I am an unapologetic fan of Aaron McGruder's TV show The Boondocks. I have written about his genius and sharp insights about race and politics on several occasions. Along with David Chappelle, I include McGruder among the great philosophers of the politics of the color line in post civil rights era America.
Smart political and social satire/comedy involves making the viewer uncomfortable as a way of creating a space for some type of catharsis and intellectual awakening through laughter.
In that way, pain can be healing.
The best comics understand their role as the psychologist truth-teller who embraces parrhesia. There is a cost to telling the truth: the great comics stand naked before the world which is why they so often destroy themselves by self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, committing suicide, or dying early deaths because they have ravaged their bodies and minds in an act of self-sacrifice for the public.
Pain can also hurt.
The new season of The Boondocks has been very uneven in terms of the quality of the writing and how the show uses a contemporary social issue (the "new" poverty of the black middle class and the elderly) as a plot device to animate--pardon the pun--the narrative.
Aaron McGruder is no longer involved with The Boondocks: this is apparent as the show has embraced obvious sources of pain and conflict as thematic devices but has not offered, so far, any smart or subtle payoffs for the setup. In all, something is now just "off" with The Boondocks; its comedy is a crude, heavy, sledge hammer that is mining hurt and (black) pain, while denying the viewers any redemption through comedic insight or wisdom.
Several years ago, David Chappelle quit his show on Comedy Central because he felt that white audience members were now laughing at him and not with him as he struggled through his art to offer up insightful commentary about the realities of race and racism in post civil rights America.
I wonder if Aaron McGruder read the scripts for this season of The Boondocks and decided to walk away from the show because they were not up to his standards?
A great editor is a creative worker's best friend. Good friends and colleagues who get your vision, and who can reign you in, are also great allies too. At present, The Boondocks lacks both of those restraints, as this season plays like a cover band which can hit the high notes, but lacks the subtlety and authenticity of its predecessors.
Season 4 of The Boondocks has featured stories where the Freemans sell themselves into slavery, in an homage to Breaking Bad develop explosive hair straightening cream, and in the most recent episode "Early Bird Special", Grandpa Freeman becomes a male prostitute who caters to desperate, young, attractive black women who are so lonely that they mortgage their homes for his companionship...and this companionship does not even involve mind-blowing sex and many, many exhausting orgasms for said "clients".
I do not think that The Boondocks TV show is now "anti-black". Nor, is it "anti-black woman" or "misogynist". Those rhetorical bricks are overused in contemporary American discourse. But, The Boondocks is grappling with some very important conversations about race, class, and gender--and failing to execute and follow through on them properly.
The plot of the "Early Bird Special" was driven by the supposed loneliness and lack of desirability as experienced by black women (and the desperate yearning of "unattractive" white women for anything "black" and "male").
I would suggest that these are rough ideas for a pitch meeting.
I will even go so far as to say that I have personally witnessed the race and gender dynamics to which The Boondocks' "Early Bird Special" is alluding.
I am also transparent in my belief that much of the supposed controversy about marriage markets and the hair salon wisdom about how "black men are leaving black women for women of other races", and thus black women are made lonely and to feel undesirable because of that fact, is much malarkey.
Unfortunately, those dynamics became the beginning and end of "Early Bird Special", as opposed to the scaffolding upon which the writers of The Boondocks could have done something really smart and insightful.
[Some examples. Grandpa has joked that he is horrible in bed. What about making him the greatest lover to ever walk the Earth...despite his lack of self-confidence? What if his "clients" are all young guilty white liberals or ultra-conservatives who are having sex with him as an act of penance or racial self-flagellation?
How about having Grandpa be the central attraction in a Mandingo party or involved in interracial cuckolding with a prominent white man from Woodcrest? What if The Boondocks did a take on Pretty Woman? The Mack? American Pimp? Pimps Up Hoes Down? Grandpa could be titillated by the idea of being used as a human sex toy and ends up in therapy. So many possibilities.]
The Boondocks is now reaching for easy jokes based on the idea that talking about race in an "honest" way is somehow "smart" or "edgy". Unfortunately, bad writing and lazy thinking often hides behind the deflector shield and camouflage of "honesty".