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Another week, another animated bloc at Fox, yet this week, the bloc's chief support - Family Guy - took the week off for some reason, rerunning "Road to the Multiverse," which is still the best episode the series has done this season. I suppose this was because the series has built up a slight lead on the other series in the lineup and Family Guy often produces fewer episodes than some of the shows around it. (Remember how long it took the show to start going again after the writers strike? Yeesh.) But it was still odd that all of the other shows were new, though I suppose The Simpsons and American Dad were both fairly time-sensitive and needed to be on the air sometime during February or the Winter Olympics, respectively. Also, David Lynch showed up for my favorite episode of The Cleveland Show in a while, but there wasn't a horrifying tone poem about the cost of American excess anywhere in sight.

But enough about all of that. Let's talk grading.

The Simpsons:  After last week's really terrific episode of The Simpsons, the series turned to one of its favorite subjects: making the characters dress up like they belong in a different time period for no real reason. It used to be that the series would just do this for the Halloween episodes, but over the years, the series has done this more and more. There was that episode where all of the characters were in Bible stories and the episode where they were all in famous tales from history and the one where they were all in tall tales and so on. This time, the episode mostly just seemed like an excuse to do a Black History Month storyline as well as an excuse to give all of the cast members a chance to do their usual voices with a Southern accent overlaid. Now, I had quite a few chuckles in this one, but very few of the belly laughs I got out of last week's episode, and I wasn't terribly thrilled by the episode's constantly shifting flashback structure. There was some funny stuff - like Mr. Burns revealing his father was a Civil War era colonel - and I liked some of the darker turns the episode took in the latter portions (when Lisa thought her ancestor had completely caved and sold out the slave she was trying to help escape). But the majority of the episode was a disappointment, with its best gag - the Simpsons are all scoundrels - stolen from another episode entirely. Grade: C+


The Cleveland Show: I actually really loved the Cleveland and Cleveland Jr. half of this episode, and it's the first episode of the show I've enjoyed in a while. At the same time, I'm a little miffed that the show is increasingly making Cleveland indistinguishable from Peter Griffin. I realize it's easier to write stories about an unthinking, unfeeling buffoon, particularly when the stories have to center on that buffoon's nerdy, trying to fit in son. But the thing that's always made Cleveland a good character is that he's a good guy who keeps getting smacked around by life. On Family Guy, he was sort of the Job of Quahog, and as the series that bears his name has moved him more and more to the center, it's unfortunately gotten away from that. At the same time, the sequence where Cleveland Jr. got his revenge on his dad was riotously funny, the voicework by Mike Henry as Cleveland without his mustache was similarly good, and the whole episode had a weirdly great cast of guest voices, led by David Lynch as the whacked out bartender Gus. I was less impressed by the storyline about Roberta claiming that she'd adopted Rallo, but it took up so little time that it was easy to pretend it didn't exist, mostly. Better to just focus on all of the stuff that was working in the other plotline, where the show is finally figuring out that its strongest relationship - like King of the Hill before it - is between a father and his wayward son. Grade: B

American Dad: Here's another typically strong episode of American Dad, which blends a couple of strong plotlines together with a bunch of Lord of the Rings references. I'm actually surprised it's taken the show this long to get to a "Roger as Gollum" plotline, given the visual similarities between the two, but I enjoyed the story of Roger revealing he was a part of the 1980 gold medal winning U.S. hockey team and then having Stan insist he return his gold medal when Stan learned Roger had been using steroids during the run to the medal. As mentioned last week, I like the Olympics, and while I didn't think this storyline made as good of use of them as The Simpsons did last week, I still enjoyed seeing the depiction of the IOC as some sort of fantastical castle atop a European mountain. I also liked Haley's dalliance with Reginald, the koala CIA agent, who returned for the episode to take Haley to a Shaggy concert and beat up a guy there. The episode had a curiously retro feel, what with so many of the jokes stemming from things like the 1980 Olympics, Ronald Reagan, Shaggy and Lord of the Rings, but that wasn't an impediment to the episode still being enjoyable. Grade: B+


Stray observations:

  • "Yeah, the Simpson family is a long line of horse thieves, deadbeats, horse beats, dead thieves and a few alcoholics."
  • "Who you know as the Pittsburgh poisoner."
  • "Oh, you mean Adam and Eve Simpson. Or as you may know them, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg."
  • "The motto of the Simpsons is, quit while you're ahead." "I made it into a sampler!"
  • "A week ago, I had no idea of what the future would bring, which I guess is true of everyone all the time."
  • "Where's the four? All music needs a four!"
  • "Bart, can you believe we're married to those nerds?"
  • "Dreams are where Elmo and Toy Story had a party, and I went there."
  • "One of your best, Ralph."
  • "Colonel Burns, why … I haven't heard my father's name in years!"
  • "Now let's take you to a place where a black man can blend in. Canada!"
  • "We're 1/64 black!" "So that's why I'm so cool." "And that's why my jazz is so smooth." "And that's why I earn less than my white co-workers."
  • "He just sits around the house like a fat."
  • "It's like the player piano of bikes."
  • "Stop mooing, you fool!" "I moo when I get scared."
  • "These were cluttering the tables. And my mind."
  • "With our new dress code, all customers are required to wear pants. We're trying to attract a more upscale crowd."
  • "Just kidding. My show. I'll do it."
  • "You've got too much face without your mustache!"
  • "Mustache courtesy of an L.L. Bean mannequin name of Frederick."
  • "What did your hero Lego-man ever win?"
  • "Everybody likes Shaggy! That's why he's playing the fairgrounds!"
  • "You want Mr. Cry-ceratops? That's right. Feed him your tears."
  • "Oh, son. Every day with you is a punch in the nads."
  • "Yes! We are dancing!"