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The angriest character in comics

'The Boondocks' comes to television

By Todd Leopold

Huey, Riley and Granddad are the mainstays of "The Boondocks."


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Eye on Entertainment
Aaron McGruder

(CNN) -- "Garfield," it's not. And it's definitely not "Family Circus."

"The Boondocks," Aaron McGruder's caustic comic strip about two inner-city African-American kids transported to a leafy suburb to live with their grandfather, once did a sequence on finding a date for Condoleezza Rice. It takes regular potshots at BET. Its main characters -- 10-year-old Huey and his 8-year-old brother Riley -- never smile.

McGruder's punch lines are often more punch than (laugh) line.

The strip's unapologetic political and racial bent -- and, perhaps, its underlying anger -- has led to it being canceled by some newspapers, occasionally pre-empted by others.

Indeed, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- though supportive of the strip -- runs it pages away from its regular comics page, next to "Doonesbury," as if trying to prevent "Mary Worth" or "Nancy" from catching cynicism germs. (Interestingly, Lalo Alcaraz's "La Cucaracha," which tackles topics from an often-cynical Latin perspective, runs near the turgid "Mary." Go figure.)

Yet in terms of comics history, "The Boondocks" isn't as exceptional as it seems. Which is not to damn it, but to exult in its connection to tradition.

If the strip is told from an ethnic perspective, so were "The Katzenjammer Kids" and "Abie the Agent." If the strip's artwork is stylistically striking -- Huey and Riley's large eyes and strangely impassive faces obviously owe a debt to Japanese manga -- so was the work of Winsor McCay and Chester Gould, to name two of many. If the strip ventures into controversial political waters, well, so did "Pogo" and "Li'l Abner" and, of course, "Doonesbury."

What sets "The Boondocks" apart is the fact that it does all of these things, and therefore seems different from almost every other mainstream comic strip. With its anger, it appears to have more in common with alternative strips, such as those done by Ted Rall or Tom Tomorrow.

Cartoon Network (like CNN, a division of Time Warner) is going to see if that attitude can extend to television. The network is premiering a cartoon version of "The Boondocks" in its Sunday "Adult Swim" late-night block of shows.

Eye on Entertainment takes cover.


Cartoon Network wasn't the first to approach McGruder about a "Boondocks" show. Apparently Fox thought it would fit right in with its Sunday animated lineup -- but the network wanted to soften it.

(One can only wonder if "The Simpsons" would have survived had creator Matt Groening and his producing cohorts not been given protection from the feared "network notes.")

But McGruder wanted a TV version of "The Boondocks" to be done on his terms, complete with racial observations and frequent use of the N-word.

The show wastes no time in raising hackles. One episode, "The Trial of R. Kelly," digs into the issues surrounding the controversial musician. Another episode finds Granddad consorting with a nice young woman who turns out to be a hooker. Then there are shows concerning soul food restaurants (and health problems), thug rapper life and a revived, and loathed, Martin Luther King Jr.

As the old bosses used to wonder, "How will this play in Peoria?"

"The Boondocks" stars Regina King as the voices of Huey and Riley, John Witherspoon as the voice of Granddad, Cedric Yarbrough as upscale neighbor Tom DuBois and Jill Talley as Tom's white wife, Sarah.

The show premieres at 11 p.m. ET Sunday on the Cartoon Network.

On screen

  • "Chicken Little," Disney's first G-rated computer-animated film (the others were by Disney partner Pixar, and 2000's "Dinosaur" was PG), is based on the children's story about the little bird who cried wolf. Um, "the sky is falling." That kind of thing. Voices include Zach Braff, Gary Marshall, Joan Cusack, Steve Zahn and Don Knotts. Opens Friday.
  • "Jarhead," about Marines in the first Gulf War, is based on the memoir by Anthony Swofford. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Jamie Foxx and was directed by Sam Mendes ("American Beauty"). Opens Friday.
  • Craig Lucas (screenwriter of "Prelude to a Kiss" and "Longtime Companion") goes behind the camera to direct "The Dying Gaul," a twisted tale about a ruthless producer who tries to force a screenwriter to change a part in his very personal screenplay from a man to a woman. It stars Campbell Scott. Opens in limited release Friday.
  • On the tube

  • "Smallville" reunites Tom Wopat with series regular John Schneider, so "The Dukes of Hazzard" can ride again. The two have done OK since beating off Boss Hogg: Schneider had a solid music career and many acting roles, and Wopat has become a Broadway mainstay. 8 p.m. ET Thursday on the WB.
  • George Carlin probably means the title of his new HBO special, "Life Is Worth Living," somewhat ironically. Then again, the man has survived a vicious heart attack and other health problems, some self-inflicted. The special airs live at 10 p.m. ET Saturday.
  • "The West Wing" also goes live for a presidential debate between Hawkeye and Sifuentes -- uh, Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) and Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits). 8 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC.
  • Sound waves

  • "Aeriel" (Columbia), the first Kate Bush album in more than a decade, comes out Tuesday.
  • People laugh about Neil Diamond. People tell jokes about his overwrought songs, his "Jazz Singer" acting, his glittering concert shirts. But underneath all that is a guy who once wrote "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," "Solitary Man," and several other acoustic-guitar-centered hits for Bang and Uni in the '60s. Producer Rick Rubin has gotten him back to that person for "12 Songs" (Columbia), which comes out Tuesday.
  • The Beastie Boys put out a collection of their "Solid Gold Hits" (Capitol) on Tuesday.
  • Some of Fleetwood Mac's best material -- stuff from when Peter Green was the guitarist and the next best thing to B.B. King -- can be found on "Men of the World: The Blues Years" (Sanctuary). Among the cuts: "Man of the World," one of the most heartbreaking singles you'll ever hear. Comes out Tuesday.
  • Paging readers

  • Gretchen Rubin's "Forty Ways to look at JFK" (Ballantine), not to be confused with "32 Short Films About Glenn Gould," comes out Tuesday.
  • Video center

  • "Ugetsu," Kenji Mizoguchi's 1953 classic ghost story, comes out on DVD Tuesday, courtesy of the folks at Criterion. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention another recent Criterion release, "The Wages of Fear" -- one of the all-time great thrillers -- which came out October 25.
  • Tim Burton's new version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, comes out on DVD Tuesday.
  • The first DVD celebration of "Beavis and Butt-head," "Beavis and Butt-head, Vol. 1: The Mike Judge Collection," comes out Tuesday. It sucks. No, it's cool. Actually, it's cool and it sucks. Ha-ha, he said "sucks."
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