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Every week, when I grade these things, there's a contingent that says I'm too easy on The Simpsons (and an equal contingent that says I'm not appreciating it enough). There's also the fairly consistent argument that I often run more quotes from The Simpsons, so that must mean it's better. I've always made the counter-argument that I often do that with The Simpsons because I just watch it first, and since I'm still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (as it were) and ready to take down my thoughts on the episodes, not defeated by life itself like I am by the time I reach the end of Family Guy.

So tonight, when life got in the way and I was forced, by circumstance, to watch The Simpsons last, I wondered if watching the other two shows first would create some sort of world where The Simpsons would now seem the most mediocre of a rather mediocre bunch of television shows. I'm not sure that I've proved anything conclusively, since I think this was one of the stronger Cleveland Shows the series has run so far and Family Guy did an equal number of things to interest and irritate me, but I did think that The Simpsons was rather off of where it usually is and where it has been this season (and in its 450th episode, no less). At the same time, none of these shows set the world on fire this week, regardless of which order I watched them in. (And can I just say that having Sons of Tucson around is really killing what love I have for the animated bloc overall? I thought it would be nice to have new American Dad episodes in the summer, since it's always nice to have something to watch then and, well, I'd still be getting paid to watch cartoons, but good God, does the bloc as a whole suffer without it there.)

Anyway …

The Cleveland Show: Vacation episodes of animated shows can often end up being some of the weaker episodes of those shows. Because it's incredibly cheap to just send the characters anywhere you want (as opposed to with a live-action show, where you have to fly the entire cast in). These episodes often turn into excuses to ship in various celebrities from the country or city the characters are visiting and show them in front of every possible landmark you can think of. And while there was some of that in this episode (like that long string of shots of Donna at various romantic New York City landmarks), the majority of what happened was just good, funny stuff, allowing character-based jokes in New York, instead of having the characters make New York-based jokes. Now, having Lester wander into Harlem and offend everyone there by using a certain word was kind of lazy (though I liked how Cleveland got him out of the situation), but I did find Tim's excursion to the bar welcoming bears to be very amusing, even if you could probably see that joke coming from the first time you found out there was a talking bear in the cast of The Cleveland Show. I was less sold on Rallo, Roberta and Cleveland, Jr., trying to get on MTV, but this is a Seth MacFarlane show, and having two plots that are consistent and funny seems to be too tall of an order. So I'll take what I can get, which was a fine and funny episode that didn't lean too heavily on its non-usual location. Grade: B+


Family Guy: Weirdly, both this and The Simpsons did sexual harassment storylines, though it took a while for this one to get going. I get that The Simpsons, Family Guy's biggest influence, does stories that turn on a dime and veer from one storyline to another with little rhyme or reason, but Family Guy's rampant story turns often make even less sense. I'm still not sure how we got from Stewie in a Terri Schiavo musical to Peter being a paparazzo to Peter being sexually harassed by his boss (OK, I get it, but most of these turns didn't make a lot of sense), especially when any one of these plots might have made a good plot for a full episode or for a B-story in this episode. (I don't know that I'd say I was "sad" the show didn't follow up on Stewie's stage fright, but I do think the series missed an opportunity for some good jokes there.) This felt like one of those episodes Family Guy does every once in a while where they have a big collection of jokes and they just throw them at the screen in the hopes some of them land. It's sort of a junk drawer episode, in that regard, and while some of them were funny - the Schiavo musical overran my initial qualms about the whole idea to be pretty amusing - the majority felt kind of flail-y, as if the episode didn't know what it wanted to be. Grade: C

The Simpsons: Every so often, my dad will ask me about a link he's seen on Fox News about some school where a student has, like, brought a butter knife to school or something, and then he's banned from school because he brought a weapon. The tone of these stories is always barely restrained, "WHAT'S THE WORLD COMING TO?!" hysteria, as if this is just the sort of thing you can expect when you let those politically correct pantywaists take over everything, like everything was better back in the day when if you didn't like a fellow student, you could stab 'em. Well, this was sort of the Simpsons version of those stories, and it reflects the way that the show's perspective, which started out as roughly most sympathetic to what Bart and Lisa were up to and then aged up to being roughly on the same level as Marge and Homer has since found itself in a kind of netherworld, as the writers have entered their 40s and 50s but don't have an equivalent character to voice their viewpoints anymore. This often means that many of the episodes turn into the cartoon equivalent of "What's the matter with kids today?" and I'd say this episode was sort of like that too. I mean, Bart kissing Sarah Silverman could have made for an entertaining storyline (and briefly did, when she was twisting his feelings all over the place), but the whole thing where the school almost got sued for harassment was just pointless and stupid. No one would give Bart CPR because they were afraid of a lawsuit? I'm sure something similar has happened, but it doesn't really track with the way the characters have been established. Also, Michelle Obama showed up to talk to the kids about how being a nerd is cool and organic gardening. She sounded a lot like Angela Bassett, which was odd. And yet, I laughed at this episode more than I laughed at Family Guy, so … Grade: C+


Stray observations:

  • "If you wear glasses, due to nearsightedness or astigmatism, put them on now."
  • "That's the whole point of getting married. You can let yourself go completely. Well, the husband anyway."
  • "Should I draw a penis on his face?" "You pretty much have to in this situation."
  • "Oh, Cleveland, this is the most romantic ending to a fake rape attempt ever."
  • "Cartoon bears never wear pants."
  • "Warning: Results may vary."
  • "Donna, you're a woman. You can type, right?"
  • "It started as my Emmy night cleanse, and after six wins, I couldn't stop."
  • "These jokes are for you, Peter. When you watch this tape in the future."
  • "Every Friday night, I'm a clearance-sale area rug."
  • "I really hope there's a hungry horse back there."
  • "Tomorrow, I'm getting you a kangaroo T-shirt."
  • "I'm self-conscious about my congressman Barney Frank body."
  • "I came over here to punch you and maybe kick you in the boob."
  • "Decrease elevation ten feet, then turn left."
  • "Damn, this caterpillar can eat."
  • "I copied the Lisa name, and the Ralph answers."
  • "Heh heh. Mulch love."
  • "Hey, Willie, does he taste like failure?!"
  • "Loose lips sink scholarships."
  • "I wanted flotus, but it was already taken." "That's me because I swim with my flotuses on!"
  • "He's our Joe Biden."