“I’ve been giving it to you straight for a half hour.” That’s what the Freemans’ accountant tells Robert, trying to convince him of their absolutely dire financial situation. And it’s what the show wants you to think it’s done—a straight half-hour of Breaking Bad parody and scathing parody of American beauty standards! But “Breaking Granddad,” which is not only the Breaking Bad parody I’d been sort of dreading from this season but also a part of the show’s attempt to actually break Robert, is just not up to The Boondocks par.
To be fair, this isn’t quite as flat as I was expecting it to be. Yeah, it does sort of feel like the writers watched a few episodes of Breaking Bad when it was just starting to catch on (I didn’t see any references to anything after season one) and decided to roll with it, which doesn’t include the sort of care that produces the best parodies. “Breaking Granddad” does manage to calls attention to some of that show’s sillier elements (Robert says he’s going to go into the middle of the road with his gun for no reason), as well as a bunch of elements of the pilot and first season—like the dulled sound in the “doctor” scene, the Breaking Bad’s signature shot from below, Wilona calling Huey an “artist,” and of course the pants flapping around the RV. (The cooking montage isn’t so hot.) I really enjoy thinking about Breaking Bad (it was the first show I ever wrote about on a weekly basis), but found it completely unnecessary to remember anything that happened on it to understand what was going on in this episode, which is kind of a bummer considering how much I care about that show.
In theory, it’s probably better that “Breaking Granddad” isn’t as strict of a Breaking Bad parody as it could be—it has all of the general beats, but doesn’t contort itself to adhere to that show’s structure (in particular, the episode mimics the beats of the Breaking Bad pilot, but includes Wilona as a reference to Tuco). But there’s not enough unique stuff going on to justify the slackness of the plot. This episode is weirdly paced, somehow managing to move through all of the standard beats you would expect a Boondocks Breaking Bad parody to hit without seeming to be doing that much with its plot. That plot—in which Huey claims his chemistry project isn’t a bomb only for it to turn out to both cause instant, sleek hair growth and be a bomb—also mimics last season’s “The Fundraiser” in its strict adherence to the tropes of the crime story that Scarface helped set (though, unlike in Scarface, not everybody dies in this movie). Huey has made the bomb to kill Eddie Wuncler and free them from their debt, the same thing Robert is trying to do by selling the hair product.
Because apparently, the Freemans’ financial situation is going to be a running plot, at least through next week’s episode (when Robert will become a gigolo instead of a hair-gel manufacturer). There’s always been a very loose seriality to The Boondocks, where the events of previous episodes are generally acknowledged but have little bearing on the sitcom reset-style stasis of the Freemans’ lives: Tom and Sarah’s marriage will always be on the verge of collapse, Huey will always be a cynical, stifled radical, Riley will always keep trying his get-rich-quick schemes. The family’s continued financial woes present the show’s first ongoing plot, but I’m not really sure the show needed to go in this direction. Like the haphazard Breaking Bad parody, this development strikes more as the writers doing something they feel like they should do to be tapped in to the TV zeitgeist without much in the way of critical thought.
That’s not to say that a serialized Boondocks is a terrible idea, but it’s not really one I’d expect anyone was really clamoring for, especially because we don’t actually see the results of the Freemans’ slavery other than their dire need for cash. There aren’t real consequences, not only because the Freemans are cartoon characters and we can be pretty sure they’ll be all right (they literally walk away from an explosion), but also because they house seems to be in pretty good condition, with the only indicator of trouble remaining Robert’s distress. That’s too bad, because the Freeman family literally selling themselves into slavery is a little broad, but also audacious. If The Boondocks is going to pursue a longer-term, serialized plot for this season, then it’ll hopefully take that concept to its bitter, hopefully uncomfortably hilarious conclusions.
“Breaking Granddad” also does a disservice to the two Freemans who aren’t Robert. Robert does get a nice moment of lamenting that he needs money in order to have sex is pretty effective and funny given that it’s a little gross, mostly thanks to the great John Witherspoon. And Wilona the drug/hair boss is a solid enough one-shot introduction to the world of The Boondocks, hinting at a much deeper parody world of hair care that measures the quality of products by ethnicity. But Riley mostly calls things gay and pursues money without any of the misplaced bravado that makes him so great. And Huey is put in the position of being the voice of reason trying to stop the insanity of the rest of his family, a role he’s been forced into many times over the course of the series. This has long been one of my biggest problems with the show as an adaptation of the comic, considering that Huey is supposed to be a radical who’s comfortable engaging in all sorts of shenanigans for political reasons—he literally plans to build a bomb in this episode but is shunted to the nagging role for the remainder of its runtime.
None of that would matter, though, if the jokes were landing as hard as they could. Other than a loose parody of Breaking Bad, the main satirical targets here are probably the desirability of Robert’s product and the customers’ willingness to do anything for straight hair as well as his continual unwillingness to sacrifice his cable and Internet and date money to pay the bills he owes. But the former is primarily a reason for the animation to include women with helicopter- and palm tree-shaped hair, which, unless that’s a real trend I didn’t know about, is just kind of silly rather than biting. There is some force here, particularly in the tension between the public outcry over the explosive hair gel and the satire aimed at people who will do anything to their hair to straighten it. And of course, Robert’s need for money to fuel his “mildly satisfying sex life” produces a very good scene with Riley. But it continues to ring a little hollow as it reduces the character of much of his sternness. (Robert’s threatening to belt Huey for building a bomb was the happiest I’ve been with the character all season.) Like the Freemans after Robert’s fleeting plan to turn himself in to the authorities, the writers mostly let their targets off scot free, and it’s not a good look for the show.
- My understanding is that Adult Swim sent out this episode and the season premiere for critics, which is a little weird considering that it depends on the last one.
- Hot Chocolate and Marshmallow from Bob’s Burgers should hang out.
- “I’m gonna go out like a fucking G.” Granddad does capture the essence of Walt here, especially in the Breaking Bad finale.
- The best reference to a great television show isn’t even to Breaking Bad. The name of the hair product—“Bomb”—is both a nod to the gel’s explosive nature and, I think, to the great WMD joke from season three of The Wire. (“I hear the, uh, WMD is the bomb.”)
- A nice Adult Swim bump in memory of DJ Rashad, who died last weekend.