While the production history of “The Boondocks” is not as tortured as, say, “Community” or “Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark,” Aaron McGruder’s animated series has seen its fair share of bumps and bruises along its divisive path to Adult Swim glory.
Cramming four seasons into a mere nine years since its 2005 premiere, the show has seen extended hiatus, vitriolic commentary about its supposed ‘racist’ content, and the departure of creator Aaron McGruder as show runner. And for three of those seasons, it managed to still be one of the most challenging and hilarious shows in the Adult Swim lineup, broad but stinging in its comedy, and with the cojones to kick-start America’s stuttering conversation about race in a way no other show would touch.
How sad, then, that the fourth and final season is such a disappointment. Because of “production schedule issues” with the studio, McGruder had almost nothing to do with this season, and it shows. Painfully. All the familiar characters are back—budding child leftist Huey Freeman, his pop-culture obsessed brother Riley, their trouble-prone Granddad Robert, race-baiting Uncle Ruckus – but it’s mostly smash-and-grab attitude without the underpinning of a coherent guiding vision.
Of the ten episodes on this two-disc set, only four find the kind of barbed laughs and pointed satire that have been the show’s hallmark. Timely subjects have been a vital part of “Boondocks” success, but here they often seem to be settling for glib targets so broad or obvious they’re not even worthy of self-parody. A Kardashian episode? Political correctness satire? Really? The uncensored, uncut versions presented here benefit from bleep-free language, but not nearly enough.
Thankfully, not all is disaster here. Strong episodes include the Heisenberg riff “Breaking Grandad,” where Huey discovers a hair-straightening gel that turns out to be both explosively popular and just plain explosive, and Grandad cuts a deal with a shady salon operator to sell it under the table. Granddad gets a surprising second career as an escort in “Early Bird Special,” and “Good Times” features some humorous throwbacks to that 70’s era sitcom, as Robert goes broke and struggles to find work again.
The highlight of the season is definitely “Freedom Ride Or Die,” which is a documentary-style ride through Granddad’s unwilling participation in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. The script smartly juggles historical veracity and respect with the stubborn antics of Granddad’s self-absorbed cowardice. Almost all of the jokes land solidly, the preachy notes are handled without too much fuss, and there’s a well-choreographed battle between Granddad’s whip-like belt and some angry racists.
The series still looks great, with its anime-inspired character design, shaded and angular compositions, and some kinetic fight scenes that have real zip to them. The vocal work of John Witherspoon and Gary Anthony Williams, as Granddad and Uncle Ruckus respectively, is first-rate, with an edge and energy that boosts up some of the weaker writing.
But the season as a whole can’t help but be a dismaying farewell to a cult favorite. Even with the occasional highlights on disc one, Season 4 will leave fans with the memory of a bold contender that lost its way in the end.
The two-disc DVD set of “The Boondocks, Season 4” is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen, in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The discs capture the flavorful animation style well, with clean color and deep shadows. There is an option for English SDH subtitles.
The audio track is 5.1 Dolby Digital. There are no set-up options.
- “Boondocks Beats”: a blunt behind-the-scenes with series music composers Metaphor the Great and Jonathan Jackson
- “A Writer’s Perspective”: a dull, uninformative interview with writer/producer Rodney Barnes
With a final season that tilts heavily toward the unfunny and the obvious, “The Boondocks” doesn’t go out on a high note, despite some stellar voice work and a few solid episodes.