Boondocks, Season 2
Created by Aaron MacGruder
While animated TV series for adults have become one of the biggest entertainment trends of recent years, shows based on actual comic strips have not led the way. "Dilbert" is one of the most successful comics around, but the 1999 TV series based on it never threatened the "Simpsons" in popularity-or lasted more than a few episodes, for that matter.
Not so "The Boondocks." The comic strip was one of the freshest things around when it debuted 12 years ago. While the strip itself has gotten a bit stale, in my opinion, the animated series on The Cartoon Network is one of the most daring, relevant and under-appreciated comedies around.
The under-appreciated part may have a lot to do with how over-the-top this show is. It features black writers and cast members going places mocking both racial stereotypes and black culture that a white cast and crew probably couldn't. It also does an impressive job of having characters who are stand-ins for various stereotypes while still being well-realized, quirky individuals in their own right. The set-up involves Huey and Riley Freeman (both voiced by the amazing Regina King), two urban Chicago kids, who are sent to live in the mostly-white suburbs with their granddad when their parents die. Huey is a young black intellectual and political radical, named for Black Panther Huey Newton; he delivers some classic lines like "Did you just congratulate me for reading?" Little brother Riley is the complete opposite, so obsessed with hip-hop culture that he puts spinning rims on his bicycle.
Unlike many shows, "Boondocks" sophomore effort is probably better than the first season. Both are uneven, with brilliant episodes intermixed with a few less impressive ones. Two other characters get more play this season, and each anchors one of the better episodes. Uncle Ruckus (Gary Anthony Williams) is an older black man who embraces every ridiculous stereotype about black people. Black Entertainment Television (BET), which is on a mission to destroy black people in creator MacGruder's mind, recognizes Uncle Ruckus' potential, gives him his own reality show. Tom Dubois (Cedric Yarbrough) is a stand-in for upper middle class blacks who want to be white. Named for the old "Uncle Tom" stereotype, his white wife, Princeton degree and good job as a lawyer can't make up for the fact that he is breathtakingly un-cool.
This show isn't for everyone. The language will be off-putting for some-especially the liberal use of the N-word. In one episode, the show actually seems to defend a white teacher who says it to Riley, because Riley and other black youth use it so much they're lost the right to object to it. "Boondocks" is so unflinching in the material it takes on that it will leave even many jaded viewers squirming. And that's exactly the point.
"The Host" ("Gwoemul")
Directed by Joon-ho Bong
Wondering what people in other countries think about us has become a national obsession in recent years. "The Host" actually gives us a window into the complex relationship people in Korea seem to have with the US military presence there, which seems to both protect and oppress them-all under the guise of a very entertaining monster movie.
The film starts out in the morgue of an American military base, with a white American ordering a Korean to dump a load of toxic chemicals down a drain. Fast-forward six years and we see the Park family, three generations operating a food stand on the banks of the Han River in Seoul. Their not-so-peaceful existence-they fight constantly-is broken by the sudden appearance of a giant mutant man-eating fish that comes rampaging out of the water.
As opposed to many monster flicks which keep you from seeing the beast until late, we see this one right away. It's unlike any movie monster I've even seen, a kind of catfish with a multipart mouth, several limbs that allow it to swing from girders, and a prehensile tail. The monsters origins and intentions remain obscure, but it seems to stand for the abuse we've heaped on nature.
But the real villain here seems to be the US military and the compliant South Korean government-the "host" of the title. The authorities are more concerned with covering up the story and spreading lies about a potential virus than in actually protecting people. When the monster takes off with granddaughter Hyun-seo, the Park family must escape the police and actually track her down themselves. The film's climactic showdown, appropriately, takes place during one of the huge student protest against the American military presence which South Korea has become known for-as the US military prepares to douse the city in a toxic compound they claim will cure the virus, which may or may not even exist.
The mix of comedy and drama here seems rather un-Western, and may be a bit jarring. But this lurching back and forth between silly and sinister is part of the point. This film plays with the conventions of American monster movies, but the result is something quite unusual, unpredictable and fresh.