From a production standpoint, The Boondocks (2005-2015) certainly moved at its own pace...and up until now, it was always worth the wait. After three successful seasons helmed by series creator Aaron McGruder, the series unofficially closed up shop in 2010; no one, including myself, figured it would return to television. Less than five years later, here we are: The Boondocks has completed a fourth and final season of just 10 episodes (down from the usual 15, and despite the network and creative team's initial agreement of 20), with one major change right out of the gate: Aaron McGruder's name no longer appears as creator and he's not officially credited as a writer on any of these episodes, despite some evidence to the contrary. McGruder's new series, Black Jesus, is set to premiere later this year.
If you missed these 10 episodes on Cartoon Network during the last few months (whether through ignorance or scathing word-of-mouth), the first thing you'll notice about The Boondocks' fourth season is its lack of...well, comedy. Many of these episodes simply aren't funny: either the majority of jokes don't register or they just aren't there to begin with. Sure, the series' trademark brand of pop culture and political satire shows up every so often...but without solid gags to break the tension, these "soapbox moments" feel more repulsive than clever. Several episode conclusions also come out of nowhere, as if portions were hastily re-written or simply cobbled together from a handful of odds and ends.
Aside from those blatantly obvious roadblocks, three specific things really hurt The Boondocks this time around: (1) an over-reliance on certain characters and past plots, (2) a half-hearted attempt at serialized storytelling, and (3) the nagging theory that these episodes are presented out of production order. As for the first problem: the increasingly less effective appearances by Uncle Ruckus are an obvious culprit: he shows up in all 10 episodes. Granddad is also the focus of at least three-quarters of these stories; more often than not, it's just another exploration of his failed love life. Worse yet, plots are recycled from past episodes like "Tom, Sarah, and Usher" and "Guess Hoe's Coming to Dinner". Second: the Freemans are broke this season, with new character Ed Wuncler II popping up occasionally to collect money that isn't there. It wouldn't be so bad if the writers didn't hit the reset button after just about every episode, making this attempt at continuity ring completely hollow. Third: well, this isn't really the creative team's fault and might even account for part of the second problem too…but couldn't it have been corrected for DVD like Firefly was?
Still, there are a few highlights aside from the series' typically fantastic visuals and music. You'll laugh on occasion---maybe even out loud---and I enjoyed episodes like "Breaking Granddad" and "I Dream of Siri" more than expected (especially the latter, since I always love when The Boondocks drifts into quasi-horror territory). There are certainly a few instances where Aaron McGruder's touch is felt; the mystery of his official level of involvement this season suggests that, despite his public distance from The Boondocks at this point, he simply had his name removed. But things like this make the end result infinitely more frustrating: you'll see brief flashes of greatness squandered so quickly that some barely even register. That, and the fact you'll sit through long stretches without laughing once. So, like dozens of once-beloved shows before it, The Boondocks' reputation has been tarnished by a mediocre, unnecessary send-off.
Episodes: "Pretty Boy Flizzy", "Good Times", "Breaking Granddad", "Early Bird Special", "Freedom Ride or Die", "Granddad Dates a Kardashian", "Freedomland", "I Dream of Siri", "Stinkmeaner: Begun the Clone War Has", and "The New Black"
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
The Boondocks has always aimed for visual excellence with dynamic character designs, artistic 16:9 compositions, and beautifully expressive backgrounds. The rich color palette has been preserved nicely and all other aspects of this 480p transfer push the limits of standard definition. What's more, earlier seasons usually suffered from compression issues and modest amounts of digital combing, neither of which seems to be a problem here. Don't get me wrong: I'd rather have seasons 1-3 on Blu-ray than season 4 on anything, but I can't deny that this final go-around looks like a million bucks.
DISCLAIMER: The resized screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent DVD's native 480p resolution.
Not surprisingly, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track serves up crisp dialogue, strong effects and dynamic music cues by series regulars Jonathan Jackson and Metaphor the Great. Rear channels are used on many occasions for crowd reactions, fight scenes, and other background noises. Overall, we're treated to the same high quality mix as past seasons; shame that it couldn't happen to a better round of episodes. One obvious improvement over past seasons, however, is that full SDH subtitles are provided instead of Closed Captions, although they're surrounded by a distracting black border.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The menu interface is clean and simple, though a handful of trailers, logos and ominous warning screens must be dealt with beforehand. This two-disc release is housed in a clear hinged keepcase with a matching slipcover, unlike the slipcase format of Seasons 1-3. No inserts are included, but episode summaries have been printed on the inside cover.
Not surprisingly, we don't get much this time around. Two short Featurettes are pretty much it: "Boondocks Beats" (11 minutes) is a short interview with series music composers Jonathan Jackson and Metaphor the Great, while "A Writer's Perspective" (6 minutes) offers thoughts from executive producer and head writer Rodney Barnes. Aaron McGruder's name is even mentioned once or twice (we even see a script page for "Freedom Ride or Die" with his name as co-writer and dated January 2013), but obviously this is just a softball piece. No subtitles are offered during either one.
Many fans didn't expect The Boondocks to return for a fourth season...but it did, and it's anything but a victory lap. Though not without a few chuckles along the way, it's obvious that there were major problems behind the scenes: these 10 episodes are extremely inconsistent and, more often than not, a true example of a once-beloved series going through the motions. Still, the animation remains top notch, the music is solid, many of the original voice actors put in good work and, if you're not paying attention, this version of The Boondocks looks like the real thing. But it's not, and I doubt that any long-time fans would watch these episodes and think otherwise. Rent It, but only if you're curious.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.