There Goes the Neighborhood

TheBoondocks moves into the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.

In the first minute of the pilot episode of the  The Boondocks (premiering Sunday night at 11:00 as part of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup), Huey Freeman, a black kid with revolutionary leanings, dreams of disrupting a white garden party with some incendiary rhetoric: “Jesus was black, Ronald Reagan was the devil, and the government is lying about 9/11.” Just as quickly, Huey’s grandfather slaps him awake (child-smacking is matter-of-fact in The Boondocks) and counsels him never to even dream of telling the truth to white people: “Better learn how to lie like me.”

The debut of this spinoff of Aaron McGruder’s newspaper comic strip has Granddad (voiced by the comedian John Witherspoon) moving from the South Side of Chicago to the affluent suburb of Woodcrest with his two grandsons, 10-year-old Huey and 8-year-old Riley. (Both boys are voiced by Regina King, who played Jamie Foxx’s spurned mistress in Ray.) As Granddad berates them for not appreciating their new digs, the boys hang around at the window, training their disturbingly realistic toy rifles on the white neighbors outside.

The loosely plotted episodes are essentially excuses to cram in the maximum possible number of racially disquieting situations, some funny, some not. The garden party in Huey’s dream becomes real when a wealthy neighbor, Ed Wuncler (voiced by Ed Asner) invites the Freeman family over to celebrate his grandson’s return from a tour in Iraq. As it turns out, the war vet is a classic wigger wannabe who speaks in fake gangsta dialect—as flimsy a stock type as a satirist could hope to produce these days. But the uneasy friendship between the circumspect Granddad and the condescending, yet well-meaning, Ed is a sharply written subplot that captures the malaise of suburban integration.

There’s been a lot of talk about this series’ free use of the n-word (or, as McGruder would probably put it, “nigga nigga nigga nigga”—in interviews, he sounds exasperated with our culture’s lily-livered fixation on those two forbidden syllables). “I think it’s OK as long as they say it,” one guest whispers to another at the garden party, and while these two whiteys are clearly the object of satire, McGruder seems, in the main, to agree.

In the second Boondocks episode, “Guess Hoe’s Coming to Dinner,” a prostitute named Cristal seduces Granddad into keeping her in the style to which she’s accustomed, while the boys look on in horror and speculate in private as to whether all women are hoes. (Only 20 to 25 percent of them, Huey concludes.) The episode’s casual misogyny is a depressing reminder of how often the protest strategies of young black men, in hip-hop culture and elsewhere, rely on unreconstructed stereotypes of women as money-grubbing hoes and bitches. It also can’t help but recall the flap surrounding a 2003 Boondocks strip in which McGruder had Huey and his best friend, Caesar, conspiring to find Condoleezza Rice a love match: “Maybe if there was a man in the world who Condoleezza truly loved, she wouldn’t be so hell-bent to destroy it,” said Caesar, to which Huey replied, “Condoleezza’s just lonely and bitter.” In the outcry that followed, the Washington Post pulled the strip for a whole week, but upon his return to the paper, an unapologetic McGruder continued with the Condi-matchmaking story line for more than a month.

In future episodes of The Boondocks, not available for review, Martin Luther King returns from a decades-long coma, Oprah Winfrey is kidnapped, and R. Kelly goes on trial for wetting his bed. The Boondocks rarely aspires to knee-slapping hilarity (and it fits oddly with Adult Swim neighbors like the serenely nonsensical Aqua Teen Hunger Force), but McGruder’s gift for agitprop makes this show worth keeping an eye on. With Dave Chappelle’s show in apparently permanent hiatus, where else are you going to find mordant racial satire on TV?