Why wasn’t this the season premiere? After last week’s abysmal opener, which focused on Tom for some reason in a worthless rehash of “Tom, Sarah, And Usher” and “The Trial Of R Kelly” that didn’t add anything to either of them, “Good Times,” a perfectly serviceable episode of the show with a few decent laughs that finds The Boondocks returning to, if not its heights, at least a comfortable groove. The satire doesn’t have quite as much teeth as it once did (with the exception of one moment we’ll get to later), but the target is solid and the aim true enough to make this fun. I’ve loved this show (and the comic strip that spawned it) for almost half my life, so the prospect of a season that was just a shadow of its former sense was really scary to me, and it’s good to know that, if “Good Times” is any indication, at the very least we’ll get a few episodes that broadly fit into the show’s earlier seasons.
I was generally pessimistic about the prospect of a version of the show without creator Aaron McGruder, but in hindsight, maybe that was an overreaction. There a few decent examples in TV history of showrunners and creators leaving during the runs of the series they helped create, but the most recent one will probably serve best: Community. Dan Harmon’s exit from that show led to a fourth season (Coincidence? I think not!) that often felt like it was merely mimicking the earlier version of the show, taking rough outlines of the characters and moving them around in rougher approximations of the plotlines they used to go through. The best-case scenario for The Boondocks here is, I think, a bit more positive than that season—Harmon has a singular artistic and creative vision for that show, more so than McGruder, whose guiding force has been more of a general political perspective that’s slightly more predictable than, say, the surprisingly moving end of “G.I. Jeff.” Making good Boondocks doesn’t require a firm grasp of the nuances of the characters.
That’s a good thing, because Robert’s total incompetence and his overwhelming love for the house here are just a bit flexible with the person I generally take him to be. Sure, he’s always been portrayed as overly optimistic and willing to be blinded by good news (see also, his relationship with Cristal and his belief that Obama’s election would change everything), but perhaps not quite this stupid, especially with money. Robert was cheap enough to bring his own snacks to the movie theater back in season two, and though if any character would get suckered in by all this debt, it’d be him, it still feels like he’s being slightly underwritten. (If there’s a lesson in this episode beyond the standard “rich people are assholes,” it’s to always read the fine print, something it’s easy to imagine the cantankerous Robert doing.) It’s not too big a problem with the episode, though it does sort of weaken it from the start.
On the other hand, Ruckus’ turn into becoming a thinly veiled parody of Herman Cain, using his success in the Republican presidential primaries to vault him into a mildly successful political career, works pretty damned well. His FOX News success is just on the right side of broad (though Rush Limbaugh wants to claim Ruckus as black?), and Ruckus being popular among white people is a proven well of comedy, giving us one of the show’s best episodes. I’d guess that Ruckus, who is probably the show’s breakout character (if there is one), will have a lot more screentime this year (I thought I read this somewhere but can’t find it right now). If that turns out to be true, it’d be great if he gets used like this.
On the new character front, “Good Times” introduces Ed Wuncler, Jr., or Eddie, the missing link in the chain of Wuncler men, who looks like he came straight out of Miami Vice, sporting an almost porn-esque music theme and stopping just short of threatening to break Robert’s legs. The show sort of needs a new character for this, since Ed, Sr. would probably just take the house and Ed III is too much of a goof to actually pose a threat. Eddie gets to embody a different type of rich asshole: Where Ed, Sr. is the Man, established and wealthy enough to do anything he wants and Ed III is unchecked privilege, Eddie is manipulation on a personal level, laughing as he plays out his very horrible bet and menaces Robert for his family’s money. This makes for some pretty funny stuff (Eddie doesn’t care about your chemo), and hopefully will lead to a big Wuncler family gathering some time soon.
The debt collection plot Eddie initiates keeps hinting at possible directions the episode could take—at first, it looks like an excuse to introduce a whole bunch of guest characters by getting the Freemans to turn their house into a massive Airbnb, but there’s only a brief encounter with someone using Robert’s bathroom. Then, it looks like Robert will have to get a job, but he gets fired. The focus is squarely on the Freeman family here rather than outsiders, which is pretty much the most basic the show can get. Instead, the main thing that distinguishes “Good Times” from color-by-numbers Boondocks is, well, Good Times.
This show is, of course, no stranger to either nods to’70s sitcoms in general and Good Times in particular (Mr. George Pistofferson from “Stinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy” is an old, pissed-off J.J.) or going slightly meta in its storytelling. At other places in the episode, that impulse gives off the impression that the show is still relying a bit too heavily on its own past, which just serves to call attention to McGruder’s absence—Robert calls attention to the way their lives are just a series of wacky episodes (similar to the “supporting character” stuff in “Lovely Ebony Brown,” and there’s a perfunctory nod to the nigga moment that basically reads like the writers threw it in to mark something off a checklist of things that should happen on The Boondocks. But the Good Times joke gets buried into the ground and hit over and over until it’s funny again as the Freemans sink lower and lower, seemingly for the purpose of recreating the theme from Good Times (to which we get homage sans “Dy-no-mite”), to the point where Robert sells his family into slavery.
Ultimately, all of the Good Times jokes turn out to be a fakeout at this point, because it was a Trading Places episode the whole time. This is kind of a cheap twist, but it’s still really, really funny, especially since the episode ends before we can magically get the Freemans out of their new situation. It’s all worth it for Robert’s speech to Huey about why they should be slaves, which is a little rough around the edges but for a few seconds bites as hard as the show ever did—Slavery! It’s about people helping people—the sort of absurd stretch of logic to justify a horrible conclusion that always sounds eerily plausible coming out of one of these cartoon mouths. It’s the ability to get its (relatively) simple scenarios to escalate to that point of insanity that gives the show its great moments, its Martin Luther King berating black America, its Scarface shootout over school fundraisers. Hitting a high this high is a sign that maybe, just maybe, we won’t just get something adequate—we’ll get a season close to the old ones.
- I really want to read Home Alone: My Emancipation Story, a joke I am embarrassed for laughing at all three times I watched this.
- Apparently Gangstalicious is apparently still closeted and successful, since he has his own predatory credit card.
- Next week is the Breaking Bad parody, which I am… not looking forward to.
- PSA: If you are not caught up, the whole show is on YouTube (including season three, which isn’t on Netflix).
- Welcome to (possible) regular TV Club coverage of The Boondocks! This is a trial review—if you guys read it, maybe the show will get added full time. If not… we might have to let some folks rent this space.
- Here is a McGruder-appropriate episode of Good Times: