Here’s a ratings story no one’s really talking about: returning to the air after a nearly four-year hiatus and without its creator, The Boondocks has been a massive hit for Adult Swim in its fourth (and supposedly final) season. While the show has always been popular with a cult audience, the premiere hit 2.9 million viewers (with subsequent episodes averaging 2.1 million). That’s way up there for a half-hour series on cable, and improved its Mondays at 10:30 p.m. ET timeslot from the already-renewed Rick and Morty.
While the show’s primary target audience is one that doesn’t get talked about much in terms of ratings (African Americans and the young men who make up Adult Swim’s audience), it is surprising that this hasn’t been mentioned more. A Turner press release speaks to how impressive the show’s premiere was:
Crowning Adult Swim’s April performance, the season 4 premiere of The Boondocks scored as the network’s most-watched primetime telecast in five years among adults 18-34, 18-49 & 18-24; the most-watched original series premiere in the last six years among all targeted adults; and the most-watched telecast in 2014 to date across young adults 18-24. Compared to the same time period last year, The Boondocks earned across-the-board ratings and delivery growth ranging between 75% and 96%. Overall, The Boondocks attracted nearly three million viewers 2+, representing a 58% increase vs. last year’s time period.
Now, cable comedies — particularly cartoons — don’t get talked up much on the various pop culture sites unless it’s Archer. Yet The Boondocks is outdrawing even the highest-rated episodes of that show week after week. It’s especially kind of baffling considering the controversial nature of the episodes that have aired so far.
I am referring to, of course, the creator of the show — and the comic strip it’s adapted from — Aaron McGruder announcing he was leaving the show before the season. Not only is Adult Swim pulling off a feat similar to NBC firing Dan Harmon prior to Season 4 of Community, they’re likely going to make a ton of money doing it. While Community‘s fan base may have been more discerning, it appears Boondocks fans are in it to the bitter end.
Now, should they be? After three episodes, I can say that — while not necessarily as negative as others — there just isn’t the thrill of the first three seasons of the show. McGruder’s series certainly threw up a few bad episodes, but it was the price of admission for what could be both a hilarious cartoon and the darkest, most stinging piece of racial satire on television since early Chappelle’s Show.
Season 4 launched with three episodes — one a direct retread of a Season 1 show, one mostly to setup the longer story for the upcoming season, and a weak genre parody — that see The Boondocks struggling for an identity.
Is the show attempting a more grand-scale attempt at serializing The Freemans (militant Huey, wannabe gangsta Riley, and lazy lothario granddad Robert) as being sold into slavery, as well as a mayoral run by the self-loathing Uncle Ruckus? (Gary Anthony Williams’ inhabitation of the character remains one of television’s great achievements.) Are they just trying to make a funny cartoon week-to-week?
The show appears rudderless and without a master plan. Not that McGruder (whom internet conspiracy theories suggest — with not a lack of credibility — that these may be his original work, but with his name taken off the scripts) wasn’t willing to deviate from the show’s original premise. Most of Season 3 is done without Huey as the main character, which was how the comic strip and the first season of the show played out, but that doesn’t mean the show shouldn’t seem centered.
Regardless, viewers don’t appear fazed. Which makes you wonder: why would Adult Swim let the show go out quietly? With a series at a peak in terms of ratings, and with the show now presumably working (somewhat) creatively without its creator, why not keep going? If the ratings hold up, it might be fun to see if, yet again, The Boondocks can stave off death.