American Dad: This episode of American Dad was almost pure family sitcom. There's an A-plot, involving Roger and Klaus making a bet to see if Roger can make Steve cool and a B-plot involving the parents trying to scare each other. It's almost a throwback to a simpler time in television, or at least it would be if there weren't two dead characters from Roger's drunk-driving and Francine's kneejerk stabbing response to being scared.
The B-plot works much better, as it demonstrates just how Stan and Francine complement and rely on one another, as well as knowing the other's weakness. Once that slight social contract breaks down, their insanity escalates to the point where they ruin each other's lives and an innocent bystander of a neighbor. It's a good character piece, but it's just as effective as comedy, with the escalating pranks proving to be superb shock humor.
Steve's plotline is just a little bit too self-aware to work as well. He has his nerdy friends, who need him to harvest talking cabbage, but Roger finally succeeds in making him cool, so he starts to dismiss them. Then his new cool friends turn on him, and he learns a valuable lesson about the nature of friendship. It's a generic plot and not terribly well-redeemed by American Dad acknowledging how cliché it is and subverting the ending. Which is not to say that it's bad, but it's not terrific either. B
The Simpsons: Tonight's episode was an almost Platonic example of the modern Simpsons trying to recreate the glory years and not quite getting there. It has all the ingredients: a weird, irrelevant opening act, an investigation into a quirky aspect of American culture, and a single new character/guest star altering one of the Simpsons' lives temporarily. Tonight, we had the Simpsons inundated with peaches, magic, and Martin Landau voicing the magician who trains Lisa.
Magic itself has been slowly regaining some measure of popularity, or at least it's a bit retro-chic, thanks to books like Carter Beats The Devil or films like The Prestige. If it's a trend, it's one that's been solidified by The Simpsons, which once upon a time defined such things. Of course, it usually did with comedy and quality, but tonight's episode just felt slightly off.
Defining exactly how the episode didn't work is difficult. It just felt like it was going through the motions. The family suddenly having thousands of peaches to deal with felt like the premise of the sugar episode (one of my all-time favorites) but largely skipped past the jokes in order to get rid of the peaches. It felt somewhat akin to Lisa's eyerolling “The Simpsons are going to Brazil…”, a self-reflective non-joke from an episode unfortunately referenced by the ads for Rio, which were interspersed with the commercials throughout the evening. This is not to say the episode was bad—the jokes generally landed when they were made, and the ending was surprisingly sweet. It was just unfortunately non-essential. B-
Bob's Burgers: Once upon a time, Fox was the enfant terrible of network television, putting out entertainment that was both trashier and much more fun than the other major networks of the day. The Simpsons was at the core of this, back in its dangerous days, but there were also 90210 and Melrose Place, or, a few years later, the famously gruesome X-Files. Fox has lost that reputation, for a few reasons: Their aesthetic has become commonplace, they're considered a major network just like the others, and Fox News has given the entire brand a prurient, conservative reputation. Yet occasionally, shows appear that actually do make Fox look that weird again. Dollhouse's batshit insanity certainly did that, and Bob's Burgers, despite its superficially generic premise, is looking like an older Fox show, from back when the network was trying to make a splash.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that tonight's episode of Bob's Burgers was fucking weird. It was not a bad kind of weird, though it was a slight step down from the last two new episodes' manic genius. It also saw the return of two of the more interesting guest stars/characters from earlier in the season, Kevin Kline as the landlord Mr. Fishodor and Sarah and Laura Silverman as the insane twins Andy and Ollie. The plot of the episode involves Bob's archnemesis from across the street threatening to take over the lease and the shenanigans involved.
The minor serialization—world-building might be a better phrase for it—of the show comes into play here. Many one-off characters return, including Fishodor and the twins, and their roles are expanded, their stories brought into sync with the absurd psychology of the Belcher clan. Louise brings Ollie and Andy into a voodoo plot. Tina wants to slow-dance with Jimmy Jr., who has made that his life, and Gene wants to be a musician. It all ends up being a big, bizarre mess but a pleasant one, held together largely by Kristen Schaal's always excellent voice-acting, as well as Kevin Kline, who gets into the swing of things by the end of the episode. B+
Family Guy: People always talk about The Simpsons and how far it's fallen since its golden age. This isn't necessarily false, but it seems like it's unremarked upon that Family Guy has fallen as far or further since its best years. Tonight's episode showed why—not because it was bad, but because for about two-thirds of the episode, it was damn funny, in the way that, really, only Family Guy can be. It was offensive and overreliant on cutaway gags, and it slipped into meta-humor far too easily, but it was damn funny while doing all those things.
The “cutaway” gag that kicks off the episode is a perfect example. Lois and Peter are talking about dry-cleaning, and Peter refers to only having two white shirts. The third, he explains, was ruined at a wine-tasting at Michael J. Fox's house. It's a perfect Family Guy gag—mean-spirited but referencing an easy visual—and then it upends expectations, switching instead to Peter explaining why the cutaway isn't a good idea (too sad) but he'll explain it anyway—and then they show it, after a minute of explanation. Most of the first half of the episode is like this, vintage Family Guy, and then it all comes to a halt when it becomes the Quagmire & Brian show, as Brian takes a class from Quagmire about how to pick up women.
It's not like “The Pick-Up Artist” and all that bullshit aren't ripe for parody, nor that Brian and Quagmire aren't characters who haven't been funny. But it turned into simply the most obvious jokes and plot points, and the Brian we got in the second half of the episode was the unfunny “good liberal gone bad” archetype he so often turns into. Still, that first half is a magical reminder of what made Family Guy work and a nice vacation from the experimental morality and anti-humor that's made up so much of the show over the past few months. B+
The Cleveland Show: It's a sad state of affairs when a gay panic plotline is a dramatic improvement for The Cleveland Show, but here we are. Cleveland befriends local football hero Barry Shadwell, and his starfucker attitude gets him in trouble with his friends, family, and Barry himself, who tries to make out with Cleveland.
There are the germs of a good, funny storyline here, with Cleveland's ideal of the perfect heroic sports dude coming face to face with homosexuality. Any such potential is ruined when Donna, hearing that he's scared people will think he's gay, gives a speech about how annoying his gay panic is and that she'd rather people think he's gay than think he's a bigot—thanks for spelling it out for us. The kids are also largely wasted, although Roberta does actually appear in the episode. Cleveland, Jr., only shows up for a couple more gay jokes, while Rallo starts a B-plot about having the stomach flu that ends up going nowhere. It's not the worst Cleveland episode ever, but it's unlikely to change any minds either. C
Comedic Quotes From The Five Shows Featured Here:
- “We get it. You're a Jewish farmer.”
- “Touché.” “You keep using that wrong.”
- “Put a baby in me!”
- H. Jon Benjamin did the voice of the talking cabbage. Weird!
- “Did we do it, Stan? Did we scare her?”
- “I ain't never run out!”
- “It was hell on their wives, but it drove the price of corn down…” The episode wasn't quite there, but this was a classic Grandpa Simpson ramble.
- “You're out of tonic.” “That won't be a problem.”
- “Oh, you think I'm pretty?”
- “His tattoos are an inconsistent mix of hieroglyphics and cuneiform!”
- “Penn. There never was a witch's curse.”
- “He is one white cat away from being a supervillain.”
- “Kids. Go clean something, right now.”
- “Yes hit him in the crotch!”
- “He can't die in here!” “Put him outside?”
- “We're going to a rumble…” Great episode for Linda, who's much more fun when she gets to be weird.
- “Bussing tables never looked so sensual.”
- “Nothing wrong with kale.”
- “When I was young and naïve, I would have suggested arson.”
- “Dad, I have a book!”
- “Did Mr. Fancyface take a trip to the sexy-shop?”
- “…it's barBARic!”
- “You're like a greasy, heterosexual Walt Whitman.”
- “He make too many white people movies!”
- “I will not have Harry Hamlin in this house!”
- “But then some fireworks went off, and I ran for two miles straight.”
- “Put the dog out; the dog is crying!”
- “Light the beacons!”
- “It was a Snickers wrapper, Brian.”
- “I got two ducks to color in!”
- “Shadwell: The only sauce that comes in a sack.”
- “Hey, uh, you got something in your mustache.” “What?” “Me…”
- “March is Prison Rules Month.”
- “It would make a significant difference.”