A Family Guy rerun this week means only four shows instead of five. Which is probably wise for Fox to do to maintain reviewer stamina. Kind of like the animated version of crop rotation: leave one show fallow, and the others will grow better. Cause that's the only reason they did it!
American Dad: After a somewhat dull episode last week, American Dad moved back into form with a decent episode about Stan and Francine making friends with a younger couple. Stan and Francine are dealing with some universal issues: They're worried that they're getting boring, and when they make friends, they worry that they're too old for their younger companions. Of course, it's done through American Dad-style absurdity, but that's part of what makes it fun.
Last week, I was disappointed with a Francine-based episode despite my general like for her character, and this episode illustrates why: She's better used interacting with people she knows than she is talking to herself and strangers. She has two of the best moments of tonight's episode with her family, the first with Stan and the other couple. The new couple, Cammy and Tom, are talking about how young they are, and Francine starts rambling about how she's a 15-year-old, and needs to be picked up from the roller rink. “Reel it in, Francine” mutters Stan. Then the other couple starts talking shit about having kids. “We kill kids!” “Reel it in, Francine!” She also screams “GYPSY!” at Steve later and beats him with her purse in order to maintain the childless front.
The young boozers and parkour-addicts are too much for Stan and Francine, though, so they devise a plot to slow them down: pregnancy. “We sabotage their birth control, and give Tom & Cammy the gift of lifelong responsibility!” Of course, Cammy getting pregnant ruins their relationship, which only gets saved by Stan and Francine acting like total creeps and revealing that they're total creeps. There's also a bit with Roger and Steve waiting on hold for no good reason. But it's the Stan and Francine relationship that makes this work. They both keep egging each other on, then pulling back, then going in full force. Most of the rest is just a distraction. B
The Simpsons: Something has struck me as off about The Simpsons' new title sequence since its debut a while back, and tonight, I managed to put my finger on it: It's long. It used to be fairly rare, back in the good ol' days, that you'd see the whole intro. There were more jokes and plot to be crammed into the episode. Since several of the characters from the old intro turned out to be bit players at best, like Marvin Monroe and the music teacher, an update wasn't the worst thing in the universe. But by making it include most of the major characters from The Simpsons and showing them all every time, it seems to make the statement that The Simpsons is more worried about its past than its present or future.
And while I'm grumbling at these newfangled Simpsons episodes that are on my lawn, this four-act structure is continually a major problem. Last fall, there was an episode that ended on a bizarre ostrich attack, and tonight sees another fairly down-to-earth episode that has a fourth-act resolution that leans more towards “random” than “effective” or even “funny.”
Bart wants a new bike, but Homer, attached to reruns of a crappy '80s family sitcom with a strong patriarch, tells him, “If you always get what you want, you'll never want what you get.”After overhearing Apu tell Homer to be more careful with nuclear security because America's enemies (Iran, Iraq, China, Mordor) are waiting to pounce, Bart decides to sell nuclear secrets to China in exchange for the bike. Of course, in order to get those secrets, he has to gain Homer's trust by hanging out with him and being a good son, and once that's accomplished, Homer decides to surprise him by getting him the bike, causing Bart to have a crisis of conscience.
This is a straightforward Simpsons premise, and it's all well and good, but it goes off the rails in that weird fourth act. How does it get resolved? Bart eats the information on the flash drive, but the Chinese continue to threaten him. Homer intervenes and gets recruited as a nuclear expert to build the Chinese a nuclear plant. So he goes to China, builds a replica of the Springfield Nuclear Plant, which explodes when the ribbon gets cut, and that's the end. I guess this could work if it were funnier, but the timing just seems off. I'm not sure if it's that I'm not used to the fourth act or if it's just bad, but I lean towards the latter. C+
Bob's Burgers: We've seen three episodes of Bob's Burgers now, and each one has some representative of liberalism trying to keep the working man down. First it was the power-abusing government regulator, then the well-meaning but ignorant school counselor who wanted to call child services. This week, we have a liberal documentarian, who, happily, is not just a Michael Moore facsimile and, even more happily, is voiced by Paul F. Tompkins. The documentarian is doing a movie about meat, and so he decides to pull a stunt of putting a live cow in front of Bob's Burgers, and putting its life in Bob's hands.
The kids decide to join in the fun by declaring their dad a cow murderer, all for the sake of hamburgers, and even Bob falls for it eventually, bringing the cow into the house, to everyone's (except his wife's) glee. So she gets the cow out of the house where it gets kidnapped by a shitty petting zoo. Bob and the documentarian and the rest of the family have to get together to steal the cow back, which Bob thinks makes them friends, before he gets told “Many activist/documentarians don't have friends!” Still, the cow has a heart attack, making any possibly difficult resolution dissolve with ease.
I'd like to see Bob's Burgers try to do some kind of plot other than “Someone comes along and annoys Bob.” The characters are all genuinely likable and funny, and the jokes build on one another nicely. It's worth a smile when Louise and Gene tell Bob that they're wired and ready to attack as they break into the petting zoo, and then the zoo's owner shows up, and they tear into her (“Gene! ATTACK!”), teeth and all, allowing the cow to be repossessed. There's enough to like here that it shouldn't have to fall into a storytelling rut… already. B
The Cleveland Show: It might be the beer talking, but the beer says that… I kind of liked tonight's Cleveland Show? I know, I know, I'm as confused as you. But nothing about it actively annoyed me, the story worked, and it made me chuckle. That's enough to give it a good grade, at the very least.
The A-storyline involves Cleveland's boss kicking the bucket and a slight competition for the promotion. Tim the Bear wins (and ends up with a nameplate that says “TIM THE BEAR”) and starts turning into a jerk of a boss, up to and including scheduling a mandatory morale-building camping trip during the Super Bowl, as Cleveland agitates against him. Meanwhile, Rallo has been given the responsibility of taking care of his class turtle. He sets up one of those baby walkie-talkie thingies, which he uses to convince Cleveland Jr. that the turtle can talk.
Neither of these stories go anywhere special, but they lead to some funny bits. The best might be a video that shows what Cleveland and Terry do when they're “working,” including a “Drive-Thru Strip Club,” which seems like a pretty good idea for a shady business. Although I suspect the strippers might get cold. There's also an extended cutaway to a Bob the Builder bit involving a murder and coverup that made me laugh, well, some. There's even a running gag involving Donna thinking she could have made it with Tim at one point, culminating in Cleveland saying “I know what you're thinking” and Tim replying, far too quickly, “That we should swap wives?”
It does end on a somewhat annoying note: Cleveland and Tim both realize that their wives are being evil shrews and forcing them to do things they hate, in a MacFarlane trademarked “We're being horrible here, but we know it's horrible so we're funny!” bit. Still, it's easily the best Cleveland Show that I've seen, which may be damning with faint praise, but you gotta start somewhere, right? B
- Bad night for the girls of the families. Lisa had only a couple lines on The Simpsons, Haley at least showed up for American Dad, though only for one line, and Roberta is nowhere to be seen on The Cleveland Show. Louise and Tina are still great on Bob's Burgers, though.
- “Just say the word, and we'll jump into the suicide pit.”
- Stan and Francine get rejected for a double date. “Turns out they hate us.” “I can see that.”
- “I see we're on the same page here.” What else could a coat hanger or a vacuum possibly mean other than cleaning?
- I talked some shit about The Simpsons' opening, but I really liked that the couch gag included a newspaper strip called “Couch Gag.”
- “Those are girl overalls!” “I could pull it off.”
- Homer tries his '80s sitcom lines on Bart. “What is this crap? Are you wearing a wire?”
- “I never thought of fatherhood as something that could affect kids.”
- “I've been doing the family's books for years. Eh, I take what I need.”
- “Stop stealing my thunder!” Bob's kids have the same kind of escalating insanity that works so well for Stan and Francine, come to think of it. They need a bottle episode.
- “It's a cow…int down!”
- “Maybe this cow is trying to communicate with us the only way it knows how.” “With its feces.” “Like gram-gram!”
- “THIS IS THE BEST DREAM I'VE EVER HAD! EVERYBODY PEE ON THE FLOOR! WHO'S WITH ME!?!”
- “Yeah, don't forget that penis!”
- “Bob, I'm a castrated steer.” “And I'm a married man!”
- Another good gag on Cleveland: The Jackson Four, playing “Rockin' Robin” without a melody.
- “He's dead!” “I call his desk chair!”
- Cleveland is shocked by his new eight-hour days. “I've had to start smoking just to take breaks.”
- “I'm scared of the woods! Why do you think I bought a house!?”