For whatever reason, Fox used tonight's debut night for Sons of Tucson to spend the entire first hour on Simpsons episodes. Now, The Cleveland Show has built up a buffer of two or three episodes on the other shows in the lineup, so I suppose it made sense that it took the night off in favor of a rerun, but when the network that hasn't launched a successful live-action sitcom in something like seven or eight years is trying to launch its one attempt at the form this year (from some of the people who brought you the network's biggest live-action sitcom hit, Malcolm in the Middle), you'd think they'd have all new episodes to lead into it. But maybe just having Simpsons and Family Guy was enough. I guess we'll know tomorrow when the ratings come out. (And if you want to know just what I thought of Sons of Tucson, well, I wrote about it here. Suffice it to say we won't be adding it to the blog lineup.)
Now, since there were only two new episodes tonight and I can't coast entirely on the huge number of only sorta funny quotes I wrote down, I thought maybe I'd take this occasion to talk about Family Guy, both as a show in general and as a cultural phenomenon in particular. I'm thinking about this because I saw a panel featuring Seth MacFarlane and some of the show's other creative personnel on Tuesday but also because I talked at length about The Simpsons earlier this season, and it seems like the other tentpole of the Fox Sunday lineup should probably get something like equal time.
I haven't been terribly high on this season of Family Guy, if you couldn't tell, but I've been wondering if I liked the show ever. And, yeah, I think I did. I wouldn't say the first three seasons (particularly seasons two and three) of the show were GREAT, but they were at least solidly entertaining, and the show made something of an attempt to diversify its storytelling, occasionally telling the kinds of character-based stories that made some of the characters so popular. In particular, some of the Stewie and Brian storylines in the early going didn't rely too much on pop culture based gags, and many of them had something like a real emotional arc. The show also wasn't as casually willing to turn its characters into complete types to land its jokes, meaning that the characters were cruel to Meg, but she also had something like a life of her own (as in that episode where she kisses Neil Goldman and has to deal with the repercussions).
Since the series came back from its network-imposed hiatus, it feels like it's slowly but surely disappeared up its pop cultural reference black hole. Now, some of this is just the fact that the show is an old one, and doing things like that is probably easier for it than coming up with new storylines for the characters to deal with. I don't hate Family Guy or anything, but I'm not sure why it's such a cultural monolith still or just why it became such a big one. It can't just be that it makes lots of pop cultural references that people enjoy, can it?
And despite that, I rather enjoyed tonight's episode, mostly because the show just really committed to that Tootsie gag. So let's do some grading.
The Simpsons: Not the best episode of The Simpsons, but not the worst either. I feel like the show has used Bart creating a wedge between his parents to use to his own advantage before, but now I can't think of a single time that's been the case. Now, obviously, there have been lots of "Homer and Marge's marriage is in trouble!" episodes, but this one dispatched of that plot point very quickly when the two were worried about what would happen if the other died while they were still mad at each other. (Naturally, this happens in a marriage all the time.) In the meantime, we had some amusing moments, like Lisa's world-weariness at seeing her family latest slow deterioration or the whole revelation of the abandoned Springfield subway, which had the bonuses of having both a cool "World of Tomorrow" type prologue (shown on a filmstrip, naturally) and that fun sequence in the abandoned urban wasteland of the subway tunnels. I don't think the plotting here was as tight as it might have been - lots of threads were introduced and then mostly left dangling, and the end was particularly abrupt - but I laughed fairly frequently, and that will be enough. Grade: B
Family Guy: Here's the pleasant surprise for me. I didn't really buy the whole plot where Lois seduces Meg's boyfriend, which felt like it came and went mostly just because the show needed a B-story. (I've never liked Peter's casual cruelty to Lois, particularly when their marriage is one of the elements of the show that makes the least sense.) But I rather enjoyed the story of Stewie dressing up like a little girl to get a role on Jolly Farm and then staying around because he develops a crush on one of the other little girls in the cast. It was such a Tootsie reference that the network description of the episode included the phrase "like the movie Tootsie," but I didn't really mind. Tootsie's not a bad movie, and the whole idea of shifting the plot to a baby somehow made the fact that it was a direct ripoff sting a little less. I mean, yeah, the show hit the rape/incest/violence trifecta some of you talk about in comments, and it had that strange scene where Stewie (as Karina) seduced Brian (though I have to admit that scene rather worked on its own terms), but the episode overall was a funny one. Grade: B
- "These two men might as well be kissing."
- "The good news is, over a hundred years later, a brilliant boy receives an A for his amazing presentation."
- "Outdated medium. Still stand by my ha-ha!"
- "Now what are you up to?" "Whatever happened to hi?" "Hi. Now what are you up to?"
- "I tried really hard to stop you from finding out. Does that help?" "A LITTLE."
- "You'll need to know fractions to make that explosion!"
- "Mouse, M.D."
- "Stick legs in ears. Replace heart with spider. Acid enema. Go through wallet."
- "By express, I mean express your anger and hatred."
- "Congratulations. You're officially a sociopath."
- "You can't sex fire me! I sex quit!"
- "Compromise has no place in a marriage. Stick to your guns."
- "That pacifier's the last true friend you'll have."
- "We can't let Bart drive us apart. He's the reason we had to get married."
- "Breakfast in bed is so much better than breakfast in a chair."
- "Their tiny tongues are like knives!"
- "With no Sir Topham Hat to tell us what we can or can't do."
- "I love watching you knit. It reminds me of watching pictures download on our old dial-up modem."
- "Yay. It's fun to be a child!"
- "Penelope Ann Miller, Nancy Travis. Now THOSE are movie stars."
- "I bet you taste like Mountain Dew and Starburst."
- "That's a stop sign!"
- "Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmm … rape?"
- "And all you cared about was ICE CREAM on the way home."
- "A perfectly normal little boy! Who just happens to be a transvestite! Which … begins with the letter T."
- "Hey, why were they shooting that scene live?" "Convenience."