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It's good to be back, people, but catching up on last week's episodes and reading Genevieve's blog bummed me out; wouldn't you know it, the one week I'm tied up with Sunday night commitments is when all four cartoons are pretty damn good. I agree with Ms. Koski: Last week's line-up was as close to a four-peat as we've had so far this season, which, for those of you who have been playing along at home, is all I've ever wanted in this world. Ever. And I missed it for some stupid other work thing that was totally stupid and dumb.

But the TV gods: they're a forgiving bunch. This go-around wasn't bad either, starting with a Simpsons that, well, reminded me a lot of the episodes I used to like from way-back-when. Homer and Lisa simultaneously discover skills they can use for some sort of gain–Homer exploits his knack for bluntness and makes a quick buck breaking up his friends' failed relationships; Lisa, meanwhile, is enjoying herself tremendously working on crossword puzzles and entering competitions. Homer grows a conscience and closes Sweet Conclusions (after a visit from the ghosts of children and shared furniture his breakup efforts destroyed), but as is the case with Homer 2.0 of the new episode run, he quickly squanders his goodwill by gambling the company's earnings against Lisa in the crossword championship. She loses to, I believe, Gil with a weird accent: bad for her, great for dear ol' dad. Furious, Lisa chooses to use Marge's maiden name from now on.

What follows is something we haven't seen in quite some time: Homer feels genuinely bad, and tries desperately to make it up to Lisa, succeeding with a message embedded in her crossword puzzle via Will Shortz. (Most. Belabored. "Celebrity." Cameo. Ever.) Scaling back the wackiness provided a nice balance to Homer's earlier antics. And hell, it worked even though it wasn't even really all that funny of an episode segment. The Simpsons needs a little groundedness every once in a while to make the better parts of the episode–especially the glance between Lenny and Carl upon hearing Moe answer the phone as "Lisa Simpson"–stand out that much more.

Over in Arlen, King Of The Hill also laid out two disparate storylines upfront, destined to collide: 1) No one listens to Bill, not even customer service operators; 2) Peggy wants to buy a giant flat-screen TV–for watching, of course, but also to prove to Hank that she's capable of earning the dough. Minh and Dale turn her on to the stock market, and in a desperate attempt to learn what average people are buying, the trio gets close to Bill, whose shopping habits they believe to be the key to financial success. And, look at this, Bill doesn't mind being used, so long as he has people to hang on his every word. What can go wrong?

Of course it can't last, though, because as Dale puts it–citing "several hundred episodes of Candid Camera as evidence"–people who know they're being observed don't act like they normally would. Eventually Bill feels the pressure, and finds himself incapable of making a decision about a digital camera. So in a desperate attempt to prove he's still got the golden touch, he invests all his money in…well, something, but the important thing is that he fails and loses everything. The gang pools its resources to bail him out, but here's where the episode starts to wear thin for me. Bill's sad-sack act is well known on the show, but it works best in small doses. By losing everything, fixing it all quickly by declaring bankruptcy and throwing little warmness to the friends who at least tried to help him out, Bill's worn out his good will. So when Hank throws Bill an understanding smile at the end–while Mr. Strickland listens to Bill's tale–I wondered why he wasn't more angry with his needy friend.

In continuing Genevieve's thoughts on less-than-timely Family Guy references, what do we have here? A Jurassic Park opening bit? (Actually, too soon.) It serves as a way to turn Peter on to the perks of being an executive at the brewery, so he's now determined to get a promotion. Only problem is, he never finished third grade (all of a sudden, so many things make sense). If he can go back to complete it, like some sort of Billy Madison–lite–just in time with this one too, Show–he'll get a new management position. Brian is also dealing with business woes; having purchased a big band music club, he and Frank Sinatra are struggling to bring in much of an audience. They hand over the reigns to Stewie, who turns it into trendy new nightclub pLace. Then there's the part where, um, well Andy Dick's there, and…uh…

You know, I'm racking my brain trying to think of what else I can say about this one, but I guess there just isn't much. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. There were some funny bits tonight–I particularly enjoyed the John Madden wedding video, Michael Jackson's aggressive groin abuse and Yosemite Sam trying on skinny jeans. And Peter gets in trouble for burning part of a children's hospital, but not until the very end of the episode (a nice meta comment on the show's propensity to screw with reality for the sake of a joke). But…yeah, not one of the greatest Family Guys ever, and certainly not a bad one. Just very, very slightly above average. (Which, given this season sans last week's episode, is definitely an achievement.)

But American Dad, oh boy is there a lot to say. Look, I know it's a comedy show and all, but a significant chunk of the episode is predicated by the fact that Hayley would fall for a guy who looks exactly like her dad. And the family doesn't want to break up the relationship because she might go a little nuts, which should be the least of their concerns because–to quote myself in the previous sentence, with caps lock–"[this guy] LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE [Hayley's] DAD!" Why caps lock, you ask? Because here's the thing: Incest? If you can believe it, it's rarely funny. I wasn't, like, offended or anything by the show's audacity, but we can agree it wasn't the best choice of topics. Why couldn't it have been someone who looks like Roger (alien-cest) or Klaus (fish-cest)? I would have taken Steve's hair-lipped friend–can we get hair-lip guy in here?

But, my friends, I never thought I'd be writing the following words: I…thought they did an okay job with the whole "incest" thing. Yeah, Hayley falls for a guy who's Stan's exact double, but Francine's reenactment of prison shanking (Stan: "She made some very rewarding choices"), Stan and Hayley's uncomfortable dinner and even Stan's momentary excitement that Hayley had found someone of whom he (reluctantly) approved worked in the episode's favor. They didn't hammer us with the Stan-lookalike aspect, only played it for maximum (and there was certainly a cap on this) comedic effect. Plus, I enjoyed Steve's momentary career as a chicken sexer, complete with Roger's cock-fighting hijack–wow, I guess I never thought I'd be writing those words either.


The Simpsons "Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words": B+

King Of The Hill "A Bill Full of Dollars": B-

Family Guy "Tales of a Third Grade Nothing": B

American Dad "Pulling Double Booty": B-

Stray observations:

- Poor, poor Ilsa never gets any love.

- "Two Rob Schneider movies are playing at the same time!"

- "Next time, it's personal."