The decision to serialize this season of The Boondocks (or any show, really) has its potential benefits and drawbacks. On one hand, it’s easier to get invested in characters and introduce new and increasingly complex plot complications with the weight of many episodes’ worth of story. On the other hand, The Boondocks never really needed viewers to invest in its characters, and its plots get pretty crazy even without multi-part storytelling. So instead, it looks like we’re going to run through all of the possible ways Robert could get himself out of his current financial predicament, without really making any forward movement the way the best serialized shows do. In some respects, that means that The Boondocks is sort of still beholden to the reset button, but with a different, more involved status quo than before. If “Early Bird Special” is any indication, that means this season will maintain a general perspective on the family’s financial issues, but stay very repetitive.
Consider all of the similarities between “Early Bird Special” and last week’s episode. In both, Robert is led by his desperate situation into doing something illegal for a no-nonsense woman (Geraldine and Wilona are very similar, to say the least, in addition to serving nearly identical narrative functions). Huey continues to play the straight man, and Riley serves as at best a cheerleader for what is fast becoming the Robert Freeman Show, a choice that the show seems to be committing to even more with next week’s Freedom Rider flashback episode (which, hmmm, maybe?). The continuing superficiality of a lot of the jokes (as well as the way the Freeman family dynamics continue to be just a bit off) is exemplified best by the first act of the episode, in which Robert attempts to get a job that’s not at the carwash. The big centerpiece gag here—that Robert’s unprofessionalism qualifies him to work as a TSA agent—is decent, though Angela Nissen’s script seems weirdly uninterested in the possibilities of that job. Instead, most of the jokes on this season have been similar to either the day laborers tricking Robert into leaving them before accusing him of trying to take their jobs, which takes an easily recognizable piece of American culture/political iconography and just reiterates it in a slightly different context, or the sight gag of Robert dressed up like the Statue Of Liberty, which is just not that funny.
But “Early Bird Special” is intent on having Robert turn into a gigolo as his final job for the episode, using Tom to set him up with madame Geraldine at a nursing home, where Robert again plunges into something without thinking too clearly after hearing snippets of potential good news. Thankfully, Robert doesn’t actually have to (or get to) have sex as part of his job, which is nice both for us and because it’d be insane to believe Robert is actually that attractive to women (he complained about money being the only relevant part of his sex life just a couple of weeks ago). Instead, he’s needed as a stereotypical boyfriend support system to tell women that they’re attractive and hold them. On some level, there’s an inversion of the “men hire prostitutes for emotional support” trope (see: Nelly on Arrested Development), but that’s only present if you squint.
Instead, “Early Bird Special” manages to use Robert’s new job to take aim at the cottage industry of books and movies telling women they’ll never find a decent man and the monstrous insecurities that creates. I’ve been exposed to some of this, so I only have a pretty good (but not great) idea of what’s being mocked here (getting this out of the way up front after last week). Love and companionship functioning as some sort of drug has certainly been done before, but the notion that the women scam their clients by keeping them down with low self-esteem, then use paid gigolos to provide emotional stability is interesting and could be used to effectively level a bigger critique of the systems that cause this sort of mass desperation by grounding it in specific people. Geraldine calls attention to the terribleness of all of the men by railing at her son, but she still lacks sufficient definition to be a great one-off character, and her complaint still doesn’t negate the way that everything (including at times Sex And The City) the targets consume leads them to think they’re unworthy. This is a really good core idea for an episode, but it’s never hit as hard as it could be (this looks to be a running theme this season) other than in the brief, not super exciting montage equating Robert’s emotional activities with sex, because of course it’s hilarious that he wants sex but instead helps women with emotional problems (it’s a surprising, but nice touch that he actually seems to be pretty good at it).
Then, the episode takes a left turn into a type of Boondocks episode we’ve seen before: Robert finding a seemingly perfect woman, only to lose her. These are also often some of the more moving episodes of the show: “Guess Hoe’s Coming To Dinner” is an all-time great (introducing the inimitable A Pimp Named Slickback), and “The Lovely Ebony Brown” is no slouch. Though Vanessa is never given much definition beyond “generally pretty awesome but also insecure,” she’s a decent enough blend of the psychotic and emotionally crippled Luna from “Attack Of The Killer Kung-Fu Wolf Bitch” and Ebony Brown (Robert’s perfect woman who makes him insecure). The logical conclusion of the way the Robert-Vanessa story is presented—that Vanessa is only briefly happy, having spent all of her money, because of the presence of a good man—is on the whole pretty disappointing, given that that’s the exact mindset “Early Bird Special” appears to be critiquing. The seriousness at play when Robert tells her she deserves a real man is a good look for brief moments of the show, and John Witherspoon continually manages to sell the character’s heartbreak better than his rage.
And, of course, these too-perfect women have to leave Robert—the show’s newfound continuity certainly won’t allow for Robert to be happy—so Ruckus gets rid of her by somehow getting a stalkerish white woman to fawn all over Robert. Vanessa’s abandonment of Robert here is a little pat, even for this show. It looks like this season of The Boondocks (though next week might be the exception) is settling into a pattern of good but somewhat sloppily executed ideas. There’s a lot of interesting material at play here, but the jokes continue to only land occasionally, partially because there are a couple of different possible episodes going on at once. Maybe these weeks’ worth of Boondocks will coalesce into something greater than the sum of their parts the way the best serialized TV does, but I’m not too optimistic.
- This episode also calls attention to itself as occurring at tax time.
- So now are the Freemans in an even deeper hole than before? With the protestors and everything? Or are we sweeping that one under the rug?
- Please call me Trick-Ass New Grandma from now on.