(For the next several days, some of our writers will be swapping duties on some of our most popular shows. Some of them will like what they see, but for different reasons. Some of them will have vastly different opinions from the regular reviewers. And some of them won’t be all that different. It’s Second Opinions Week at TV Club.)
Oh, hello. As you can tell from my byline, I’m not Rowan Kaiser. I’m writing about this week’s Fox Animation Block, however, because, well, I like cartoons. I regularly cover Batman: The Brave and the Bold on Friday nights and even wrote about last week’s Superjail. That having been said, I haven’t watched an episode of Family Guy, American Dad, or The Cleveland Show since I was in the hospital last year, and I only did that because I was morbidly curious (haven’t seen a single episode of Bob’s Burgers, but I had planned on checking it out at some point). I must confess that I don’t find the McFarlane shows’ random sense of humor to be that funny, but I used to really like Family Guy when it first aired. Not sure what changed—namely whether it’s a serious dip in the shows’ quality or if it’s just a change in my taste—but I only infrequently laughed at the McFarlane-produced shows when last I saw them.
Thankfully, I don’t have to review the McFarlane shows this week. Fox pre-emptively replaced all three of them with reruns for fear that the crossover event that they had planned on airing tonight would be considered insensitive since the crossover’s main impetus is a hurricane, which was seen as too close to the recent tornadoes in the South. I find that over-sensitivity to be kind of strange, especially since I saw an ad on Fox for Six Flags’ Hurricane Harbor before The Simpsons aired tonight. Not the same thing, I know, but close enough.
In any case, tonight’s episode of The Simpsons wasn’t a lot better than the McFarlane shows I kind of dreaded having to pontificate about. The Simpsons has become a show I feel like I should be more disappointed in. Instead, I’m sort of just resigned to its current state of mediocrity. I’m jaded that way, I guess (I even had to force myself to care that the Mike Reiss that produced tonight’s episode was the same one that co-wrote and co-created The Critic, which remains one of my favorite TV shows ever). But hey, I haven’t watched a new Simpsons episode in a while for a reason. And tonight’s episode reminded me of why that is.
“The Real Housewives of Fat Tony” mainly focused on Selma’s marriage to Fat Tony (voiced by the ever-reliable Joe Mantegna). This gave the show’s writers every opportunity to make a series of tired jokes about Italian-American stereotypes. I guess I should be thankful that they didn’t waste more time poking fun of the Jersey Shore’s cast or, worse still, that they didn’t invite the cast of that obnoxious show to play themselves. The show’s writers have gotten so lazy that I didn’t even bat an eye when they busted out a joke about how all the light fixtures in Fat Tony’s mansion had tanning bulbs installed in them.
Realistically, I know that I’m only kind of bothered by the fact that the show has chosen such soft targets to unload on. Yes, it’s tedious to see a once great show crack jokes about trashy, spray-tanned pseudo-celebs. But what’s worse is watching that same show fail to stick a joke that, during its glory days, would have guaranteed a long belly laugh. The show’s current team of writers just doesn’t go far enough to make even solid jokes genuinely great. For instance, the joke about how a phrase like “take care of him” could either mean make out with or murder coming from Fat Tony was really driven into the ground. If the characters were real actors, you would think that they were just mugging for the camera. Sadly, because these characters are not real, you realize that the joke was just reiterated three or four times because the writers didn’t know when to quit.
I singled that gag out because I feel that many of tonight’s jokes were similarly either taken too far or not far enough. For instance, I enjoyed tonight’s Comic Book Guy joke but felt that the writers could have but didn’t fully capitalize on the fact that the characters was just randomly at Selma and Fat Tony’s wedding reception. Likewise, the joke where Otto randomly appears, takes some mushrooms, and decides to watch Koyaanisqatsi was actually pretty funny, as was the punchline to that joke, where, after taking those ‘shrooms, he put his DVD on a rock and just stares out at the countryside. There should be an extra joke here, some kind of definitive capper, but there isn’t. There’s just a shot of him staring out at nothing-ness after murmuring about how the movie has got an audio commentary by Philip Glass. In a perfect world, that line would have been staggered until we saw him staring out at the sunset. In the one we live in, the line comes too soon, and a perfectly adequate joke ends on a weak note.
I guess that’s why I won’t be back to watch The Simpsons for my own personal pleasure next week. The Bart/Lisa storyline was OK, but it wasn’t much better than the Selma/Fat Tony A-narrative. I know I’ve spent much of this review ragging on the show’s writers, but I’m really convinced that they’re at odds with themselves. Then again, there’s no hard and fast rule as to what kind of jokes should/will work either. The randomness of some jokes, like the one where Bart jettisons the school into the sun using his share of money earned from (exhaustion is surely already setting in by now but bear with me, please) sniffing out truffles, were perfectly acceptable. But others were too random—the mani-pedi-tanning session joke didn’t work, largely because it was just a weak variation on the tanning light in every light fixture joke.
No, the real problem with tonight’s The Simpsons is that (here I go again) the show’s writers are just generally not that funny. And because comedy is such an inherently subjective genre, I’m sure there are some of you reading this (or skimming) who violently disagree. Which is fine, but for my money, the show’s nowhere near as good as it once was because the writers just aren’t as inspired as they were during the show’s golden age, as clichéd as that sounds. At this point, I’ve sadly just accepted that sub-par standard of quality as a matter of fact. Boy, sometimes nostalgia sucks.