The Boondocks is unlike almost all other shows on the air in that when it's on, when it's having a good episode, it's legitimately one of the best shows on TV, and when it's off, when it's having a bad episode, it's pretty much painful to watch. It's a gorgeously animated series of incredible ambition - it aims to do no less than satirize every possible aspect of race relations in America - but it's also wildly inconsistent, veering from transcendent episodes (season one's "Return of the King") to downright awful ones (season two premiere "… Or Die Trying"). Most TV series eventually settle into a groove that makes them safe and predictable. The Boondocks, in its own way, is about never getting into that groove, about always coming up with new perspectives on life in these here United States.
The Boondocks is also interesting in just how simultaneously cynical and idealistic it is. When Huey says in tonight's premiere that "hope is irrational," it might as well be the show's mission statement. Huey is decidedly an exaggerated version of series creator Aaron McGruder - Huey's politics are much farther out there than McGruder's, most of the time (at least I hope McGruder doesn't spend too much time ranting about the Bilderberg Group) - and his inability to stop wishing of a better world while also realizing this world just doesn't match up is the engine that drives the show. At the same time, though, the series has a belief that a better world is worth striving for, even if not all of us will see it when it comes. The Boondocks views idealism as both an unsustainable tragedy and the only rational response to a world that's hopelessly screwed.
Because The Boondocks is produced on such a delay from when it actually airs, the series has to be careful to not feel like an instant period piece. Tonight's episode, unfortunately, does feel like an instant period piece, but the best moments of the episode make that into a virtue. I'm not sure the episode is a complete success, but it's a fairly good premiere, despite a couple of devices that don't work as well as they might to make the episode encapsulate the themes and ideas it's going for. In particular, I wasn't as taken with the documentary maker voiced by Werner Herzog as the show seemed to be. It wasn't a bad device, and he had some clever lines, but a lot of the time, he also seemed to be working too hard to keep the episode tied together. Some of his voiceover - particularly whenever he was disappointed by confronting Huey's apathy - was a little too nail-on-the-head in its writing.
That said, I do love the way the episode takes us back to the heady days of late 2008 when Barack Obama won the presidency and the way he managed to make almost every single one of his supporters believe that he was going to do what THEY most wanted him to do and not what he had actually promised to do. (I should say here I voted for Obama and worked on his campaign, and I've mostly been pleased with his presidency, though I can admit that I've been a little disappointed with some of his failures on civil liberties. Oh, and the fact that he hasn't made the world a magical paradise of unicorns and rainbows.) For Huey, a kid who believes in that better world and in trying to make it a reality, the election of Obama is more an empty symbol than anything else. He's a change more on the surface than in actuality. If he's a step toward Huey's better world, he's such an incremental one that it barely even matters.
McGruder perfectly satirizes the way that in late 2008 and early 2009, if you weren't on the side of Obama, then you were on the side of hopelessly regressive ideas and politics, or at least according to his number one super fans. Huey, someone who can't bother himself to get too excited about the guy, ends up lumped in with angry old Uncle Ruckus, who insists that Obama is the devil and is dismayed that he'll be in the White House with his "monkey family." And yet, most of the people in the neighborhood have little to no idea what Obama stands for beyond their ideas of him as an image they can project their own deepest hopes onto.
Tom, of course, sees him as the greatest thing ever, even as Sarah is more interested in him as an object of lust, perhaps because her somewhat Obama-like husband is no longer someone she's terribly interested in. Robert (still maybe the show's best character) sees Obama as someone who's standing on his shoulders and doesn't even manage to realize that he doesn't know a single thing Obama stands for. Thugnificent doesn't even know the guy's running before he gets really into the campaign and joins Will.i.am in his video for the hilarious (and very catchy) "Dick Riding Obama." Riley thinks a black president will mean he can get away with whatever he wants. And so it goes.
Here's the thing: Change takes time. Change takes eons. The episode seems to be setting us up for Huey to give us a big speech about this at some point, about how Obama is nothing more than a slight step in any given direction (and perhaps even the wrong one), but he never does. He says more through his sighs than anything else, particularly at the end of the episode when most of the characters seem disappointed that Obama didn't completely rewrite the space-time continuum, that America still struggles with race, that Riley still has to do homework.
The documentarian character states that at Robert's election party, it seemed to him as if every black person in the room felt that he or she had personally been elected president, and that's not nothing, as the show acknowledges. Symbolic change has meaning and value. Yet, at the same time, real change is harder to come by, and when you don't get it, when you don't get it instantly, it's easy to get in on the backlash. This episode isn't perfect by any means, but its sense of the world as a place where even good things can turn into disappointments and Huey's constant realization of that fact makes it a good one, nonetheless. The Boondocks is a very funny show, yeah, but it's also a sort of tragic one, struck through with some of the same melancholy as something like Peanuts (as you might notice from the episode title). And that's what makes the show worth watching, even when it's not as good as it might be. It really wants the world to be a better place, but it doubts such a thing is even possible.
Really brief thoughts on Aqua Teen Hunger Force's 100th episode: Aqua Teen Hunger Force is the exception that proves the rule for me with stoner humor, which I rarely laugh at. I love its basically plotless shenanigans, for the most part, and while I don't watch it as regularly as I once did, I still usually laugh at it when I do check it out. That said, though, I thought the 100th episode was full of interesting ideas that never coalesced. It's interesting to think of the characters realizing they're characters in a TV show and thinking of Shake as an actor in a costume (though somehow, the voice sounds bizarre coming from a man instead of a cup), and it was fun to see the characters on a Scooby Doo parody, but the Number 23 parody that opened the episode was a little too out-of-nowhere, and all of the inside-the-TV-biz humor never found its mark. I had thought about doing a full write-up, but like most Aqua Teen, I don't know that there was enough there to get to 1,000 or even 500 words. But consider this your unofficial place to talk about the episode. Grade: C+
- And, yeah, we'll be covering the probable series finale of Tim & Eric tomorrow.
- We are almost certainly adding The Boondocks to the regular rotation, but the esteemed Mr. Leonard Pierce will be taking over from here on out. He was out of town tonight, and I stepped in.
- Also, The Boondocks still has my favorite theme song on TV.
- "His age is estimated somewhere between 80 and 120 years old."
- "… a combination of the words 'thug' and 'magnificent.'"
- "This is the most depressing fucking kid I've ever met in my life."
- "I hope you all enjoyed the cheese, wine, and freedom I have struggled so hard to provide tonight."
- "First of all, we aren't a team. Second of all, we aren't a team."
- "Huey Freeman is forced to abort Operation Exodus because he cannot get a ride."
- "I don't like the men in that. But I like the baby!"