I’ll be brief about the fourth and final season of The Boondocks, the Adult Swim series about ten-year-old black militant Huey Freeman, his gangsta-wanna-be kid brother, Riley, and their nonsensically yammering, ladies-loving caretaker, Granddad. There isn’t much to say. It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t seem like itself. It’s a zombie show, like the Dan Harmon–less fourth season of Community. Something’s off. You can’t figure out exactly what, but you can feel it.
Series creator Aaron McGruder, who adapted the animated show from his own newspaper strip, isn’t involved anymore. The series’ long-delayed final season proceeded without him, after he and the network disagreed over a schedule for delivering new episodes (the details are fuzzy; McGruder’s statement is here). Adult Swim sent out two episodes for critics, tonight’s and next week’s. They’re being shown out of sequence. Tonight’s episode is marked as “402” and next week’s is “404.” The second has no writing credit. The Los Angeles Times speculates that “The absence of a writing credit indicates that the installment was likely written by McGruder.” I’m not sure how the missing writing credit makes it “likely” that McGruder wrote the episode; it seems it could just as easily indicate that the episode was rewritten without his consent and he wanted his name taken off it, or that it was written by committee and nobody could agree on credit (or blame), or that there was some other behind-the-scenes craziness we don’t know about. Maybe the Times has inside information it can’t attribute for whatever reason?
No matter: The plot, about an abusive, drug-addled, entourage-addicted, Chris Brown–type rapper named Pretty Boy Flizzy, is more leaden and tedious than most Boondocks episodes, and considering how often the show was accused of being “unfunny” (which is often White People code for “too angry” or “too inside” — sometimes both) that’s saying quite a bit. During his heyday, McGruder, like South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, pissed off pretty much everybody. But he drew particular ire for his race-centric humor. He was accused of not being positive enough, of using the “n”-word too often, of airing African-American cultural dirty laundry and so forth (the late ‘80s Spike Lee complaints). Not every episode or every joke landed, but the show had a unique look and feel, with Korean-animated, anime-inspired, often strikingly composed shots. And the somewhat slippery rage animating every episode made it muddled but intriguing, and tough to pin down. The Boondocks and its creator slagged Bill Cosby, BET, Whitney Houston, and Larry Elder (who sarcastically named an award for him, the McGruder). McGruder pissed off Republicans by visiting Fidel Castro and calling former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice a mass murderer, and Democrats for insinuating that Barack Obama wasn’t really black.
But even when McGruder’s ire was scattershot and confused, and even when he seemed painfully young, you could sense the man behind the art. It was as personal as a rant by Uncle Ruckus. These two new episodes don’t feel personal. In the Pretty Boy Flizzy episode, the singer’s lawyer, Thomas Dubois, observes Flizzy’s sneering criminal antics and ultimately learns how to be A Man and make women respect him (with his fists, natch). Every joke is driven into the ground with a sledgehammer, the subtext of much of the humor is both racist and sexist, and hip-hop culture itself is depicted as uniformly misogynist, cynical, and dumb. When Flizzy tells Tom that “Women have no self respect,” it’s clear that we’re supposed to take him at his word. There’s something unnervingly sock-puppet-ish about the whole thing, like reading a Fox News story online and coming across a comment by somebody who has an African-American avatar but is spewing exactly the same reactionary nonsense as everyone else on the page, in the same words, and in the same tone. Except for Flizzy’s montage of apologies — which includes a mea culpa for fighting with Nicki Minaj in the VIP section of a nightclub after mistaking her for a Terminator — it’s depressingly flat.
Next week’s episode — the one without a writing credit — is a Breaking Bad parody in which Grandpa starts cooking homemade Nap-B-Gone hair straightener in a mobile home, the better to support his habit of taking his “fine bitches” out to eat. It’s slightly more tolerable than the Flizzy episode, but long stretches feel less like a freestanding comic episode than a checklist of Breaking Bad jokes, and even at its best, it’s no “Thank You for Not Snitching” or “Guess Hoe’s Coming to Dinner.” I hesitate to declare The Boondocks dead, but minus its creator and his peculiar but striking voice, what other choice is there?