Uh oh. Looks like the writers of The Simpsons and American Dad need to start comparing notes. Either that or it's parking enforcement week in FOX Sunday night animation land. Apparently non-moving violations are the newest untapped comedy cache.
Between The Simpsons, Family Guy, and American Dad, I think it's pretty safe to say that we will rarely have a Sunday night when at least one of those shows does not feature the family patriarch getting a wacky new job. (Lord knows Hank Hill is far too deep into the propane game to dabble so freely.) In fact, three weeks into this season, Homer Simpson has already had three(ish) new jobs: a tow-truck driver this week, an opera singer last, and a pretend copper tubing salesman the week before. I feel like starting a TV Club pool on when Homer will return to work at the nuclear plant (I'll take Nov. 18).
There was a moment in this week's Simpsons when Homer, in response to Guidopolis' favorite tow-truck driver Matt "Louie" Dillon reciting his favorite nicknames for the street cattle he wrangles, placidly comments, "Some of those were pretty funny." That's kinda how I feel about The Simpsons these days. Okay, it's another formulaic plot. And okay, some of the jokes are painfully obvious (I saw that spilled milk gag coming approximately seven minutes before the show started). But, hey, some of those are still pretty funny. Mostly the sight gags: Skinner paddling his desk chair down the street after Homer tows his car; that inexplicable train taking out the Sea Captain's ship; Maggie holding up an "M" of hair to see the Homer in the moon. And let it not be said that the show's writers are oblivious to their critics:
Marge: I'm starting to worry about your father.
Bart: Well, I know it seems that he gets dumber every year, but lately he's plateaued.
Whether or not "pretty funny" is satisfactory for a longtime, devoted fan base is another thing. I can't say for certain whether this season of The Simpsons would warrant a season pass were I not doing this blog. I still enjoy the show, and I could think of far worse things to watch on a Sunday night, but it feels more and more like a long-term, committed relationship—comfortable, generally enjoyable, with occasional magical moments—rather than an exciting night out in TV Town. Still, some of those were pretty funny. ("Shut the hell up you damn-ass whore.")
Speaking of plateaus, I'm starting to think King Of The Hill may be coasting a bit. While the season premiere was a promising kick-off, the past two weeks have been disappointing. I know the whole "the boy aint right" thing has long been part of the show's bedrock, but there seems to be a whole lot of Bobby and Hank so far this season, with middling results. There's only so far the conflict between their opposing personalities can be stretched without becoming cliche. Even with their roles kind of reversed this week (Bobby to Hank: "So you want me to dress up like a girl and run around with pom-poms?"), it was still a little redundant—didn't we go through this a few seasons back when Bobby become the Longhorns' mascot?
And hey, isn't Luanne pregnant? What's going on there? And I'm sure Dale is up to some of his old tricks. Why relegate him to an inner dialogue? There was a little more Peggy this week, but she seemed strangely subdued—the Peggy I know and love would never settle for second chair of the PTA. And did Boomhauer even speak this episode? Rainy Street has other residents aside from Hank and Bobby, and quite frankly, I'm starting to miss them.
While The Simpsons had some subtle self-referencing moments this week, Family Guy pretty much screamed "DEFENSE" for a half hour. The evidence:
-Cleveland: "I hate shows that cut away from the story for some bull crap."
-Mr. Pewterschmidt and Peter's doctor realizing they have the same voice: "Seems lazy, doesn't it?" "Well, there's only so many voices in the world, some of them are bound to be similar." (While Seth MacFarlane does some great voice work between his two shows, this seems a touch whiny, dontchathink? Especially when Harry Shearer and Hank Azaria regularly voice around 30 distinct characters between them.)
-Peter getting annoyed at Lois for questioning his simile: "How is it anything like a monkey having the keys to an amusement park?" "Lois, don't call me on this stuff, just go with it, support me in these moments."
While this week's episode had a fairly interesting storyline, I was constantly distracted by what I believe is a huge error. With the meat of the story revolving around Joe regaining the use of his legs and the wedge his newfound activeness drives between him and the boys, I kept wondering, where the hell is Joe and Bonnie's son Kevin? Last time I checked, there was a strapping young man around the Swanson household who might be more willing to go rock-climbing and mountain biking with Joe. I'm pretty sure I've seen every episode of Family Guy, and I can't recall one where Kevin leaves for good. (I know he went to live with a foster family for a while after Joe "congratulated" him for beating him in some competition, but he's been around since then, right?) Normally I'm not one to play continuity police—I understand that these are meant to be self-contained episodes more than an ongoing arc—but this just seems sloppy. Unless I missed something. Prove me wrong commentors….
And now for the other half of this week's parking-violation sandwich, American Dad. I know it gets a lot of shit in the comments and elsewhere, but I have to say that it's the only one of the four shows that has been a pleasant surprise two weeks in a row. Sure, it's still a little clunky in places, but the show really seems to be hitting its stride this season.
Stan's obligatory stint as a meter maid seemed a lot more successful than Homer's random decision to start driving a tow truck, and it tapped in to some of the other tensions in the Smith household—oh the shame of being a lowly CIA agent! It may not have been a terribly original or heartwarming tale—though judging by the Smiths bonding over accidental cannibalism in last week's episode, heartwarming doesn't really seem to be a concern here—but it was fleshed out and a nice vehicle for some great gags, some of which reminded me of Family Guy's better moments: Francine's telephone-cord trail, and Stan and Francine commenting on the oddly clunky, expositional nature of talking to their "sis" and "bro" on the phone. And how about that nice, husky cameo from Forest Whitaker? The secondary arc focusing on Roger's nude painting of Hayley seemed a little too forced—awkward adolescents are funny!—but despite that, the American Dad blip on my radar became a little brighter this week.
The Simpsons, "Midnight Towboy": B-
King Of The Hill, "The Powder Puff Boys": C
Family Guy, "Believe It Or Not, Joe's Walking On Air": B
American Dad: "Meter Made": B+
—It's official: Rich Texan is the most annoying recurring Simpsons minor character.
—This video chronicling the 101 jobs of Homer Simpson is going to need an extended version soon, the way this season is going.
—Good lord, did Bonnie's voice always sound like that?
—While not directly related to any of these four shows, I know Futurama comes up a lot in the discussion here, so I feel compelled to share the newish preview for the upcoming Futurama full-length feature, Bender's Big Score.