So the grand Sons of Tucson experiment is at an end, at last, and that means that we have our beloved American Dad back. And after a pretty good Simpsons and a not-bad Cleveland Show (not bad being all I really look for from that show anymore), I thought we might have the strongest night of animated comedy in quite some time, as I liked the premise of Family Guy - apocalyptic stuff always interests me - and American Dad was back, and I was sure to overrate whatever it was just because it wasn't Sons of Tucson. Instead, Family Guy was pretty much a bust (though I laughed at it more than I have some other recent episodes) and American Dad made me wonder why I'd been so excited for it to come back in the first place. After I seemed to be the only person in existence who liked the last episode of The Simpsons (I checked), I was pretty sure that I had lost my mind or something, and I was hoping tonight would either prove I had or show me the error of my ways. Instead, I just ended up with another night of shows that were in the C to B range, which is par for the course, I suppose.
The Simpsons: I've been wondering if I cut episodes that play off of one of my favorite elements of the show's past - as the last episode, which was heavily focused on the Flanders/Homer relationship - too much slack. So tonight's episode would be a good test case. I've always loved episodes about Mr. Burns, particularly episodes that play around with how he and Smithers operate without each other, and tonight's episode featured nothing less than Mr. Burns going to prison (a plot device so basic that I rather can't believe the show hasn't tried it before this and choose to believe that I am just forgetting another episode where it happened). By and large, I liked the Mr. Burns stuff for the usual reasons - he's infinitely old and infinitely evil, as Conan O'Brien says - and I liked some of the filthy gags the show was able to get away with in the prison setting. But the story of Mr. Burns becoming a Christian was odd in the wake of the last "Jerusalem syndrome" episode, the story of Smithers becoming worse than Burns was largely abrupt, and the Bart and Lisa story was mostly just stupid. But I like Mr. Burns as a character enough, and I like the way the show tells stories about him enough to give this a mildly approving grade. Maybe I am softer on the episodes that focus on the characters and relationships I really like, but when it's Mr. Burns, at the same time, it's hard to go wrong. Grade: B
The Cleveland Show: In past weeks in this space, I've written about how I strongly dislike gross-out gags. I'm not a big fan of humor based on bodily fluids or poop or anything like that. However, for some reason, I make an exception for fart jokes, and while the ones on tonight's episode were not terribly well-executed, they were at least halfway amusing fart jokes. I particularly liked the way that everyone booed Cleveland and Loretta at the end and asked "WHERE ARE THE FARTS?" Had that been the whole episode, though, I don't know if I could have recommended it. Instead, most of the episode was about the death of Loretta, a weird attempt to close off some loopholes in the show's continuity that wasn't handled entirely gracefully - since the storyline literally came out of nowhere - but at least allowed for some good humor from Cleveland Jr. and the nice twist of having Cleveland be the one who was most broken up about her death. I'm not sure it all hung together emotionally, just as the show itself still feels like a collection of elements that have yet to coalesce, but it was surprisingly well done in places, and that's enough for me to not hate it. (Also, every episode from now on should feature Mr. Flippers.) Grade: B-
Family Guy: I really thought this one would be a lot of fun. As mentioned, I like apocalyptic stuff, and watching Quahog prepare for the end of all things should have been more fun than it was. Instead, outside of one really inspired gag - Peter getting the lion from the zoo - it was all standard stuff for an episode of Family Guy, and the April Fool's payoff wasn't worth all of the build-up (though, to be fair, that was the point). More interesting, perhaps, would have been Peter's revelation that he didn't want to have anything to do with his kids, but the whole thing came up so quickly and then went away so quickly that it never had a chance to resonate. Having him buy the kids off with an Xbox was inspired, but the whole plot deserved a full episode to fill out, not the paltry amount of time the plotline actually got. I know that plotting is not this show's strong suit. But it really seems like they're trying to tell genuinely moving and interesting stories this season, and it's mostly just not working. There are funny lines tucked around the edges of every episode (and I laughed at length at Peter and his lion), but there's nothing here that justifies the needlessly elaborate plots. Grade: C
American Dad: I suspect any number of you will disagree with me here, but I thought the main plot of tonight's American Dad was mostly a dud. I'm normally down for Roger adopting a disguise that takes him through any number of stereotypical genres (tonight a movie about dirty cops), but this episode just felt like it was going through the motions of the storyline, and it didn't really utilize the Stan and Roger pairing effectively. I had some mild laughs at the story of Reginald and Haley trying to fight their attraction for each other, but this storyline still feels like the show's attempts to do a continuing storyline in the background of everything else. And while that might be admirable, I'm not sure this is the continuing storyline the show should be focusing on. It wasn't a terrible episode, just a disappointing one, from a show I hold to a higher standard than any of the other three, and I hope the show shakes it off quickly. Grade: C
- "Hot dogs are not bookmarks."
- "Well, I'll tell you my tale by thinking about it to myself."
- "Wake the BEADLE!"
- "Is it a crime to want nice things and then to steal them from a public museum where any gum-chewing monkey in a Tufts University jacket can gawk at them?"
- "Me, whose velvet breaches their lizard lips had often so joylessly smooched."
- "Son, do you really need the rotten? I mean, it's not like you're actually gonna hit him."
- "One day, we might need each other for organ transplants, so we better keep the lines of communication open."
- "Damn that gas is noble."
- "Hm. That was a wild Christmas party."
- "… And a suggestion box that is no longer a guillotine for the hand."
- "If wishes were horses, I'd be eating wish meat every night."
- "It's too late to turn back, Moe. We've exchanged meaningful looks."
- "And that's where we came in. Now, without further ado, here's what happened next. But first, I'll daydream about a sport utility vehicle, a crispy chicken sandwich, and a wonderful blue pill!"
- "My hermaphrodite yogurt!"
- "Gee, thanks, Mr. Flippers!"
- "The medical term is a 'fart card.'"
- "Then I'm headin' up to Langley. Got a background gag in a bachelor party scene on American Dad."
- "'Twas my pie gone missing!"
- "Went to the zoo this morning with a shotgun, and now I have a lion."
- "Chandler … Fonzie … and Remington Steele?" "You got lucky, dad."
- "Love you! Traveling pants!"
- "Hey, a shout-out for Klaus! That's rare!"
- "THEY DON'T CARE. IT'S YOUR GLASS!"
- "Had to blow up the kitchen, Franny. It goes real well with this thing I'm imagining."
- "You're a disgrace. You don't deserve to wear that mustache." "I was done with it anyway."