American Dad: After a few wobbly episodes, American Dad is back in fine form tonight, something notable from the start when the show bypasses a full credits sequence in favor of a simple title card. It opens with Roger auditioning for a play, then quickly moves into a fantastic scene where Roger and Stan try to one-up each other, including the two most obvious (but still funny) touches: the two singing “I Can Do Anything Better Than You” badly at one another, and Haley declaring that they're just doing it because they want to fuck. “How's your Intro to Psychology class going, Haley?” “It's only day three, but I understand the whole world now.”
The Stan and Roger bits are fantastic throughout. Stan's not a good actor, but he deceives Roger into teaching him how to do it in order to get the lead role in the new play “Piñata Man.” Roger busts into the lead female role, and they outact each other in an excellent rendition of the play, culminating in a massive public act of indecency, which, of course, makes them respect one another again and proves Haley right.
The only real problem with the episode is its B-plot, the relatively dull adventure of Steve with his buddies as they plan the sleepover to end all sleepovers. It's a pretty typical sitcom plot for adolescents, and American Dad adds nothing new except more self-blow-job-attempt jokes. It's not terrible, and if nothing else, it highlights just how good the Roger/Stan (that slash is pointed, by the way) storyline is. A-
The Simpsons: Usually, The Simpsons is one of the more interesting shows of the night, but tonight, there's not a lot to discuss. This isn't a bad thing: It's a solid, amusing episode. But it's the sort of funny that's a consistent series of chuckles, instead of big belly laughs. When Homer and Marge wake up after Valentine's Day filled with sexy disheveledness, it's cute. Homer being tied to the bed is funny, as are his attempts to chew his leg off (at least, until he references a recent film with a similar conceit).
As Marge gets up, she notices a grey hair, which triggers the main plot. Vaguely referencing and subverting the Golden Age-era episode where Homer tells his marriage's secrets to his night college class, Marge goes to her hairdresser who tells her that she's been grey for years, only she had her memory wiped by the fumes of the dye. Fearful of the powerful chemicals involved and seeing a confident grey-haired woman, Marge decides to take the plunge into going natural, which causes some consternation throughout the family and Springfield at large. It also leads to the night's best bit, as it causes the Simpson kids to question the freaky nature of their head/hair. “Where does my head end and my hair begin?!?!? Head head head HAIR!” Homer's reaction is just about as funny, as we go into his brain for an Emergency Session of the “Marriage Preservation Committee.”
The B-plot, involving Homer as Moe's romantic wingman, is shunted to the side, except in a clever ending when Marge realizes that young women are into her husband and decides to regain his affection, slowly becoming a stereotypical witch along the way. I have no real complaints with this Simpsons episode: It was consistently funny with nothing terribly wrong. B+
Bob's Burgers: Although Bob's Burgers doesn't focus on a liberal authority figure this time around, once again, it gets bogged down with an antagonist representing a certain kind of unconventional, un-“American” culture, in this case, a capoeira instructor who convinces Tina join his crazy sexy dance fighting craze. And this wouldn't be so bad, but as with its previous episodes, Bob's Burgers is at its best with the family interacting, while the external threats don't do a whole lot.
And, to be honest, this episode was also weaker overall than most of the previous Bob's Burgers. Bob going and confronting the capoeira instructor while skipping his 4:30 “meeting” causes some laughs, both in its dancing-around-the-meeting issue and in its outright hammering home of its poop jokes. And Kristen Schaal's Louise remains a kind of force of nature, pulling out kitchen implement after kitchen implement for Bob to use for his revenge against the instructor.
But it's still missing something. In some ways, it's even regressing to a conventional storyline of a dad having trouble connecting to his growing kid, then, of course, finding a way to reconnect. This isn't bad, but I'm not sure it's really enough for Bob's Burgers to successfully utilize its strengths to make a real niche for itself amongst the Sunday night cartoons. C+
Family Guy: A couple weeks ago, in the episode where Brian offered his kidney to Peter, we had a discussion about Family Guy and its difficulties with sincerity. After years of deliberately and gleefully spitting in the face of any kind of convention or morality, it's extremely difficult to take any attempt at earnest, character-based storytelling seriously from the show. Which brings us to tonight's episode.
Peter and Brian have a drinking problem, and they get sentenced to 30 days in Alcoholics Anonymous. There, they decide that the people in it are boring, having “exchanged one addition for another: alcohol for AA!” they just need a safe place to drink. So Peter and Brian give them beer and turn the meeting house into a party. Then a noise complaint causes the cops (i.e., Joe) to come, and Peter covers it up by singing a big song about the evils of Mr. Booze. On the way home, he crashes nearly to death, and Death shows up and shows up how he'll end up as an alcoholic, which is a jerk. Then it shows how he'd have ended up if he were completely clean and sober, and he's a “total douche.” So Peter decides to drink in moderation.
I just don't know what to do with this. It has something of the form of a morality play, but it also has the form of a subverted, Simpsons-style faux-morality tale. Yet the follow-through felt serious, as if Seth MacFarlane was actually saying “Don't be a jerkass: Drink sometimes so you don't end up lame, but not so much you end up a jerkass!” Which is vaguely offensive (and probably much more than “vaguely” offensive for people who really believe in AA), but it's made it worse by committing Family Guy's biggest sin: being unfunny. With a mere handful of chuckles here, combined with an actively annoying plot, Family Guy actually moved into Cleveland Show territory here. D
The Cleveland Show: One of the big issues I've noticed with The Cleveland Show is that it has difficulties sustaining its comedy. It's kind of structured similarly to The Simpsons, in that there's something crazy to start the episode off, that eventually gives way to the more conventional plot at the first commercial break. For example, this week, we open with everyone in the family except Rallo having a wild time making a tiger and komodo dragon fight, because, “We do stuff like this every night after you go to sleep.” It's a funny line with good visuals, and it kind of nails the way that some young kids who chafe at their bedtimes feel. Also, Cleveland's boss gives him tickets to the NBA All-Star Game because Cleveland is black. It's an easy joke, but the show deals with it well, making it funny while acknowledging that such racialism isn't so different from racism.
Then comes the commercial break, and everything comes to a halt. Rallo, convinced that he's being discriminated against because he's little, finds a fellow “little person” to hang out with. Since this is a cartoon, we can kind of see how this mistake can be made, but it's a cartoon that's supposed to have at least a vague relation to reality, so it really doesn't make any sense, nor is it funny enough to get past its nonsense. Cleveland and Donna going to the All-Star Game is a little better, but with seven different NBA players having multiple lines, it's still pretty awkward. Not quite as awkward as it could have been, as some of the players are pretty good at delivering their lines, but it doesn't really go anywhere.
Well, it does trigger the worst joke of the episode, when Cleveland's friend sees the five black NBA players get on his bus, and he says some unfunny jokes about getting robbed. It's not clever; it's nonsensical because there are two white players in the episode who suddenly aren't there just so that the unfunny race-based joke can be made. Not to mention that presumably the same character who wanted to go to the NBA All-Star Game might actually recognize, say, the 7-foot-tall Shaquille O'Neal. So it goes with The Cleveland Show. For every half-step forward, there's a great leap back. C+
- “I eat ghosts like you for breakfast.”
- “I wetnurse better than you.”
- “The big piece for the guy who didn't create 14 widows last night!”
- “The all-is-lost moment!” Meta-humor: funny the first time.
- Roger responds to Stan's accusations that he sabotaged the lead actress and her understudy. “Really?That totally seems like something I would do.”
- “That's a smile, right?” I can smile like Moe. Y'all should ask me.
- “Even you let me down, Hitler.”
- “Homie, you always mean to say the nicest things.”
- “I was more worm than boy for a few years.”
- RALPH WIGGUM QUOTABLE LINE ALERT: “Grandma had hair like that when she went to sleep in her forever box!”
- “Eyewitnesses to your fight describe your actions as 'berserkoid.'”
- “Well, as a feminist, virtually everything a woman does is empowering.”
- “Ginger's cat died. But in a really funny way.”
- “Peacefulness. Fighting. Cardio.” The promise of capoeira. If I did a martial art… well, maybe I'd go with Muay Thai.
- “What IS your problem with fire?”
- “Not. Like. Jazzercise.”
- “Why are you telling me this, Louise?” “Revenge…”
- “Sorry, Dad, there's no getting through to that one.” “Thanks, Louise.”
- Panting Man's Wounded Shoulder Films Presents….
- “And my two new cats, Clean and Sober, think I'm tops.”
- Hearing Bob's voice on Family Guy is a little weird.
- “Look, the dragon's sprouting wings. So's the tiger! Hop on, Junior, we're flying to the mooooon!”
- “No, I just thought someone of your hue would enjoy watching some basketball!”
- “Don't you make me spill my wine!”
- “If you put your penis on something, it's yours. No one else can eat it.”
- “Good luck getting into grad school, you chump!” Cleveland trash talks Kevin Garnett, one of the NBA's most successful high-school-to-the-pros draft picks.
- Cleveland's parents ask Rallo about his new girlfriend. “What's her ass like?” Pause. “It's important!”