As I watched TV tonight, I could practically hear the heads of die-hard, lifelong Simpsons fans exploding across the country. A nation of Comic Book Guys threw down their nachos in disgust over the blatant disregard for continuity, shaking their fists while quoting lines from 1991's "The Way We Was" episode before retreating back to their season four DVD commentary in a hazy rage. If I still had it in me to still get upset over such things, I'm sure that's what I would have done. Instead, I just scribbled variations on "WTF??" in my notebook for a half-hour.
Obviously, when a show that is this long-running has a floating timeline, it's nigh impossible to maintain any sort of chronology without a little creative accounting, but tonight's episode was so far off-base, I can't imagine any Simpsons fan not feeling at least a little put off, if not downright insulted. I realize that when your characters don't age, you're painted into a bit of a corner when it comes to flashback episodes, but when the show's canon has already established that Bart and Lisa were born in that magical time known as the '80s, and that Homer and Marge graduated in the mid '70s, what in the hell could have possessed the show's writers to set an episode in the mid-'90s? Were they so desperate to wedge in that three-sentence Kurt Loder cameo? Had they been sitting on that Beanie Baby gag for too long and needed to air it out?
Timeliness issues aside, tonight's episode was basically a slightly less obnoxious version of I Love The '90s, with some half-assed grunge song parodies thrown in. (Did "Weird Al" parodying a Simpsons parody of a Nirvana song make anyone's else head hurt a little? Sooo… meta…. ow.) If you're the kind of person who's entertained by hearing old Seinfeld quotes, Marge sporting a "Rachel" hairdo, and a montage set to "Closing Time," well then, this was your episode. I was more amused by the constant academic jackassery spewing out of Marge's hyper-touchy-feely college professor crush, Stefan August (describing a lighthouse as "phalocentric technocracy invading Mother Sky," for instance). However, even his insistence on lovin' on Marge to the sounds of "Whale Songs" wasn't enough to make up for the huh-inducing "Homer invented grunge" plotline. I may have rated this episode higher tonight based on Professor August and the handful of decent gags if it weren't for the infuriating anachronisms and the aren't-we-clever '90s references ("At lease we know there will never be a president as bad as Bill Clinton." Sigh.)
Tonight's episode of American Dad, on the other hand, was a perfect storm of the characteristics that usually endear the show to me: A Francine and Roger team-up (they're probably my favorite character combination, based solely on last season's "Camp Refoogee" episode, when they took up role-playing), a twisted take on a cliche, sitcom-y plot (Stan indulging his mama's-boy tendencies by kidnapping her boyfriends and stranding them on a desert island), and a kinda-sweet (at least in the American Dad universe) ending. However, it just didn't quite hit those sweet spots as hard as it could have. Sure, there were some great gags–Roger's costume department, Francine learning averages with cupcakes, Stan's oh-so-disturbing take on "Drunken Sailor"–but the plot itself dragged a bit, and the B-story, concerning Klaus purposely infecting Steve with "ick" so as to force him into spending more time with the family fish, was, well, icky (though this might have more to do with my irrational hatred all things having to do with fish and aquariums, so take that criticism with a grain of salt).
Two weeks ago, commenter "mbs" remarked on the difference between early Family Guy episodes, which injected a sweet, family-centric undercurrent to the black humor, as compared to the "smug," often misogynistic, and just plain mean humor of recent episodes. I thought about that tonight watching American Dad, whose ending was very reminiscent of early Family Guy in that regard: Sure, it was tempered with the unsettling thought of Mama Smith's romantic history wasting away on an island, but it still had that nice moment where the chime-y music plays and everyone smiles at one another–your standard sitcom ending, I suppose. I think that's why American Dad has surpassed Family Guy in my mind: It's retained the best aspects of its forbearer, often with superior execution.
The Simpsons, "That 90s Show": C-
American Dad, "Oedipal Panties": B
— Lisa's explanation of the time gap–"Mom and dad are almost 40 and Bart is 10; that means you didn't have him until way after high school"–made me realize that Homer has aged–albeit slowly–over the course of the show, while Bart has always been 10. Homer was in his mid-30s when the show began, no?
—Has anyone else noticed how obnoxious Dan Castellaneta's Homer voice has become? A commenter remarked a few weeks back that he sounds like he's doing an impression of the original voice—tonight's barrage of yelling/singing was so loud and grating I found myself literally cringing.
—The one throwaway '90s-referencing gag that made me laugh aloud: Homer "slamming" Professor August's beaded curtain.
—Let's give it up for the return of Drunken Roger: "Tacos!"
—Tonight's episode of American Dad was titled "Oedipal Panties." Now, I know puns are the lowest form of humor, but damn, that made me giggle like a 13-year-old boy.