They say there's no such thing as bad publicity...and they're probably right, because Aaron McGruder's The Boondocks isn't the first franchise to enjoy success with the help of good old-fashioned controversy. Originally created as a comic strip for The Diamondback (the University of Maryland's independent student newspaper) in 1997, The Boondocks soon made its way to the pages of The Source, finally receiving a distribution deal with Universal Press Syndicate in 1999. Its history in the funny pages has been successful but rocky; not surprisingly, many newspapers dropped the strip due to complaints from angry readers. Nonetheless, The Boondocks remained a popular enough entry to be developed into an animated series, with the television and film rights quickly snapped up by Sony. Unfortunately, the strip's life was cut short in 2006 after a hiatus of undetermined length, presumably to focus more attention on the series itself. It was fun while it lasted, right?
Premiering as part of the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim animation block in November 2005, Season 1 is where most fans of The Boondocks jumped on board...because as the title of its first strip collection in 2000 implies, "I Know You Don't Read the Newspaper". This animated series granted McGruder's ideas and characters more breathing room; after all, the three-panel format isn't that large of a canvas to begin with. Season 2 expanded the series' scope a little further, piling on a bit more goofiness while retaining a razor-sharp edge. It's been over two years since the second season was unleashed on DVD---but as the overall quality here suggests, this third (and apparently, final) round proved to be worth the wait. It's not just as good as the first two installments; in some regards, it's even better.
It's a fairly well-known fact among fans of The Boondocks that Huey, one of the series' main characters, is a direct outlet for McGruder's political opinions. No one can forget Huey's forceful opening statements during the series premiere, yet the Huey of 2010 is practically invisible. Season 3 opener "It's a Black President, Huey Freeman" is a belated (but still timely) examination of Obama's election and how different citizens reacted to the news. Some were overjoyed. Some were horrified. Huey, on the other hand, remained completely nonchalant about the "change in power"; all he saw was a marketable candidate and realized that it was still pretty much business as usual. Whether you agree with McGruder's ideals or not, that's just the tip of the iceberg during The Complete Third Season, which includes 15 more episodes featuring Huey, Riley, Granddad, Uncle Ruckus, Thugnificent and the rest of The Boondocks gang. From start to finish, these 15 episodes include the following:
Complete Episode Listing
(15 full-length episodes on 3 single-sided discs)
Disc One: Episodes #1-5 *
"It's a Black President, Huey Freeman" - A document of post-Obama "Negro-American" life. Narrated by Werner Herzog!
"Bitches to Rags" - Otis "Thugnificent" Jenkins falls on hard times after his new album crashes and burns.
"The Red Ball" - Woodcrest battles a Chinese team in the most epic kickball game of the 21st century.
"The Story of Jimmy Rebel" - Uncle Ruckus finally meets his music idol after writing a racially-charged song.
"Stinkmeaner III: The Hateocracy" - Colonel Stinkmeaner's old gang returns to Woodcrest looking for the Freemans.
Disc Two: Episodes #6-10 *
"Smokin' with Cigarettes" - Riley gets in way over his head after joining forces with a young felon.
"The Fundraiser" - Riley pushes cookie weight on the streets of Woodcrest, Scarface style.
"Pause" - Granddad gets mixed up with a religious cult disguised as a theater group.
"A Date with the Booty Warrior" - Tom takes local kids on a "Scared Straight" prison tour, but a riot ensues.
"The Story of Lando Freeman" - A new guy in town claims to be Granddad's son. Will a talk show reveal the truth?
Disc Three: Episodes #11-15 *
"Lovely Ebony Brown" - Granddad dates a seemingly perfect woman, but his biggest obstacle is...himself.
"Mr. Medicinal" - Thugnificent convinces Granddad to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.
"The Fried Chicken Flu" - A KFC-spawned virus leaves the world in ruins, but the Freemans survive.
"The Color Ruckus" - Uncle Ruckus faces his abusive father during a family visit. Spoiler alert: somebody gets a whoopin'.
"It's Goin' Down" - Huey is suspected of domestic terrorism (again) after an attack on Woodcrest draws near.
^ - Includes Optional Audio Commentary
Includes additional Bonus Features (see below)
Much like Seasons 1 and 2, this third installment of The Boondocks balances goofy, off-color humor with clever social and political satire---and in all honesty, it's more refined this time around. Aside from the season opener, "The Red Ball" is an early standout: where else can we see an examination of U.S. foreign policy set against a Shaolin Soccer level of over-the-top athleticism? Another early highlight comes with "The Story of Jimmy Rebel": we see a more modest side of Uncle Ruckus, who's looking to launch his musical career by playing to the wrong (or right?) audience. Quasi-sequels like "Bitches to Rags", "Stinkmeaner III: The Hateocracy" and "Lovely Ebony Brown" aim more for the funny bone than the brain, but The Boondocks has always succeeded in making us laugh either way. This is mainly due to McGruder's steady hand in writing (or co-writing) each and every episode of the series; rather than exploding into an exaggerated version of itself, it's become much more polished---and dare I say, more subtle---than The Boondocks of 2005. If the series manages to return for a fourth season, I'd imagine the upward trend would continue.
Continuing The Boondocks' tradition of 15 episodes on DVD every two years, The Complete Third Season arrives courtesy of Sony Home Entertainment. This three-disc package is nearly identical to both previous collections in terms of A/V specs, although the quality and quantity of bonus features isn't quite as high this time around. Even so, the slightly higher caliber of the episodes themselves makes this a release worth looking out for. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, The Boondocks boasts a strong color palette that helps to accentuate its terrific visual design. Like the previous seasons, though, many episodes suffer from interlacing issues and mild compression artifacts, which can't help but become a distraction after a few minutes. Other than this eyesore---which deducts a full point from an otherwise terrific visual presentation---The Boondocks looks good and should please fans.
Likewise, the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix is clean and clear, boasting a strong atmosphere that suits the dialogue-driven show well. The music plays an important part in many episodes, and it often extends to the rear channels along with the show's infrequent action sequences. Only Closed Captions are supported during the actual episodes, but not during the bonus features.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Suited to the series' colorful atmosphere, the menu designs (seen above) offer a clean layout and easy navigation. Each 22-minute episode has been divided into roughly four chapters, while no obvious layer changes were detected during playback. The packaging continues the trend set by earlier seasons, as this three-disc set is housed in a trio of clear slim cases with character-themed artwork and an outer slipcover. Basic episode descriptions have been printed on the back of each case.
Not quite as much here as in other seasons, but there's still some decent stuff to dig through. For starters, each episode is Hosted by Cedric Yarbrough and Gary Anthony Williams (below left); that is, the comedic duo provides short introductions and conclusions that bookend all of Season 3's episodes. These tongue-in-cheek chats are supplemented by Audio Commentaries with Yarbrough and Williams (also featuring John Witherspoon) during "It's a Black President, Huey Freeman", "Stinkmeaner III: The Hateocracy", "Mr. Medicinal" and "The Fried Chicken Flu". These commentaries are pretty damn hilarious for the most part...but with no input from series creator Aaron McGruder, they lack a little bit of weight. Also peppered throughout all three discs are a few Animatic to Screen Comparisons; they're nothing we haven't seen before, but fans of the show's visual design will want to have a look.
The only two remaining extras are collected on Disc 4. "Slink on the Street: Who is Your Favorite Character?" (3:19) is a throwaway collection of casual interviews with costumed convention attendees and other average joes. We're also treated to a Sketch Gallery by supervising director Seung Eun Kim (below right), though a full-blown interview would've been even better. These bonus features are presented in anamorphic widescreen and include no Closed Captions or subtitles...and with absolutely no input by McGruder (who appeared in several featurettes and commentaries from Seasons 1 and 2), they can't help but feel a bit disappointing.
Season 3 may very well be the last hurrah for The Boondocks...but as the quality of these 15 episodes suggests, at least it went out on a high note. In fact, it may very well be the most consistently entertaining season to date, thanks to a more refined sense of satire and a few genuinely jaw-dropping scenarios. Sony's three-disc package is slightly less impressive than past collections, though: the technical presentation is roughly the same, but the bonus features aren't as impressive and we don't hear from series creator Aaron McGruder at all. Considering this may be the last we see of The Boondocks on TV, it's a shame that we don't get more closure here. In any case, this three-disc collection is expensive but worth every penny, thanks to consistently strong episodes and a solid level of replay value. Firmly Recommended, but new fans should start from the beginning.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.