Perry was doing an interview on Oprah the night the episode aired and was asked about the episode the next day. Cartoon Network and TBS (which Perry’s shows air on) are both owned by Turner Broadcasting and the company chalked it up to a coincidence. The episode has never been reaired to my knowledge. This episode’s airing reignited a belief some internet trolls/haters have in which the reason Perry crossdresses is because he’s gay or bisexual but in the closet about it. Not that I care personally. It’s no one’s business at the end of the day.
Two more episodes spoof real people but they use their actual names: Fleece Johnson (I shared two videos about him recently on Facebook) and Taeshawn Lamilton (real name is Laeshawn Tamilton). The rest of the season is staple content expected from the first two seasons. Even so, the fact remains McGruder walked out on the TV series after making the fourth season. The word going around is McGruder was not involved with the Fourth Season. I heard the same rumor said about the third when it was announced and that was later proven to be false.
What’s likely to have happened is Aaron McGruder wasn’t happy with the direction the network wanted to take the show in the fourth season and wanted no part in it. Since he already inked the contract for the season the show must go on, as they say. I’m pretty sure this will be the final season for the series but I hope McGruder makes a comeback down the road on another network. The Boondocks has a cult following and fortunately for him, most of his viewers get what’s going on behind the scenes.