Yo yo yo, Boondocks fans! I have to admit, I was feeling pretty ominous about this episode of the final season of the adventures of the Freeman fam. I'm definitely in the camp of those who think the show's ever-increasing turn towards an anime style has largely been a turn for the worse, but because I know that it's always been part of Aaron McGruder's vision for the show, so I've learned to accept that one of the costs of watching the show. (See also staying up until fuckin' midnight to see the damn thing. I'm an old man, for crissakes.) But tonight's "The Red Ball" is pretty thoroughly grounded in not only the conventions and visual language of anime, but in specific shows and movies with which I have only the most passing familiarity.
In other words, I expected to by stymied by an episode of arguably the most African-American show on television because it was too Asian.
The plot of this one hinges on a bet between Ed Wuncler and an Asian rival over a high-stakes game of kickball. The pride of Woodcrest turns out to be Huey Freeman, who's a kickball prodigy but has quit the game due to having allegedly crippled a little girl during a critical game. In fact, as an amusing dance sequence reveals, she's fine, and after some ham-handed blackmail attempts, Ed recruits Huey to make a comeback by letting him know he's mortgaged the town's entire fortune on the outcome of the game.
The Boondocks can be adept at this sort of blend of serious action-drama and light comedy, but too much of the early goings were a sort of slog. Once it got going there was a lot of the kind of fun, hyper-kinetic, over-the-top physical comedy that it sometimes features at its most Japanese -- this is the stuff of a million whimsical sports manga -- but where it's original, it's not that good, and where it's good, it's not that original (there are shades of season 2's "Ballin'" in a number of scenes, a much better take on the whole sports gag). Thankfully, while there were elements of everything from Shaolin Soccer to Bend It Like Beckham in the episode, the references never got too out-of-hand.
But this show doesn't thrive on slapstick, as welcome a distraction as it can be. It works best as a satire, and while it contained a few nice digs at the contemporary sports scene (with the recruitment of hulking, age-indeterminate Dominican kids to act as ringers) and politics (Ed Wuncler motivating his team by giving them sneakers made by the cheapest Chinese child laborers he could find), it was still largely an overblown physical comedy episode. McGruder probably had a ball with it, but it's really not to everyone's taste, and "The Red Ball" didn't mix it up enough to appeal to people who tune in to this show for its nasty edge.
- "If Ed tells me to jump, I'm gonna say 'How high?' and throw your ass in the air."
- "He originally named it 'Jap baseball', because he didn't know what country he was in."
- "Folks, this woman is experiencing acute kidney failure. She hasn't peed in three years! This could be just the warmup Freeman needs."
- "Get him some Demerol! And make sure it's the good stuff."
- "We're Americans! We don't just quit because we're wrong! We just keep doing the wrong thing until it works!"
- Huey's nuthugger jeans, Louis Vitton driving shoes and Kanye specs was a nice little catalog of the last five years of hip-hop fashion embarrassments.
- For those of you who are fans of anime and/or manga, did you enjoy this show more for its immersion in those styles and references?