American Dad: This…this was a weird fucking episode of American Dad. I mean, I expect weird from any given MacFarlane show, and American Dad does have a reputation for surreality as the icing on the cake. Still, beginning the episode with an odd kind of anti-humor, escalating directly into a musical number, which itself escalates into a bizarre revival/tent preacher…segment? Joke? Scene? It's not quite Family Guy anti-humor, although it's similar, especially thanks to the old-fashioned musical conceit. But it's still much more “what the fuck is going on?” than it is “I don't know what just happened but I know it was funny.”
As the episode progresses, it does get a little more coherent. Francine and Stan get in a remodeling bet with their gay neighbors, who bet money against the Smiths' marriage certificate that the marriage can't survive in-home construction. They turn out to be correct, as Francine and Stan end up dividing the house in half, á la The Brady Bunch, which turns into a wall, which turns into an apparent breakup and then reconciliation. Meanwhile, Principal Lewis discovers that Steve's friend Barry is something of a Rain Man-esque memorization genius, and brings him and Steve's gang into a blackjack, card-counting scheme. Now, I like Principal Lewis a great deal, and it seems like he's having a big character expansion this season. I have also just discovered that the voice actor, Kieran Michael Richardson, played the “YOU MUST GATHER YOUR PARTY BEFORE VENTURING FORTH” narrator in Baldur's Gate. But this episode seemed like it was the flip-side to that – over-saturation. Okay, Steve has a principal who does crazy shit, but where does it lead?
I mean, the episode isn't a total waste. There are some good bits, most notable a montage as Francine and Stan celebrate various holidays apart from one another over the course of a week. Roger is sadly generally lacking, though, as is the manic pacing of most American Dad episodes. I like that they try weird random shit, but I don't think it really succeeded here. C+
The Simpsons: I have, in the past, mentioned my general love of Bart or Springfield Elementary-based plots for The Simpsons. This was reinforced this week thanks to Parks & Recreation's seemingly deliberate recreation of the famous “Lemon of Troy” episode, one of my all-time favorites. As a general rule, Springfield Elementary serves as something of a microcosm for The Simpsons' best aspects, such as mob mentality and stupidity treated as genius.
This makes it all the more bizarre that this is the second time this season that The Simpsons has relegated its grade school plot as well as a strong guest star to a b-plot in the past few months. First it was Alyson Hannigan and a plot about Skinner falling in love, this time it's Kristen Schaal and a story about Millhouse getting over Lisa. Schaal plays a cooler girl at Springfield Elementary, who starts dating Millhouse, and…gets…no…funny…lines. Over on Bob's Burgers she's working her way towards breakout star status based on her superb line reading, but on The Simpsons she's treated like a random movie star being shoehorned into a generic guest role where they can't do much damage.
Instead we get a main plot involving Homer as a hairdressing savant. It's not terrible. It's not great. It just feels like like a New Simpsons episode: a character gets placed in a new situation, a few good jokes and far too many obvious jokes ensue. I had been willing to say that this season was something of a return to good, if nowhere near classic form, but the past several episodes have been making me question that belief. C-
Bob's Burgers: Speaking of Kristen Schaal, we've finally got an episode that I think can be called a Louise episodes. Other episodes have had important stuff for her character – and “Art Crawl” of course relied on her even if it was a Bob episode – but this one was hers. Appropriately, it was delightfully weird, if more than a little unbalanced.
Thanks to an invasion of green mold, the family shuts down the restaurant and hangs out at Mort's Mortuary apartments for a few days. Linda decides that this means it's time for the honeymoon they never had. Bob decides it's time to build the model of the bus from Speed he's been waiting to do since, well, Speed. The kids decide to go crazy, as they do. And Mort, being a gracious host, decides (initially) that he wants to take care of the kids. Which is a great plan, until it means that Louise sets him up on a hot mortician's date and gets all the adults out of the building to explore the morgue.
Hilarity most definitely ensues. It's not deep, and it's not quite as delirious as “Art Crawl”, but gags like Jimmy Pesto's Jamaican night are consistent winners. I think episodes like this are Bob's Burgers' baseline moving forward – weird, funny, and occasional springboards to episodes of sheer genius. B+
Family Guy: The thing I find most interesting about Family Guy these days is its willingness to take a concept and focus on it so intently that it ignores its original premise. There's very little family in this episode: Lois walks out the door saying she's going on an errand, and that's mostly it for her other than a handful of lines/chuckles later. Chris is silent the one time he appears, and Meg is mentioned, never appearing. Peter has a few jokes, but is still relegated to the sidelines.
No, this episode is almost entirely Stewie and Brian, which is generally a good thing, as these are Family Guy's deepest characters and they have its most complicated relationship. I think it's important to give them time together regularly, as even if it's not successful, it's part of what makes the show interesting. Here, they go on a time-traveling adventure – initially as rivals, but when they accidentally create the universe, they time-travel it to stop Stewie's rival Bertram from killing Stewie's ancestor – Leonardo da Vinci – and destroying the universe.
I've been down on Family Guy recently for experimenting a little bit too much with morality and form, but tonight's episode was the kind that I think it still does well. It's not as good as it was pre-cancellation, but there's a pleasant weirdness to it that makes me think that this is the way Family Guy should be. It's not excellent, but it's more than good enough. B
The Cleveland Show: I will grant The Cleveland Show this much: Rallo's songs with his buds Will.i.am and Lil Wayne were probably the funniest I've ever seen Cleveland. Their first song about fiscal responsibility was an entertaining parody along the lines of Lonely Island, but the second, with the more expected gangsta-style bleeps was genius. I mean, the joke was pretty obvious, but Cleveland went all-out with it. No ironic winks to the audience, no cutting it short to acknowledge the comedy. It is, of course, rather pathetic that I'm giving the show praise for having the courage to make a joke and stick with it, but such is the case with Cleveland.
This criticism is especially apt tonight, as the main plot, involving Cleveland getting his own TV show and dealing with the critics, seems to be aimed directly at, well, me, and any other critic who's wondered what the point of the show is. It starts with Cleveland sitting with his buddies, telling incredibly inane jokes, while winking about how inane the jokes are. Is it worse than the normal humor on The Cleveland Show? Yes. Is it significantly worse than the humor of the show? I don't actually think so – and a bunch of lines about how Cleveland and his new show have “a certain limited appeal” don't change that, no matter how snarky. Attacking critics is usually the opposite of having good ideas, and that's something I believed before I became one. Still, other than that, this was a surprisingly tolerable episode of The Cleveland Show. B
- “We'll go with Nelson Mandela.”
- “Maybe Jill from the cafeteria? Or maybe your sister Lisa?”
- “I'll dump a bay window on his chest!”
- That couch gag…was long. Pretty good, though more than a little self-aggrandizing.
- “Did you know there was a chapter before Chapter 2?” Millhouse discovers the secret beginning of Finding Nemo. Is this a thing with parents?
- “You two look good. Open casket good.”
- How many explanations for Homer's baldness has The Simpsons done? I can think of two off the my head, and I'm pretty sure there are more.
- “Okay, first of all….” Explaining your jokes is a Cleveland thing, Simpsons. Come on.
- Homer attempts suicide, fails. “Aww, why won't anything kill me?”
- “Pretty good. Glad I ate it!” “You always say that.”
- “We're gonna go on a bender!” For not having anything to do with his character, Gene had a good night.
- “Everything in here had someone die on it.”
- “It's a haunted honeymoon!” “Oooo…” “ooooooooo….” “Woooooooo….”
- “Hobo dinner!”
- “And I'm gonna drink. A lot.” “YAY!”
- “It's trying to sweet-talk us.” “That's classic zombie.”
- “Even if they try to burn you alive. And they will.” “Yeah.” “Yeah.” “Yeah.”
- “Don't touch my boob, I'm gonna tell mom.”
- “Hey y'all, it's The Cleveland Show!”
- “Well maybe. But it'll break my thing.” Stewie's not sure if he wants to get back to space-time.
- “You're sort of the Art Garfunkel of the universe.”
- “Of course. My love for Spaghetti-O's and smoking on the toilet make sense now.”
- “What are you doing?!?” “Experimenting.”
- “You gotta kiss him to wake him up.”
- “What's up with g-mail?”
- “Woo woo! Did someone pull the cool boss alarm?”
- “Parents who do karate have children who do also do karate.”
- “Little did we know he filled them with feces.” I used the term feces to describe Cleveland in my first official review of the show. I like to think I was responsible for this. Okay, not really – anyone could describe the show as crap.
- “I only see a beautiful clown….”
- “First Friday of the month, y'all!”
- “Your mom's got a rockin' bottom!”