Well, now that the Red Sox have won the Series, we can all get back to the important business of dissecting the minutiae of animated prime-time sitcoms. Not that baseball isn't important (really, it's not), but come on, a Simpsons Halloween episode AND a Family Guy retrospective, AND a major Family Guy "event" episode? There is much to discuss! (Oh yeah, American Dad was in there too.)
So when did "Treehouse of Horror" become Simpsons code for "slapdash movie parodies"? And when did the writers give up even attempting to relate those parodies to Halloween? Seriously, E.T. and Mr. And Mrs. Smith? What the hell is that? Don't think just by slapping on that final act with the trick-or-treating and Devil Flanders that you can trick us into believing this is a Halloween episode, Simpsons writers. I'm very disappointed in all of you. May your Halloween candy be filled with razor blades.
Sure, there were some of the old Treehouse of Horror signifiers: the slimy green typeface, the silly names, the intro—which was a nice (though probably unintentional) reminder of the old days when Marge would warn parents to keep their children from watching each year. And the obligatory Kang/Kodos cameo. But other than that, nothing about this episode felt like the Halloween specials of yesteryear. (Monkey's paw! Daddy's Soul Donut!) It felt hurried and trivial, which is becoming an unfortunately common problem with the show. Sometimes you break my heart, Simpsons.
So what was good? Well, even a very sub-par Simpsons episode usually manages to eke out a few quotable gems: "Think of me on pizza Fridays!"; "Can't talk, lighting poo."; "Someone reported a elaborately choreographed, high-octane fight." And then there was Death Hammock: The Hammock That Eats. Those were all kinda funny, right? Sigh.
Moving on. After three whole weeks with no Family Guy, it came roaring back this week with its 100th-episode celebration and the first part of a two-part episode called (spoiler alert!) "Stewie Kills Lois." The 100th episode celebration, hosted by the real-life Seth MacFarlane And His Giant Smirk, was a half-assed clip show interspersed with some whole-assed "viewer interviews." Maybe I've spent too much time reading the comments on this blog, but I got a kick out of the universally negative "viewer feedback," despite the thick syrup of self-referential irony.
But watching all those supposedly offended viewers made me wonder: Is anyone really offended by Family Guy anymore? Sure, lots of people don't like it, but does anyone actually find it morally offensive? I feel like the show, like South Park and The Simpsons before it, has outgrown its "outrageous" period. Those who like it, like it, and those who don't, don't, but are there really people out there writing angry letters to FOX about the show with the homicidal baby and the barbershop quartet that sings about AIDS? Maybe extended viewing of the FOX animation lineup has eroded my moral center, but I find the underlying suggestion that Family Guy has succeeded in the face of wild adversity a little delusional.
There's really no point in discussing a retrospective show in any great depth, so lets focus on the main event, "Stewie Kills Lois." On the surface I really like the idea of the long-foretold matricide being the big event to ring in the show's 100th episode. However, while Stewie's murderous intent toward Lois is a big part of the show's original foundation, it hasn't really been a big theme for several seasons. The Stewie/Brian dynamic has taken precedence, with Lois usually being more of a foil to Peter than Stewie. But while it seemed a little odd to have Stewie's homicidal nature rear its head again somewhat out of the blue, it's a big enough part of the show's history that it didn't feel like too big of a reach.
This was a meaty plot by Family Guy standards, which was a nice change of pace; but with a couple of exceptions, most of the cutaway humor felt very familiar: Kool-Aid guy, Hubert, Joe dressed as Lois. Seasoned viewers can see those gags coming a mile away, and while that in-joke humor is part of the show's appeal, there weren't any "holy crap!" moments worthy of callback status in future episodes. What it did have was a genuinely cliffhanger-y cliffhanger: I'm honestly intrigued about how this storyline will resolve itself next week. Like the series' other two-part episode, "The Thin White Line"/"Brian Does Hollywood," this episode actually managed to create a bit of drama, an element that's rare enough in the Family Guy universe that its occasional deployment is an event in itself.
American Dad also threw down with the pathos this week, albeit in typically jackassed fashion. After his home is invaded by Francine's adoptive parents and their trunk full of Chinese stereotypes, Stan sets out to find her real parents, who turn out to be his ideal in-laws: rich, English-speaking white folk—who gave up their child so they wouldn't have to fly coach. At first I was annoyed by the cheesy "we're lampooning cultural cliches!" humor and the old "Stan is a myopic ass" plot, but the payoff in the final act negated that perceived laziness. What initially seemed like throwaway gags (the "English Patient" firework, the ducks in the window) turned out to be the spark that set off the show's (kinda) emotional finale. Who knew American Dad was capable of delayed gratification? I love being proven wrong. (I really don't, though.)
The Simpsons, "Treehouse of Horror XVIII": C-
Family Guy, "Stewie Kills Lois": B+
American Dad, "Big Trouble in Little Langley": B
—The return of Spiderpig. Again. Meh.
—Did enough people see/care about Mr. And Mrs. Smith for it to be parody-worthy?
—Seth MacFarlane: "Have you ever heard of a show called American Dad?" Heh.
—"I'm gonna pretend you're the New York Knicks."
—Was it just me, or was Steve's friend pretty much a young Peter Griffin with Chris Griffin's voice?