Louie made its return to FX this Monday with a pair of episodes of the critically-acclaimed comedy. And from the first scene of “Back,” series creator Louis C.K. nails a mundane aspect of the human condition (garbage men are noisy) in an absurd but still very “true” way (the trashcan through the window was the perfect touch).
And at three episodes in, the fourth season of The Boondocks has chosen broader targets: bad boy celebrities and out of control credit (oh, and a Breaking Bad parody surrounding hair products). At this point, the show has racked up maybe half a funny episode following the still hush-hush departure of series creator Aaron MacGruder, losing its trenchant social commentary as it barrels ever onward into goofball sitcom territory (next week promises Granddad as a gigolo – funny, right?).
I wanted to bring Louie into the conversation because at its height, The Boondocks was one of the most culturally sharp and observational shows on TV, a trait seemingly lost with MacGruder and with its change in focus towards situational rather than social humor.
Granddad (John Witherspoon) losing the family fortune in a deliberate, reckless spending spree (a genuinely interesting contrast to his randomly winning it at the start of the first season) forms the backbone of the current season of The Boondocks. “Good Times” breaks the news to us that Huey, Riley, and Granddad might not be long or the mostly white, all-rich community of Woodcrest, while “Breaking Granddad” offers the first of presumably several get-rich-schemes as the family tries to avoid landing on the streets (or worse).
The series is trying something new, linking each episode with one long-ish form story. Like Louie, previous seasons of The Boondocks typically used loose continuity throughout its first three seasons, returning to characters like the blind son of a bitch Stinkmeaner because why not – Stinkmeaner is too weird, interesting, and darkly funny to abandon.
So it goes with “What will Robert Freeman do now that he’s broke?” That’s a hell of a scenario and The Boondocks would under any other circumstances be the perfect place to explore that story. The myth of the black community is that we don’t know what to do with our money and Robert Freeman is the avatar of every broke nigga who became a rich nigga only to become a poor nigga again (one of the other major failings of the current season is that beyond dinners with fast women, we have no idea what the hell happened to Granddad’s money).
So far, the show seems content to drop the Freemans into a series of skits they have to hustle their way out of, ending pretty much where they started by episode’s end. The humor is largely absent as is the anger since “being broke” is such a nebulous target. “Good Times” tries to create a target in the person of Eddie Wunceler, the gangster grandson of Ed Wunceler. That episode makes some broad equivalency between trying to keep your head above water with the bank and keeping out of reach of a loan shark before doing this weird shuffle about slavery in the last act (Robert signs away his family in order to keep his home – a detail that’s apparently sticking between episodes).
Contrast this with the season 2 episode of Louie, “Moving,” which is kind of the flip side of the Freeman clan’s struggle. In one of the best bits of this great show, Louie, starting to see his career take off and finances getting a little more stable, contemplates buying a new place (only to find out that he hasn’t made it – he’s just making more money, which is a vastly different thing).
Louie is asking a question (“I’ve got money, now what”) while The Boondocks struggles awkwardly for character beats to justify the current situation (one is open-ended, the other is a dead end).
Worse, The Boondocks seems to lack even a point of view like the weary disappointment of the modern civil rights movement in the brilliant and heartbreaking “Return of the King” or even the very real ambivalence among some far-left blacks about the first Obama inauguration in “It’s a Black President, Huey Freeman.” The new season of The Boondocks has no spleen, and worse, Huey – the heart and soul of the show – has been largely silenced (his narration is only fitfully present in the most recent batch of episodes, and both he and Riley have been off in the background of the first three plot lines).
It’s not helping any that three episodes in, the current season is cribbing from what came before (and was better by half): we’ve already had a “nigger moment” lift in “Good Times” while “Pretty Boy Flizzy” mashes up the celebrity obsession of “Tom, Sarah and Usher” with “The Trial of Robert Kelly’s” observations about the way black folks tend to forgive the shitty behavior of black celebrities.
The Boondocks is effectively dead. Adult Swim is billing this as the last season and given the current trajectory, I’m surprised at how consoled I am by this knowledge. It lacks a soul, it’s not really about anything anymore, and the Freeman family (and fans of the show) deserve better.