“Jesus was black, Ronald Reagan was the devil and the government is lying about 9/11.” Any TV show that kicks of its premiere with those words is bound to cause more than just a few heads to turn. It’s nothing new, however, for the show’s creator, cartoonit Aaron McGruder, and his brainchild, The Boondocks. Based on the popular but controversial daily comic strip that often appears along with editorials instead of the other funnies, The Boondocks makes its debut on Cartoon Network’s late-night Adult Swim lineup on Sunday, Nov. 6.
Like the strip, the show follows the lives of the Freeman kids: 10 year-old brooding preteen Huey and his gangsta-wannabe younger brother, Riley (both voiced by Regina King), who follow their grandfather, Robert Jebediah Freeman – known more simply as Granddad – in a move from the south side of Chicago to the “boondocks” of suburban Woodcrest. But considering all the success the strip has enjoyed over the years as a syndicated daily, what more could the TV cartoon possibly hope to accomplish?
“DVD sales,” joked McGruder. In all seriousness, though, McGruder sees himself as a storyteller and as he accurately points out, “It’s difficult to tell stories in a daily strip.” That may be true, but McGruder’s had a pretty good track record even with a handful of panels. But given the mixed success of other toons that have made the jump from panels to the small screen, it would seem impossible to project what kind of reception McGruder’s characters’ animated selves are going to get.
That said, The Boondocks seems to be about as can’t miss as ever and its marriage to Adult Swim is all too perfect. What sets the show apart from other comic flops is its fidelity to the strip in nearly every regard. As McGruder says himself, he’s the “showrunner,” the primary creative authority, having written nearly all the scripts and serving as the show’s executive producer. Aside from doing the actual animation, McGruder pretty much does the entire show. The actual responsibility of bringing his characters to life was outsourced to Korean studios, but again, that was a result of McGruder’s insistence on giving the show a distinctly anime look and feel.
Coupled with the seemingly boundless creative freedom that the late-night timeslot and Adult Swim have provided (network execs have given the green light for showing anything except for sex), The Boondocks seems to be a natural fit for television.
There’s no logical order to the episodes or any kind of overarching storyline. Instead, each episode focuses on some kind of larger theme, ranging from R. Kelly and the issue of “underage peeing” to a planned episode featuring a Martin Luther King, Jr. resurrected into the post-9/11 era.
One of the early episodes, entitled “Guess Hoe’s Coming to Dinner” centers around Granddad’s strange but hilarious fling with the curvaceous Krystal – “like the champagne” – and his grandkids’ attempts to expose her true identity as a prostitute.
Obviously, the show wasn’t intended for Saturday mornings, but the racy subject matter doesn’t just represent a lame attempt to push the envelope in order to coax out advertising dollars or cater to Adult Swim and its predominantly “male 18 to 34 year old” audience. “I have difficulty writing to a demographic,” says McGruder. “Everything I write is generally for myself and my small group of friends.”
On the other hand, though, McGruder asserts that despite the often subversive nature of his work and the controversy surrounding it, there isn’t some kind of hidden agenda that he’s trying to get across. “I really don’t have much to say anymore because there isn’t anything I can’t say that will make a difference or make people listen to me.”
Yet listening to him is exactly what they’re doing, regardless of whether they support or oppose his views. McGruder’s strip has a subtle way of being provocative and inflammatory. One of the more memorable instances featured Huey phoning in an anonymous tip about Ronald Reagan’s hand in 9/11 and training and funding Bin Laden to the FBI’s information hotline. That’s the kind of thing that gets you dropped from affiliates and generates waves of hate mail. As McGruder coolly points out, “When you decide to become a satirist, you’re deciding to be misunderstood by a number of people.”
The new show captures that same quintessence and while McGruder says that he tried to stay away from Bush jokes that might date the show, the inclusion of characters like billionaire business tycoon Ed Wuncler and his progeny, Ed III, are hardly coincidental.
It’s those kinds of insinuated punches taken at the establishment, which have led some to label McGruder as a leading progressive Afro-American voice, but it’s a title McGruder shuns as a case of mistaken identity. “It used to be we used to have politicized entertainers and political leaders – With the void in black political leadership, I think we’re too quick to turn to black entertainers to fill that void and that’s not necessarily a good thing.” To think that he’s some kind of courageous outspoken figure that isn’t afraid to put whatever he likes out there is just plain wrong because there isn’t anything “I haven’t put out that a white corporation hasn’t permitted you to see.”
So if it’s not to hear the message he’s not sending or to stir things up or help pay his bills, why does McGruder want people to watch his show?
“Because it’s funny. The work speaks for itself.” Sure enough, it really does.
Archived article by Zaki Rahaman
Sun Staff Writer