Boyz in the 'Burbs

Some day, somewhere, R. Kelly may finally go on trial for child pornography. Until then, we'll have to settle for the made-for-TV trial on a new Cartoon Network show, "The Boondocks." That's right, we said the Cartoon Network, so you can already guess that this isn't your ordinary Court TV. Kelly doesn't say much, but his lawyer (voiced by "Batman" star Adam West) makes a passionate speech in defense of the right to urinate in bed. The really interesting stuff actually happens outside the courthouse, which is over-run by Kelly's supporters and detractors. The pro-Kelly folks are mostly young and poor African-Americans--exaggerated stereotypes decked out in gold teeth, fake fingernails and braided hair. His foes are led by Harvard professor Cornel West, civil-rights stalwart Dick Gregory and the one and only Rosa Parks--which makes it all the more insane when these august activists jump into a fight with Kelly's backers. At one point, a spandex-sporting woman hits Parks in the head with a chicken leg. "Sit down!" she yells at Parks. "That's what you're known for anyway."

TV cartoons often get away with outrageous situations and dialogue that no live-action show could touch, from Homer's gay-marriage ministry on "The Simpsons" to the infamous "South Park" episode about--well, take your pick. "Boondocks" is every bit as political as those animated animal houses, but it hits one particularly hot button: race. The show was created by Aaron McGruder, who has adapted it from his syndicated com-ic strip of the same name. McGruder, 31, calls himself "one of America's angriest black men," and he's long taken aim at people and institutions he believes betray the race: Republicans and the media, naturally, but also Mariah Carey (too slutty) and Puffy (for helping to make hip-hop materialistic). In 2003, The Washington Post pulled "The Boondocks" for a week when McGruder suggested that the then national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice wouldn't be advocating war in Iraq if she had a boyfriend--and then suggested she date either talk-show host Montel Williams, conservative pundit Larry Elder or Bishop Don Juan, a self-described pimp. "I just take aim at issues that I know are important to the community," says McGruder. "Rosa Parks and R. Kelly are people all black people know and talk about. I just took it to the next level with a 'what if.' The only statement that I'm really making is that black people and sometimes others can be confused."

"The Boondocks," like "South Park," lets its most incendiary statements spring from the mouths of babes. The show centers on two mocha-skinned boys (both voiced by Regina King, who played one of the girlfriends in "Ray"): a socially conscious 10-year-old named Huey and his 8-year-old brother, Riley, a gangsta wanna-be. Though they were raised in the inner city, the boys now live with their grandfather, Granddad, in suburban Woodcrest, where their urban anger finds countless provocations. The premiere finds the boys and Granddad invited to a garden party hosted by Ed Wuncler, the man--make that The Man--who owns Granddad's house. Riley has to endure Wuncler's white, gangsta-wanna-be grandson, while out on the lawn, Huey launches into a speech: "Jesus Christ was black, Ronald Reagan was the Devil and the government lied about 9/11!" All the nice, liberal partygoers applaud, as if being black and outspoken were some kind of performance art. For "Boondocks" fans who worried that McGruder would pull his punches for television, fear not. The show was originally developed for Fox, and it apparently proved too hot for network TV. One reason: it's littered with the N word. "Some people are going to be in a rage over that," McGruder says.

McGruder, who was raised in the racially diverse suburb of Columbia, Md., and graduated from the University of Maryland, has created Huey as his mouthpiece for the frustrations and issues of growing up black. "I was sitting and just thinking about how in a second as a black man, you can either be dead or in jail over the most stupid s---. Like bumping into a n----- on the street, or taking a parking space," he says. "That's why I did an episode on stupid people and what they do sometimes. That stuff pisses me off." The fact is, everything pisses McGruder off. Visit him in his studio near Los Angeles, and he answers the door with a pleasant smile and then quickly launches into commentary on the latest Hurricane Katrina news. "I think I'm leaving the country," he says just after saying hello. "They're letting n-----s drown over here."

McGruder's fearlessly militant views have made him the darling of left-leaning Hollywood--Ed Asner provides the voice of Ed Wuncler and Michael Moore wrote the foreword to a collection of McGruder's strips. But McGruder is smart enough to know that a newspaper comic is much easier to take than a walking, talking, full-color TV show beamed into your living room. "People are not used to hearing it straight and having certain subjects taken to task in the way I like to," McGruder says. "I think the Cartoon Network is in for a real shock at the response the show will get."

McGruder talks as if he'd be disappointed if this show didn't make people angry. Interestingly, McGruder is good friends with Dave Chappelle, whose show on Comedy Central also exaggerated racially charged situations for comic effect. Many people in Hollywood believe that Chappelle ended his show in part because he became uncomfortable with mainstream audiences' laughing at black stereotypes without thinking more deeply about their social causes. "Dave and I talk regularly. I think I have a better compass [than Chappelle], so I think it won't bother me as much that white Americans are laughing at the stuff some blacks are embarrassed by," McGruder says. "I think we as black people spend way too much time worrying about what white people think of us. I don't give a f--- about what white people think." Just as long as they tune in.

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