It was the year 2005, I had a random animated show on Adult Swim running in the background while surfing the web. From what I could see from the corner of my eye, it looked just like the countless Japanese anime shows they had on their roster at the time. Yet this one was American and starred black characters?
Suddenly, I heard a grotesque-looking old black character spew some of the most racist comments this side of the KKK while claiming he was actually white and was stricken with the opposite of Michael Jackson's disease. This was obviously a special kind of biting satire and my attention now rested entirely on the show.
The writing was daring, fearless and very, very funny. The way it slapped institutionalized racism in the face via its clever humor while also making fun of the proud ignorance displayed by mainstream black pop culture gave it a vibe of honesty as an equal opportunity offender.
Just like Mike Judge brutally criticized the overly confident yet irredeemably stupid aspects of white culture with Beavis & Butthead and Idiocracy, Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder (Who also created the comic strip the show was based on) never flinched while showing the uglier sides of contemporary black culture.
McGruder's name is an important one to remember while reviewing the long-awaited Season 4 of Boondocks. The show's been around for almost ten years so if you'll do the math you'll realize that a new season only came along every two to three years, meaning the anticipation from the fans to lay eyes on new episodes was a bit more intense than any other show that came along once every year.
Aside from being the final season of the series, Season 4 of Boondocks also comes sans McGruder, the creator/showrunner/heart of the show. Fans reacted to this news accordingly, with scorn for the decision to keep McGruder out and a healthy dose of doubt that the show would be any good without him. Their fears were realized when they got a neutered version that replaced the biting satire with a string of tired old sit-com premises.
First of all, the real stars of Boondocks, the appropriately named gangster wannabe Riley and the proud "Black Power" revolutionary Huey, take a backseat to a string of get-rich schemes perpetrated by their greedy and shallow grandfather. What happened? Was Regina King, who famously voices both Riley and Huey, only available for half a day of recording?
Instead of presenting episodes disconnected from one another in a narrative sense, this season lazily attempts to glue together an overall conflict as Robert "Granddad" Freeman loses all of his money and has to make a lot of dough really fast in order to keep supporting his lavish lifestyle.
This leads to a Honeymooners-style (Talk about square) season structure where each episode deals with Freeman trying a new job or coming up with a new desperate moneymaking scheme. One week he's washing cars, the next week he's a gigolo, you get the picture if you watched a single sitcom during the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Some of the social humor and satire that work are merely callbacks from previous seasons.
A couple of episodes are creative and interesting on their own. A mockumentary showing Granddad's civil rights past might be the best of the season, maybe because I'm immediately sold on any episode that shows Granddad beating a gang of white supremacists with his trustworthy belt.
Uncle Ruckus, the aforementioned self-hating black man once again steals the show with his outrageously racist views and actions. However, a little of him goes a long way and he gets too much screen time during this season. Eventually, the shtick grows tired.
The desperation by the remaining writers to keep the show relevant really becomes obvious near the end of the season when a famous character who died in previous seasons is brought back to life, via cloning no less. Talk about jumping the shark.
So what's there left to recommend? For fans of the previous three seasons of the show, the fourth season will only remind them of how important Aaron McGruder was to the integrity of Boondocks. Those not familiar with the material might be amused by the many jokes rehashed from previous seasons but will end up getting a neutered version of a classic animated show.
Just like previous seasons, Boondocks Season 4 is only available on DVD. While the colorful and exaggerated anime style of the show could have benefited from a Blu-Ray transfer, the 16:9 SD presentation gets the job done with a clean and crisp transfer. Of course when viewed on a 120" upscaled 1080p projection, pixels become increasingly visible. However, showcased on my 37" HDTV upscaled to 720p, I'd be hard-pressed to find much to complain about. Since Boondocks already sports a less-than-stellar 2D animation style, I can't see why anyone would feel obligated to watch it on a giant screen.
There's only a single audio option: A Dolby Digital 5.1 track that sticks very closely to the front speakers. Even though the subwoofer booms semi-impressively for a basic cable TV show whenever one of the songs that are supposed to parody contemporary rap or R&B kicks in, I think any viewer would be perfectly fine watching the show on their regular TV speakers. Otherwise, there aren't any noticeable audio issues. I do, however, have some issues with the subtitling. The optional English subtitles are displayed over giant black blocks that cover a considerable portion of the screen. If anyone wants to watch the show with captions, they'll be in for an annoying surprise.
Boondocks Beats: A brief featurette about a duo of musicians who describe how they come up with the score for the soul of each character. Even at a short ten minutes, it overstays its welcome. It's fun to see the occasional shot showing the production process, but it mostly consists of talking heads.
A Writer's Perspective: This is an ironic five-minute feature considering the controversy that surrounded McGruder's departure. If the beloved showrunner of your show is gone, it might not be a good idea to mention the writing process on the DVD special features. That being said, it's a relatively harmless diversion as writer Rodney Barnes briefly talks about his influences for penning his episodes of the season.
Previews: We get trailers for Black Dynamite, That Awkward Moment, some terrible-looking found-footage horror flick and About Last Night.
Fans of the show are advised to ignore this lazy attempt at capturing the brilliance of Boondocks and erase this season from the show's canon.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com