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Facts of the Case
Once again, we look in on the Freeman family and the continuing adventures of 10-year-old intellectual Huey Freeman (Regina King, Southland) and his immature 8-year-old brother Riley (King again). Huey and Riley live in an upper-class suburban neighborhood with their belt-wielding grandfather Robert (John Witherspoon, Friday). Other local residents: the self-loathing racist Uncle Ruckus (Gary Anthony Williams, Boston Legal), well-meaning yuppies Tom (Cedric Yarbrough, Miss March), and Sarah Dubois (Jill Talley, Little Miss Sunshine), their mild-mannered biracial daughter Jazmine (Gabby Soleil, The Reading Room) and the rapper Thugnificent (Carl Jones). This season, they'll deal with the election of a new president, a "fried chicken flu" epidemic, surprising revelations of family history and much more.
All 15 episodes are spread across three discs:
In the first episode of The Boondocks: The Complete Third Season, a German documentary filmmaker (voiced by the great Werner Herzog) questions Huey Freeman about his days as a political activist.
"I'm retired," Huey sighs.
He's not kidding. Sadly, the current incarnation of The Boondocks just doesn't have much room for Huey Freeman. Once upon a time, it would have been nearly impossible to envision a version of The Boondocks not built around Huey. The character was the central figure of the comics for the duration of its run—Granddad, Riley, and Jazmine played significant roles, but they were supporting characters. When creator Aaron McGruder made the jump from the funny pages to television, new characters were added and the principle players were given roughly equal time. Even so, Huey remained the center of gravity around which the show was built, and the strongest, most ambitious episodes were those that heavily involved him. Even as someone who enjoyed the comic strip for years, I was surprised by how profound and thought-provoking the first season managed to be at times. Alas, the ratings weren't great, so McGruder and Co. re-worked the show for season two. There would be less sermonizing and more comedy, which meant less Huey and more of the sillier characters that surrounded him. In the third season, Huey is all but invisible.
That aforementioned first episode ("It's a Black President, Huey Freeman") is quite possibly the closest in tone to the comic strip The Boondocks has ever produced. A critical examination of the hysteria surrounding Barack Obama's election, the episode recaptures the potent blend of muted anger, wit, and weariness that fueled many of McGruder's best three-panel tales. Huey has always been the voice of McGruder's own feelings and beliefs, and his reaction to Obama's election succinctly mirrors McGruder's "cautiously pessimistic" feelings: "Eh." This response infuriates Huey's friends and neighbors, most of whom are caught up in an Obama-fueled frenzy. Some declare that racism has ended, Will.i.am records a song of celebration ("Dick-Riding Obama") and others assume the president is going to solve all their problems. The episode is not an attack aimed at President Obama, but rather a stern acknowledgement of the fact that despite his lofty rhetoric and promises of change, he's just another politician. It's smart political satire that serves a reminder of just why The Boondocks made such a strong impression when it first appeared in newspapers a decade ago.
Too bad it's a false start. Most of The Boondocks: The Complete Third Season is dominated by broad satire, juvenile humor, cutesy movie references, and outlandish plotting. It's not bad in contrast to the average Adult Swim show, but most of these episodes fall well below the standard this show has set with its best installments.
At worst, the episodes tend to be exasperatingly repetitive. "A Date With a Booty Warrior" is a tiresome, one-note episode that dispenses one well-worn gay joke after another on the way to its predictable conclusion (a sense of gay paranoia seems to run through several episodes, even those which attempt to satirize such attitudes). "The Fund-Raiser" is a less-than-inspired gangster movie parody (with a particular emphasis on Scarface) in which Riley turns door-to-door candy selling into a big business. Speaking of which, tongue-in-cheek movie parodies seem to be particularly prominent this season, with extended sequences recreating moments from Boogie Nights, 28 Weeks Later, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Road Warrior and others. Some of these work; others feel like forced attempts at maintaining the "comedy first, substance second" status quo.
Though the fact that The Boondocks is continuing to follow this path is regrettable, there are certainly moments where it works on its own terms. "Bitches to Rags" is a compelling, surprisingly resonant examination of what happens when rapper Thugnificent is forced to give up his career as an entertainer and get a real job. "Pause" takes some well-aimed shots at Tyler Perry (the analysis of his typical plot structure is spot-on), even if it runs its big joke into the ground (suggesting that Perry's cross-dressing is simply a mask for the director's buried homosexuality—cue the endless gay jokes once again). For pure comedy, you won't do better than the brutally funny "The Story of Jimmy Rebel," an Uncle Ruckus-centric tale of horrific racism presented in the format of an uplifting inspirational film.
As for the rest, most of it falls into the "eh" category. It's rumored that this may be the final season of The Boondocks, and as such there are several attempts at bringing closure to ongoing storylines. Unfortunately, most of these episodes just feel a little flat. "Stinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy" is an underwhelming conclusion to the Stinkmeaner trilogy, while "The Color Ruckus" attempts to provide a psychological explanation for Uncle Ruckus' self-loathing to disappointing effect. Granddad's romantic difficulties are surveyed and summarized in "The Lovely Ebony Brown" and Huey's "terrorism" is finally confronted by the U.S. government in misguided season finale "It's Goin' Down."
The DVD transfer is excellent, though I couldn't help but notice the animation looks a bit less fluid this season. Even so, detail is solid throughout. The audio is sturdy as well, with the eclectic soundtrack (frequently a blend of Vince Guaraldi and hip-hop rhythms) coming through with strength. A handful of action scenes will give you speakers a minor workout, but the attention-grabbing audio moments and few and far between. The supplements continue the "comedy over substance" trend, as Gary Anthony Williams and Cedric Yarbrough host every episode by providing brief intros and outros (roughly a minute each). All of these are extremely goofy, tongue-in-cheek bits of improvised comedy, but they're often genuinely hilarious (sometimes funnier than anything in the actual episode). The same spirit of silliness extends to the four commentary tracks (in which Williams and Yarbrough are joined by John Witherspoon). Other than that, you get a few animatic-to-screen comparisons, a brief featurette entitled "Slink on the Street: Who is Your Favorite Character?" (3 minutes), and a sketch gallery. Disappointly, Mr. McGruder is nowhere to be found (I would really love to hear some thoughts from McGruder on what The Boondocks has evolved into).
Note: This DVD set offers "uncut and uncensored" versions of the episodes, which basically entails a whole lot of bleep-free swearing (the f-word and particularly the n-word get a real workout throughout the series).
Those who've always liked the Riley episodes better than the Huey episodes will probably be happy with this collection (after all, the ratings for the third season were significantly better than the ratings for the first season). Those who hold the first season in high regard are likely to find this one largely trivial. Ah, well. At least it still has an awesome theme song.
It is what it is, but it isn't really The Boondocks.
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