Hello, cartoon lovers! Todd asked me, the new guy, to substitute review while he's away. That or you guys finally broke him, though he did set the record as the reviewer who lasted one episode more than a year on the Fox animated block. And that's the end of my meta, unless you guys want more. There seems to be some debate on the subject.
About me, the reviewer: it's been a while since I watched the Animation Domination block. I think it was around when American Dad started up. So prior to this week, I hadn't seen an episode of The Cleveland Show. American Dad seemed like a pretty poor Family Guy knock-off, but I'm given to understand that it's gotten much better. I really liked pre-cancellation Family Guy, but I've found it to be kind of hit-or-miss since it's come back. And like pretty much everyone else born in the 1980's, I grew up with The Simpsons but I've noticed a decided drop in quality a while ago. That's nothing new, but I figured I may as well let you all know where I'm coming from. At the very least, I don't mind the idea of putting fresh eyes on something that may be kind of tired, even (especially?) if those eyes are mine.
The Simpsons: This is amazing. See, there's a movie about Facebook focused on its creator out now, and guess what? That same Facebook creator is a guest voice on The Simpsons! Can I get an “OMG!”? Now observe as I make an entirely topical joke about clicking a “Like” button on this episode!
Hell, I'll click that “Like” button. Sure, we've seen everything here before. Grandpa gives the family money to start the plot moving. Marge buys something she can't afford that gets her into high society. Lisa tries to help Nelson out (and Nelson, by the way, is looking quite healthy after his Spikeification surgery). Lisa seems to succeed, but she doesn't like the unintended consequences. A couple guest stars show up. The end.
Still, spending time with The Simpsons tends to make me happy, and nothing about this episode was particularly terrible. The Nelson storyline was a little short on laughs, while the Marge/Homer storyline ran out of steam and ended on an even less-topical “To Catch A Predator” joke. Little things like the extended intro and Martin holding his hand out to be kissed made me happy. Even the Mark Zuckerberg updating his Facebook status with pain worked thanks to the speed with which Nelson and Lisa's responses showed up. And any reminder of the fantastic beginning to Up can't be so bad. Grade: B-
The Cleveland Show: Oh dear lord.
Okay, so I'm not entirely certain why this show exists. I can't imagine who was asking for Cleveland to get a spinoff. Last week's episode was the first I watched, and while it didn't do much of anything for me, I didn't hate it. The show seems to have a kind of middle-of-the-road sitcom pandering vibe, and I guess that's cool, especially when compared to the over-the-top antics of its cohorts in the animation bloc.
So The Cleveland Show's producers apparently decided to take that old-fashioned sitcom mentality, and turn it into a “live” animated faux-sitcom, complete with unfunny jokes, audience laughter, and more terrible meta-humor than you could ever possibly want. Even when I was a contrarian teenager who thought that anti-humor was great fun, I probably would have hated this episode. This was terrible. Excrement delivered with a wink that says “hey, we know we're giving you feces!” is still shit.
There are the vague semblances of a plot here. The kids go to stay with their deadbeat dad, who decides to run away from something, so he hides out with Cleveland, and then Cleveland foists him off on Tim the bear, and then the deadbeat dad has sex with the lady bear, and then the “actress” who plays Cleveland's daughter busts in pissed off because her subplot got cut, and then Julia Roberts shows up and dies. Her sudden death was the only thing that got a laugh out of me this episode, and that was pretty much just shock value.
I didn't hate everything about this episode. The visual gag of the couch spinning into a gun rack was kind of clever. The Circuit City “Even our name was bad!” was recognizable as a joke. But you know what? It's my second official TV Club gig, and I'm whipping out the Grade: F because I can.
Family Guy: I will say this about tonight's episode of Family Guy: in the first few seconds, it made me laugh harder than anything from the previous Cleveland Show with “Hi, I'm Tom Tucker. Where's Diane, Ollie?” “She dead!”
Once upon a time, I had a job that took me to bizarre and unhealthy corners of the Internet, such as Rush Limbaugh's website. He had an “Ask Rush!” section, and someone asked him why the Roman Empire collapsed. His answer was complex and nuanced, and demonstrated a superb grasp of historical context - he blamed liberals. Yeesh. So screw you, Family Guy, for trying to deflect people complaining about Rush Limbaugh with the “oh, maybe if you read something he wrote!” canard. My issue with Rush Limbaugh isn't that he's a conservative (I'd be perfectly happy with a television show that had Daniel Larison as a guest, but that seems pretty unlikely). My problem is that he's an idiot. So I already went into this episode dropping the grade.
The episode did very little to dissuade me. The storyline, such as it was, involved Brian meeting Rush Limbaugh, who then saves his life from a contrived multi-racial television gang. Brian starts reading Rush Limbaugh, and changes his mind about everything political. Lois argues with him about this so much that he moves in with Rush. Then Limbaugh kicks him out because he's still a liberal, and Limbaugh knows this because Brian still cares, or something.
I don't mind political humor. Heck, I've even seen Family Guy do it and be all right. But this was toothless stuff. Brian may be the best (only?) character on Family Guy, but other than him and Lois, the Griffins were almost totally missing from the episode. It wasn't that terrible – Rush Limbaugh's kung-fu was a fun visual, and Nancy Pelosi smoking crack made me laugh. But most of the episode was spent justifying its existence as a Rush Limbaugh episode of Family Guy, and it failed to do that for me. Grade: D
American Dad: Apparently, Seth MacFarlane thinks that the bait-and-switch is funny. He calls the episode 100 A.D., and puts “Stan tries to turn back time…” in the promo blurbs. But if you were hoping for wacky adventures involving Emperor Trajan or a journey to the Han Dynasty at its peak, you'll be sadly disappointed.
As I've said, I have very little experience with American Dad, and most of that was negative, but I found this to be a pretty entertaining half-hour. Hayley asks for space from needy hippie ex-boyfriend Jeff. Instead, he proposes to her, and she accepts. Stan and Francine start to chase the couple down, then decide to use the $50,000 they'd saved for Hayley's wedding as a reward for whomever can stop the marriage, which leads to a good old-fashioned cartoon mob chase with everyone racing each other for the money. But oh hey, total twist! Jeff and Hayley pretend to break up in order to get the money and the elopement is ON! The episode ends with the two flying away towards a big reset switch in the sky. At least, that's my assumption, but that assumption is primarily based on the already-deceiving episode description that says it's a two-parter.
I can see why the TV Club reviewers have been saying that American Dad is the best of the Fox animated block. There's a real storyline here, with jokes that flow naturally from the characterization, as well as the MacFarlane-style weirdness and profanity. The Principal shows up a couple times, is inappropriate and funny, and then is gone. Likewise, the scenes with Raunchy Patrick Stewart ( and a talking koala fighting over Hayley are great stuff. They make the joke, let the joke play out, and then move back to the main plot. I shouldn't have to praise a show for sticking to the basics of comedy, but let's just call this the soft bigotry of low expectations.
If you think it sounds like I'm talking myself into giving this episode a good grade, you're right, and I've succeeded: Grade B+
- “If you're looking for a bag hag….”
- “The minute you go undercover, it's like you don't even know me!”
- “You're L. Simpson jazzgirl!?!!”
- “SKINNER! So, you heard about the eleven dollars an hour!”
- “First I'm gonna stare at this brown paper bag that I'm pretty sure has food in it.”
- Raunchy Patrick Stewart is my second favorite form of Patrick Stewart, after Righteous Anger Patrick Stewart.
- "Does your route include the attitude store, where we could stop and get you a new attitude?"
- "Um, I'm pretty sure I turned back time."
- "You and I are gonna fight in a field."