Boondocks Is Back. Aaron McGruder Is Not. Don’t Freak Out. Yet.

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
April 21 2014 1:15 PM

Boondocks Is Back. Aaron McGruder Is Not. Don’t Freak Out. Yet.

boondocks_season_4
Pretty Boy Flizzy (Michael B. Jordan) in the premiere episode of The Boondocks Season 4.

A still from "Pretty Boy Flizzy"/Adult Swim

When it was first announced that the long-awaited Season 4 of The Boondocks would not involve the show’s creator, Aaron McGruder, it was natural to worry that the new episodes would be as disappointing as Community’s Season 4, which lacked showrunner Dan Harmon. Like the NBC sitcom, The Boondocks would still have its great original cast in place—including Regina King, the voice of young brothers Huey and Riley, and John Witherspoon, who plays their grandfather—but absent the man who invented it, would the beloved animated series, based on McGruder’s satirical comic strip, lose its knack for biting one-liners and smart cultural commentary?

Aisha Harris Aisha Harris

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

It’s probably too early to say. Tonight’s premiere, “Pretty Boy Flizzy,” has the sort of premise that fans have come to expect from The Boondocks: R&B star Pretty Boy Flizzy (guest star Michael B. Jordan) is a thinly-veiled stand-in for Chris Brown who stands accused of a string of violent crimes, including robbing a convenience store at gunpoint and beating up his pop star girlfriend Christianna live on stage during the Grammys. During a press conference, Flizzy offers an “apology” and thanks his admirers: “I let my fans down. Without you, I wouldn’t even have an R&B girlfriend to beat.”

Advertisement

Like McGruder’s takedowns of R. Kelly and Tyler Perry in two of the show’s best earlier episodes (“The Trial of R. Kelly” and “Pause”) “Pretty Boy Flizzy” features an impressive supply of such zingers, along with an unrelenting indictment of both the performer and a culture that seems to condone and perhaps even foster his behavior. But only a few of the jokes really land, while the rest sound familiar—at this point, a parody of Brown needs to be uncommonly clever and thoughtful not to feel warmed over. It doesn’t help that the show’s three main characters are relegated to the background in favor of lawyer and frequent punching bag Tom, who takes on Flizzy as a client.

But then, the third season of McGruder’s series was also uneven, including the uninspired “A Date With the Booty Warrior” episode, in which Tom’s fear of prison rape is turned into a 20-minute long running gag, and the soft-hitting take on the flu epidemic and KFC, “The Fried Chicken Flu.” Would a fourth season from McGruder all these years later have lived up to our expectations? It’s impossible to say.

The Boondocks has rarely bothered with ongoing storylines, so the new creative team is not bound by love triangles or cliffhangers, and they can take the characters in any direction they wish. Their only real requirement is  staying true to the show’s focus on social commentary—and living up, one hopes, to the high quality of McGruder’s best critiques. That’s a tall order, and no one’s voice will sound quite like McGruder’s. But “Pretty Boy Flizzy” isn’t so underwhelming as to suggest that the ship is completely sunk just yet.

So I’ll keep watching—for now. And fans, like me, who remain hungry for McGruder’s own artistic vision, can look forward to the delightfully titled live-action series Black Jesus, which the writer is expected to bring to Adult Swim later this year.

TODAY IN SLATE

The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

This Scene From All The President’s Men Captures Ben Bradlee’s Genius

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.