Fully three of the four animated shows tonight dealt with marital problems between the series' central husband and wife duo. This ended up making Family Guy a weird oasis, even if the episode of that tonight had its own problems. I realize all involved don't exactly plan all of this stuff out ahead of time, but it would be nice if they at least dropped each other a note, just so we wouldn't end up with three shows that were essentially saying the same things. Also, it didn't help that tonight was probably the weakest night of the animation bloc so far this season, with a bunch of episodes that started out promisingly but ended up being irritating after all was said and done. On to the grading, then!

The Simpsons: At some point, you have to stop going to the "Marge and Homer have marital troubles" well if you're The Simpsons because you've gone there many, many, many times before, and it's become harder and harder to make that play emotionally. There's been talk on some of the DVD commentary tracks on Simpsons DVDs about how unbelievable it is that Marge is still with Homer, and every time the show does a plot where their marriage is in danger, it becomes ever more clear that it's, well, unbelievable. Take tonight's episode, a sure boon to anyone out there who's writing Marge/Ned Flanders fan fiction. Marge ended up letting her inhibitions go as she posed for a sexy calendar shoot and found herself the drool fodder for every guy in Springfield, while Homer somehow ended up the assistant to Carl down at the plant and was thus run ragged, so he couldn't properly, uh, service his wife, which led to her almost seducing Flanders while Homer was in Paris with Carl (who, amusingly, was having an affair with Carla Bruni). There was some business with Bart and Lisa, but the vast majority of the episode's running time was taken up by Marge and Homer yet again confronting the fact that their marriage isn't always the most compatible one. While the flip side of the usual husband/wife sexual dynamics had a few promising jokes in it and while there were the usual funny sight gags and one-liners, the entirety of the episode felt stale. I get why the show keeps going to this emotional conflict - it spawned some of the series' best episodes, as well as the best part of the movie - but after a while, you have to realize that you've done every variation on the story out there. There's no way Homer or Marge will ever cheat on each other, and that makes a story like this essentially boring. Grade: C+

The Cleveland Show:
I still think the biggest problem with The Cleveland Show is that it's overstuffing its episodes. Every week, the series does fewer and fewer cutaway gags, which is a good thing, but it's still trying to cram two storylines into every episode while also establishing all of these characters, and that gives everything a bit of a rushed feel. Case in point: Tonight's episode was actually fairly amusing throughout, but the storyline never quite came together in the end, what with the constant cutaways to Cleveland's relationship with the blow-up doll or Donna and her friends or Cleveland, Jr.'s student body president campaign. I didn't mind the central plot here, which involved Cleveland trying to get Donna to become friends with the wives of his friends, only to end with her heading back to the friends she had as a single women, who hated men. But the plotting, as always, felt a little too convoluted, and the ending of the story, where Cleveland staged the mock fight with Donna in the restaurant where he pretended to be a pimp, so she could continue to be friends with her old friends, was one of those things that neither made much sense nor was all that funny. Better was the election subplot, if only because student body elections almost always make for amusing plotlines and because Cleveland Jr. is rapidly turning into the show's best character. Pairing him up with Rallo to run the campaign ended up being an inspired choice. Also good was Arianna Huffington's first major voice work on the show. Still, the episode was probably the night's funniest, and it continues the long process The Cleveland Show is undergoing of figuring out just why it exists. Bonus points for the Mr. Flippers thing, though. Grade: B

Family Guy:
I apparently have a reputation as the Internet's number one Family Guy crank at this point, which is too bad because I used to enjoy the show fairly frequently. And I thought tonight's episode started out promisingly, with Peter finding the ghost of Ronald Reagan on a HAM radio and Stewie creating a clone of himself that he called Bitch Stewie. None of this was absolutely amazing, but I enjoyed elements of both stories, particularly the way Stewie made the clone completely subservient to him or the way that the guys tried to make Ronald Reagan's ghost their fourth to replace Cleveland. After a while, however, Reagan was revealed to be impressionist Rich Little trying to do viral marketing, Quagmire found out he had a daughter, and Brian got Stewie to make a clone of him. Actually, come to think of it, I found Bitch Brian pretty funny, the sole saving grace of an episode that sort of meandered around after the first five or ten minutes (I seriously thought everything was starting to wrap itself up with the Rich Little reveal). I don't know if that was McFarlane doing the voice work on Bitch Brian, but it was a pretty inspired "dumb guy" performance. The rest of the stuff, though, falls into the same trap that "Hannah Banana" did last week. The series wants to deepen its characters (in this case, Quagmire), but it keeps bumping up against the fact that they're probably un-deepen-able because of how long they've been one-dimensional. At least Peter and Lois' marriage wasn't in trouble, I guess. Grade: C

American Dad:
American Dad was also uncharacteristically blah tonight, particularly after last week's episode was pretty fun. Perhaps I just had marital trouble fatigue or something, but the problems between Stan and Francine, spurred by the fact that the two were going to renew their vows for their 20th anniversary, seemed just a little too cruel. (Also, I was distracted by just how similar Francine sans beauty regimen looked to the Christine Lakin character in The Hottie and the Nottie. And, no, I'm still not sure why I watched that.) The idea that Stan is only with Francine because of how she looks is a potentially good one for the show, but the episode just didn't find anywhere to go from there, and it turned into a long series of "Boy, isn't she ugly?!" jokes, which felt a little more mean-spirited than they needed to be. Roger, as always, was amusing with his wedding planner persona and the other that chased Steve and Haley all the way to Latin America, but everything else just had too many misses instead of hits to it tonight. Grade: C+

Stray observations:

  • I didn't get to Sit Down, Shut Up this week, but I will be sure to check in for the likely series finale next Saturday.
  • "I'm going to need to see more Babe and less Didrikson Zaharias."
  • "Kiss me baby. Kiss me like a frog in a fairy tale."
  • "Hello, you are getting cozy with Sarkozy."
  • "Nuclear secrets. Pictures of Lenny. Everything I need for my plan."
  • "I figure you can never have enough confetti. So I make my own. And whenever there's a parade, I grab a couple of handfuls."
  • "You really saved our skin, Mr. Flippers."
  • "At the tone, the time will be 26 Railroad."
  • "Enjoy your weird bath."
  • "Honey, please, he's a musicologist. He sees it every day."
  • "We are the music makers. We are the dreamers of dreams." "That is an unsatisfying answer."