The Boondocks is an American adult animated sitcom on Cartoon Network's late-night programming block, Adult Swim. Created by Aaron McGruder, based upon McGruder's comic strip of the same name, the series premiered on November 6, 2005. The show begins with a black family, the Freemans, settling into the fictional, peaceful, and mostly white suburb of Woodcrest. The perspective offered by this mixture of cultures, lifestyles, social classes, stereotypes, viewpoints and racial(ized) identities provides for much of the series' satire, comedy, and conflict.
The Boondocks ended on June 23, 2014 with a total of 55 episodes over the course of the show's four seasons. The fourth and final season was produced without the same level of involvement from series creator Aaron McGruder. The series also airs in syndication outside the United States and has been released on various DVD sets and other forms of home media, including on-demand streaming on Netflix.
The Boondocks began as a comic strip on Hitlist.com, one of the first online music websites . The strip later found its way into The Source magazine. Following these runs, McGruder began simultaneously pitching The Boondocks both as a syndicated comic strip and an animated television series. The former goal was met first, and The Boondocks debuted in national newspapers in April 1999.
In the meantime, development on a Boondocks TV series continued. McGruder and film producer/director Reginald Hudlin (President of Entertainment for BET from 2005–2008) created a Boondocks pilot for the Fox Network, but found great difficulty in making the series acceptable for network television. Hudlin left the project after the Fox deal fell through, although McGruder and Sony Television were contractually bound to continue to credit him as an executive producer. Mike Lazzo, president of Adult Swim and executive producer for Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Space Ghost Coast to Coast, stumbled across the pilot and declared it "too networky". He then ordered a 15-episode season and told McGruder to "just tell stories".
The series has a loose connection with the continuity of the comic strip, though during the final year of the strip McGruder made a point to try to synchronize both. He introduced Uncle Ruckus into the strip, and the comic-strip version of Riley's hair was braided into cornrows to match the character's design in the series. During Season 1, McGruder put the strip on a 6-month hiatus beginning in March 2006. He did not return to the strip the following November, and the strip's syndicate, Universal Press Syndicate, announced that it had been cancelled.
Both the comic strip and the cartoon were influenced by McGruder's love of anime and manga. He cites Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo as sources of inspiration for the series' fight scenes. The opening sequence of Season 1 contains similarities to that of Samurai Champloo. Some of the humor is based on the characters' anime-style movements. In 2006, McGruder explained in an interview, "We now have a Japanese anime studio named Madhouse to help us out"; but at some point, the deal with Madhouse fell through. Instead, MOI Animation, an Emmy Award-winning South Korean studio, handled the animation for season two onward. As a result, the following seasons of the series have more detailed animation, as well as minor updates for most of the character designs.
On March 21, 2014, it was revealed via press release from Adult Swim that The Boondocks TV series would be renewed for a fourth, although final, season. However, it was also revealed that the fourth season would also take place without the involvement of the series creator Aaron McGruder. The reason cited for the split between the creator and the company was a disagreement over the production schedule of the fourth season. The first episode of the fourth season aired on April 21, 2014. The series concluded on June 23, 2014.
The show depicts Huey Freeman and his younger brother Riley, two young children who have been moved out of the South Side of Chicago with their grandfather Robert to live with him in the predominantly white suburb of Woodcrest (implied to be in Maryland). This relates to McGruder's childhood move from Chicago to Columbia, a diverse Maryland suburb. The title word "boondocks" alludes to the isolation from primarily African-American urban life that the characters feel, and permits McGruder some philosophical distance.
Huey is a politically perceptive devotee of black radical ideas of the past few decades, and is harshly critical of many aspects of modern black culture. Riley, on the other hand, is enamored of gangsta rap culture and the "thug"/bling-bling lifestyle. Their grandfather Robert is a firm disciplinarian, World War II veteran, and former Civil rights activist, although he is primarily concerned with chasing after money and women.
Another prominent character is Uncle Ruckus, an old and racist black man who has a strong hatred of his own race. The Freemans' neighbors are local assistant district attorney Tom DuBois (a reference both to Uncle Tom and W. E. B. Du Bois) and his white wife Sarah. Their young biracial daughter Jazmine is very sweet but naive, and she is Huey's only friend his age.
Much like the comics it was based on, The Boondocks satirizes many cultural and social issues, although by exploiting the far more lenient censorship it gets as an adult cartoon on late-night TV, the humor is far more over-the-top, and throws political correctness out the window. It has attracted a lot of controversy for its use of racial slurs and stereotypes.
The Boondocks has received critical acclaim. In January 2006, it was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series at the 37th NAACP Image Awards alongside The Bernie Mac Show, Everybody Hates Chris, Girlfriends, and Half & Half. The show won a Peabody Award in 2006 for the episode "Return of the King". As of July 8, 2010, The Boondocks had a 72 rating on MetaCritic, based on 21 reviews and an 8.4/10 (Based on 9,469 votes) on IMDB. IGN named it the 94th-best animated series, describing it as a sharp satirical look at American society.
Critic Jeffrey M. Anderson of the San Francisco Examiner said, "Each episode is beautifully crafted, with an eye on lush, shadowy visuals and a pulsing, jazz-like rhythm... the show is almost consistently funny, consistently brilliant, and, best of all, compulsively watchable."
Mike Hale of the New York Times has considered The Boondocks among the top television shows of 2010, citing "Pause" as a "painfully funny" satire of Tyler Perry being portrayed as a superstar actor and a leader of a homoerotic cult. In 2013, IGN placed The Boondocks as number 17 on their list of Top 25 animated series for adults.
- "This isn't the 'nigga' show. I just wish we would expand the dialogue and evolve past the same conversation that we've had over the past 30 years about race in our country. [...] I just hope to expand the dialogue and hope the show will challenge people to think about things they wouldn't normally think about, or think about it in a very different way."
- —Aaron McGruder
The Boondocks has been a frequent lightning rod for controversy since its comic-strip debut in 1999, with ABC News noting, "Fans and critics of The Boondocks loved and hated the strip for the same reasons: its cutting-edge humor and unapologetic, sometimes unpopular, views on various issues, including race, politics, the war on terrorism and the September 11 attacks." Numerous outlets predicted the show would encounter controversy prior to its November 2005 debut, due to its casual use of the word "nigga." According to an article in The Washington Post, references to Rosa Parks were removed from one of the series' first completed episodes within a week of her death. In 2006, the Reverend Al Sharpton protested the first season episode "Return of the King", for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s character's use of the word "nigga," saying "Cartoon Network must apologize and also commit to pulling episodes that desecrate black historic figures." Cartoon Network released a statement in response defending McGruder: "We think Aaron McGruder came up with a thought-provoking way of not only showing Dr. King's bravery but also of reminding us of what he stood and fought for, and why even today, it is important for all of us to remember that and to continue to take action," the statement said. The episode was later awarded a Peabody Award for being "an especially daring episode."
During The Boondocks Season 2, two episodes were removed from broadcast without any official word from the network. Originally slated to air on November 16 and December 17, "The Hunger Strike" and "The Uncle Ruckus Reality Show" were both heavily critical of BET. An exclusive clip of "The Hunger Strike" was given to HipHopDX.com in late January 2008, before both episodes were included in full on the Season 2 DVD release that summer. An anonymous source close to the show told HipHopDX.com that they heard BET had been pressuring Sony (the studio behind The Boondocks) to ban the episodes and threatened legal action. Cartoon Network publicly stated that "...neither Turner nor Adult Swim were contacted by BET, Ms. Lee or Mr. Hudlin." However, BET's parent company, Viacom, did threaten legal action against Sony if said episodes were broadcast to air in the United States.
Tyler Perry was reportedly infuriated by his depiction in the Season 3 episode "Pause", first aired in June 2010, although he has officially given no response. The episode stars Winston Jerome, a parody of Perry, a "closeted, cross-dressing cult leader whose love of the Christian faith is a mask for his true sexuality," in what the Los Angeles Times described as "one of the sharpest public criticisms of Perry." Soon after the episode aired, Perry got in touch with executives at Turner Broadcasting and "complained loudly" about the episode, threatening to rethink his relationship with the company. In 2010, Time magazine named The Boondocks as sixth out of 10 of the Most Controversial Cartoons of All Time.
All four seasons have been released on DVD, both individually and as a box set spanning the entire series. Seasons 1 and 2 are presented in the original 16:9 aspect ratio used for production, rather than the 4:3 ratio achieved by cropping the image to fit television screens in use at the time of their original airing. The 16:9 ratio was used for broadcasts of Seasons 3 and 4 and is preserved on the DVD sets.
- Official site at Adult Swim. Includes video clips and some full episodes (may require cable log-in).
- Official site at Sony Pictures Television
- See this show at WatchCartoonOnline. Contains all episodes, though not quite at HD quality.