Clouded by a stunning creative split and a hiatus that stretched close to four years, "The Boondocks," the edgy animated comedy about two young African American boys from the inner city grappling with life in the suburbs, is finally returning Monday to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block — a relaunch being greeted by the show's legion of fans with both celebration and concern.
Propelling the cautious reception is reaction to the absence of Aaron McGruder, who created the series as well as the groundbreaking comic strip that sparked the show about 10-year-old black militant Huey Freeman, his gangsta-wanna-be younger brother, Riley, and their guardian, the gruff Granddad.
McGruder, who has always been fiercely protective of "The Boondocks," has been underground and all but silent since Adult Swim announced last month that the coming fourth and final season had been produced without his participation, "when a mutually agreeable production schedule could not be reached."
More than McGruder is missing. His name, including his "created by" and "executive producer" credit, has been scrubbed from the show's kinetic opening.
McGruder's only response was a post last month on "The Boondocks'" Facebook page bidding an emotional farewell to the show and its characters: "Huey, Riley and Granddad were not just property to me. They are my fictional blood relatives. Nothing is more painful than to leave them behind."
Without McGruder, who wrote that he is focusing on developing a series, "Black Jesus," for Adult Swim, many fans have worried whether "The Boondocks" kids are all right and what effect his exit will have on the raucous satirical humor that made the series one of the flagships of the late-night Adult Swim slate.
"What's the point of the Boondocks without Aaron?" Matan Youmin Park posted on the show's Facebook page. It was one of hundreds of laments on the page.
Adult Swim executives have declined comment. Steve Mosko, president of Sony Pictures Television, which produces the show, said in a statement: "Aaron McGruder is a brilliant artist, and we're grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him. Sometimes things happen, but we are extremely proud of the show and we celebrate Aaron's genius."
Meanwhile, the stars of the show want to reassure fans of "The Boondocks" that the series is heavily flavored with McGruder's influence.
"The people who loved 'The Boondocks' should still look forward to it," said Regina King, who provides the voices of both Huey and Riley. "It's a satire, dark comedy, and the show still remains in that spirit."
"There's a real outcry out there for 'The Boondocks,'" said John Witherspoon, the voice of Granddad, who added that he is constantly approached by fans of the show when he travels around the country for stand-up gigs. "I mention the show is coming back and they just go crazy."
However, King and Witherspoon also expressed mixed feelings about the coming season. Witherspoon said McGruder's exit was "upsetting to me," praising the cartoonist for creating such distinctive characters.
Said King, "I personally feel it was unfortunate to work on a project where the creator was not involved. No one wants that to happen, but there were so many things out of our control. This was a journey that started so well, and none of us thought it would end this way."
King, who is directing episodes of BET's "Being Mary Jane," said the rift had a dramatic effect behind the scenes: "Everyone felt Aaron's absence. There was a real void. But at the end of the day, we were all under contract."
The season opener, "Pretty Boy Flizzy," features a hip-hop bad-boy singer with similarities to rapper Chris Brown (who was involved in a 2009 domestic violence case involving then-girlfriend Rihanna). The second episode, "Breaking Granddad," is a satirical riff on "Breaking Bad," with the family manufacturing an explosive substance that also happens to enrich and straighten black hair. The absence of a writing credit indicates that the installment was likely written by McGruder.
With its Korean-drawn anime, raw urban humor and aggressive pokes at popular culture and rappers, "The Boondocks" quickly became a signature show for Adult Swim when it debuted in November 2005. The strip about the Freemans also established McGruder as a vital, fresh young voice who channeled his outspoken views about politics and culture into his fictional characters.
In addition to accolades and honors, including a Peabody Award, the series also sparked more than its share of upsets; frequent use of the N-word angered black leaders such as the Rev. Al Sharpton. One of the show's main characters, Uncle Ruckus, calls black people "monkeys" and worse.
The N-word and the coarse language are front and center in the initial episodes of the new season. The vibe in "Breaking Granddad" particularly appears to mirror McGruder's' perspective on black culture.
Situations where the creators of TV comedies or dramas are forced out or quit are not unusual in Hollywood. One of the most high-profile instances was the volatile departure of Frank Darabont, series creator of the hugely popular zombie drama "The Walking Dead," who was forced out in 2011 before the start of the second season.
Still, "The Boondocks" appears to represent a special case. McGruder, 39, and his creation, which he came up with while in college, have been inseparable since he launched his strip in 1999.
Said Witherspoon: "It's been fun. But Aaron has moved on."
When: 10:30 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children younger than 17)