The Boondocks: The Complete First Season

The Boondocks: The Complete First Season

Creating a TV version of a newspaper comic is invariably a weird endeavor; comic strips are so mannered, so artificially limited by their tiny boxes and strictly proscribed formats, that they provide very little template for more expansive media installments. Plenty of predictive precedents have made it to TV—Peanuts, The Far Side, Doonesbury, Garfield, Dilbert, and so forth­—but there's still no telling what will happen when creators look for ways to pad a three-panel image into a 22-minute show. For Aaron McGruder's animated spin-off of The Boondocks, the changes are extensive, but still mostly cosmetic, with one exception: The TV series has warmth.

Like the strip, Cartoon Network's Boondocks centers on prepubescent African-American radical Huey Freeman, his thugged-up little brother Riley, his grouchy grandfather Robert, and assorted extras inhabiting the suburban enclave of Woodcrest, where Grandpa Freeman dragged the kids to get them away from the ghettos of Chicago's South Side. But where Huey drives the strip, claiming most of the strong opinions and punchlines, he's more a solemn observer in the 15 episodes collected on the three-DVD set The Boondocks: The Complete First Season. While singer R. Kelly is being prosecuted for pissing on a teenage girl in a sex video, or Martin Luther King is emerging from a coma to comment on modern black America, or Riley is bluffing his way onto Pimp My Ride, Huey usually sticks to the sidelines, sighing over the state of his people and urging them to support even their least support-worthy brethren. The show's broad racial stereotypes and spoofs of real-world black celebrities can be brutal, and Huey's calls for unity sometimes seem like lip service. But he's still more charming as a weary peacemaker and a voice of reason than as a shrill demagogue.

The gorgeous animation adds considerably to that charm. The series takes the strip's anime-inspired visuals several steps further, with rich, sophisticated design and over-the-top action sequences. The scripts nab outside influences as well; the smart references and geeky quotes make each episode a pop-culture recognition game. But the real surprise is how the show expands the characters, making them realer and more sympathetic, even at their most obnoxious. The Boondocks is a pointedly outrageous show, as determined to offend as it is to amuse. At its best, it does both with a daring, smartass smirk.

Key features: Crew and character commentaries on a few episodes.

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