Aaron McGruder’s anger comes through loud and clear in this adaptation of his comicstrip into an Adult Swim animated series, but the dearth of humor reflects another awkward and disappointing transition from three-panel glory to TV series. Niftily drawn if haltingly animated, “The Boondocks” is filled with crassness and non sequiturs (a staple of the entire Adult Swim lineup) but proves too self-consciously biting to get under anyone’s skin — regardless of its color — beyond the least-demanding realm of the young-male demo.
Much advance discussion has centered on use of the term “nigger” in the program, a distraction from the more provocative effort to tackle race from an African-American perspective that espies bigotry around every corner.
As in the comics, brothers Huey and Riley, ages 10 and 8 (both voiced, the latter especially shrilly, by actress Regina King), live with their granddad (John Witherspoon). The elder boy fancies himself a leftist revolutionary, fantasizing in the premiere about sending rich white people screaming in horror by exposing them to his manifesto.
Granddad, meanwhile, has moved the boys on up from Chicago’s South Side to the suburbs and yearns to bask in the good life, which in the second episode, appropriately titled “Guess Hoe’s Coming to Dinner,” includes naively entering into a relationship with a young golddigger. In the opener, the family encounters a wealthy white banker who bonds with granddad; said banker’s black-talking son, fresh back from Iraq; and a self-loathing black man named Uncle Ruckus.
Like Huey, McGruder is spoiling for a fight, but he’s so busy preaching to the choir as to never really engage the opposition in enough of a dialogue to start one. No wonder the strip’s periodic tirades against the “Star Wars” franchise are often sharper than its race-based material, which in this format risks becoming a one-note screed.
There are fleeting glimpses of wit here, such as granddad muttering that he hates “to see a child go unbeaten.” For the most part, though, the emphasis is on seeking to be “edgy” less because the show needs to than because it can.
About the best thing to be said about “Boondocks” is that it endeavors to be about something, whereas most Adult Swim fare simply tests how juvenile and hallucinogenic latenight animation can get, with names like “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” and the just-introduced “Squidbillies.” Amazing what young guys will watch after a joint and a couple of beers.
No one will confuse McGruder’s creation with “Peanuts,” but that franchise had to tackle the same translation from brief gags on the printed page to create its much-beloved holiday specials — and per the production notes, the Christmas episode will feature Huey’s elementary school play “The Adventures of Black Jesus.”
At least that sounds funny — a neighborhood that the first two installments of “The Boondocks” seldom visits.