Monday, May 19, 2014

No Aaron McGruder? No Boondocks.

McGruder in S1 Bonus Features
Aaron McGruder must be a very smart man because he is laying incredibly low on the subject of the 4th season of The Boondocks going forward without his involvement. Yeah, he made some half-assed consumer-friendly Facebook post about not holding grudges, but I really don't count that as a statement as much as him distancing himself from the new season. He's right though, you don't want to piss off the powers that be in this industry, it's a sure-fire way to make sure that you're black-balled lickety split. Am I disappointed that the always outspoken McGruder is not coming out against this bastardized, pirated version of his baby? Fuck yes I am, but I understand it. So, please allow me to voice what he is choosing not to:

"This is some ol' bullshit."

I must say, I sort of saw this coming. As of the second series of The Boondocks hitting DVD, McGruder
McGruder Absent in Bonus Content
had a very strong presence in the content of the DVD's. He was involved in the bonus features, and even provided commentary for the episodes. However, as of the bonus features of the release of Season 3, McGruder had completely disappeared from them. Instead Cedric Yarbrough and Gary Anthony Williams seemed to helm the intro's to the episodes and commentary that McGruder had previously provided. Also, during the first two seasons, the show was nearly completely written by McGruder and a man named Rodney Barnes who was the Executive Producer of the series. By the third season, only two episodes were written by both of them and the rest was written solely by McGruder. Is this proof of a strained relationship or just a coincidence? I have no idea, but it bares mention.

Uncle Ruckus (no relation)
It also should be mentioned that even despite the fact that McGruder didn't want to do another season, he was far from done with the characters of the show. McGruder attempted to Kickstarter a film that would feature the actor who plays Uncle Ruckus (Gary Anthony Williams) as a live version of the character himself. Unfortunately the film didn't receive enough money and it seems that the project has gone away forever. It seemed damn interesting (I even donated to it), but the Kickstarter lacked having a personable element to it. Perhaps if McGruder would have taken a more active role in the campaign instead of just throwing Uncle Ruckus' character at it, it could have succeeded. Regardless, all of these facts combined with McGruders insistence that the third was indeed the final season of the show, I suppose the writing was in fact on the wall.

McGruder accepting Peabody
I make no qualms about the reason I enjoy media. I watch television and movies to experience the voice of an author coming out through characters and showcasing their viewpoint on this weird, twisted world. Few people have been able to do this as well as McGruder. Through the voices of Huey and Riley he represents the duality of both himself and the culture of his people. Huey was McGruder looking in on black culture from someone who knows how great his people are, but get's tired at watching them be kept down and the popular stereotypes that have grown as a result. Riley is the opposite side of that and represents living inside a culture that celebrates violence, gangster rappers, stereotyped television, and movies.

That's why The Boondocks was so goddamn genius, although you could tell that the show swayed toward Huey's outlook on life, it rarely made a staunch argument that either was correct. It didn't preach to the audience, it merely highlighted sections of black and white culture and explored them... quite hilariously. Each episode dealt with some slice of life and tackled it with satiric ferocity. Sometimes the subject was attacked scathingly, sometimes the subject was tackled lovingly, but always there was a lesson to be had, and much like society, at the end of the day, the characters never learned it and started from scratch the next episode. Well, as I feared, with the debut of season 4, this aspect has almost completely disappeared from the show.

The show has now devolved into one giant over-arching storyline about the Freeman's losing their money. The result of this is characters acting against their previously shown moral standards, re-hashed storylines from previous episodes, and an overall lack consistency when compared to the past 3 seasons. Want examples? Fine.

Characters acting against type: 
Robert Freeman, War Pilot
In episode 4.5 Grandpa is shown as a coward who doesn't want to contribute to the black cause. Although shown as a moron occasionally, Grandpa was never a coward (in this regard) and did fight for the cause. He was shown fighting in the war admirably during "Wingmen" and was shown being an overlooked, but equal contributor sitting next to Rosa Parks in "Return of the King". Although he occasionally acted stupid in these episodes he NEVER was a coward who didn't fight or care (although he was smart enough to get his rain-coat once.) ;-)

Rehashed Storylines:
In episode 2.2, "Tom, Sarah, and Usher" dealt with a famous personality coming in-between Tom and his
Chris or Usher, same storyline.
wife's relationship. It dealt with the man that Tom was VS the type of man that turned on his wife. Tom's famous competition was always suave, sexy, and had an amazing voice, all of which brought him fame. Episode 4.1 was literally a rehash of this concept told in almost identical fashion but subbing out Chris Brown for Usher.

Inconsistency to past seasons:
As previously mentioned, although there were lessons to be learned from each episode, the characters in the show never acknowledged or absorbed them. This seems to be the opposite with this season. Grandpa would go nuts and spend tons of money on women, discover they were only out for his money, and then do it again several episodes later. Riley would hang out with Remmy, discover it was a horrible choice, and go back to his house the next episode. My point is, by inserting a narrative that takes place across many episodes (or the entire season as the case may seem) is entirely disjointed from the past 3, celebrated seasons. Change is not ALWAYS bad, but when entering what even the showrunners insist is the 4th and final season, why insert a different design of storytelling?

Who wrote episodes 2 &3?
I tried to watch Season 4. I gave it 6 episodes and a fair shake. Angela Nissel (who wrote episode 1 and 4 of the new season) seems to be a good writer, she just doesn't seem to be the right writer. However I do wish that Rodney Barnes (who wrote episode 5 "Freedom Ride Or Die") would have done a better job. I'm honestly very taken aback that he would portray Grandpa as a coward. With that said, it does feel more like the rest of the series than any of the others thus far and it is an interesting concept (though spoken of before in the series) to explore the fact that direct, non-violent resistance is in essence, counter-intuitive. Also, if you're keeping track, that accounts for who wrote episodes 1, 4, and 5 of the new series. Who wrote episodes 2 and 3? No one knows because the names haven't been released. Strange huh?

There is nothing controversial about this season. The show didn't require controversy to be good, don't get me wrong, but it did thrive and have the most to say when it was exploring controversial subject matter. Now the show is little more than the family living through the latest of Grandpa's "Get Rich Quick" schemes as they fight to keep their house. As Huey often said about things he didn't understand and or agree with: "It's a damn shame." And it truly is. Some shows can survive the loss of A creative voice, but no show based entirely around one writer can suffer the loss of THE creative voice.

The Boondocks is dead. Long live The Boondocks.

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