"Apocalypse Cow" / "Strangeness On A Train" / "Former Life Of Brian" / "Red October Sky"

"Apocalypse Cow" / "Strangeness On A Train" / "Former Life Of Brian" / "Red October Sky"

It's been two long months, my little TV Clubbers, but finally we can all once again come together–Simpsons apologists, Family Guy haters, King Of The Hill die-hards, and the three of us who watch American Dad–to ridicule one another's senses of humor and call each other douchebags. Yes, FOX's "Animation Domination" is whole once more, with the MacFarlane contingent returning to the fold following a (I'm assuming) WGA-strike hangover.

But we'll get to that in a minute, because we do things in order 'round hereabouts, which means Simpsons first. Apparently the Simpsons writers thought having Bart almost get married last season ("Little Big Girl") was such a comedic boon that they decided to have another go at it, with shades of Stampy thrown in to mix things up a bit. Reading tonight's episode description over at the FOX media site ("When Homer and Marge hear of Bart's engagement to his friend Mary to save his beloved cow Lou from the slaughterhouse, they devise a plan to save Lou and free Bart from marriage,") made me cringe audibly, but it certainly wasn't as bad as it could've been. Though it eventually devolved into a string of hillbilly gags, there were enough hits to balance out the misses, and almost enough to make me forgive a second Bart-gets-engaged storyline in as many years. (Although admittedly, my girl-crush on guest-voice Zooey Deschanel may be coloring my outlook a bit.)

Though the two insider-y Tress MacNeille shout-outs (Anyone have any insight into that? Was it just random for the sake of random, or is something up with MacNeille?) and the final, "For once in my life, I had a cow, man" were enough to earn a check in the W column for me, there were a couple of head-scratchers this episode. First, why Transclownomorphs? Sure, it was an okay-ish gag, but wouldn't the joke have worked the same with Itchy and Scratchy? I love those little guys, with the killing and the maiming and the whatnot. Second, a farm subsidy check joke? Screw your fancy Harvard degrees, writers–more flying cows, less smarty-pantsness. And lastly–I never thought I'd say this–were those sock puppets really necessary? There wasn't even a joke in there, unless it was all supposed to be a lead-up to a spinach spit-take, in which case… ugh. Luckily, Homer "making sure Flanders doesn't bother us," immediately afterward made me forget my ire.

One last Simpsons point that I'll probably regret making: I've griped many a gripe about the insurgence of pointless pop-culture gags in recent Simpsons, to which many of you have pointed out that the show has always used cultural references and I am clearly an idiot. Tonight provided a good illustration of how I distinguish this phenomenon in my cartoon-addled brain, and I'd like to share so that you can all call me an idiot for the right reason. The Casablanca bit in tonight's episode was an example of what I think of as "classic" Simpsons pop-culture humor: It was an extension of the story, and it was altered enough that it wasn't just parroting back a familiar scene ("Here's looking at you, cud."). It wasn't that hilarious or even memorable, but at least it didn't feel cheap. On the other end of the spectrum, we have a gag from tonight's rerun, "Husbands And Knives," where Marge sees a bunch of gym-bunnies recreating the OK Go treadmill video, apropos of nothing other than an attempt to elicit a "Heh, I get references" chuckle. Please, Simpsons, leave that gimmick to another show in this particular lineup–they usually do it better anyhow.

Speaking of gimmicks, tonight's King Of The Hill premise was a little bizarre: After a string of horrible birthdays, Peggy opts for a–wait for it–disco-themed murder-mystery-on-a-train celebration, because that's totally something people do. Thankfully, Dale made this joke so I don't have to: "It could literally be a train wreck." Things go predictably awry when Luanne is tapped to stand in for one of the actors and accidentally gives the mystery away, leaving pretty much the entire cast (John Redcorn! Missed ya, buddy!) to wallow in a sea of boredom and polyester as the train makes its way through a dry county. When Hank and Peggy, um, do the bump in the train bathroom, because that's totally something those characters would do, they find themselves having to hide their crime from a train full of their antsy and nosy neighbors, who are intent on finding the culprits. Meanwhile, Bobby, Joseph, and Connie, left at home for the evening, decide to make a secret fort in the crawlspace, because that's totally something 13-year-olds do. (Shouldn't they be vlogging or backyard-wrestling or whatever it is the kids these days do?)

Yeah, nothing made a lot of sense on KOTH tonight. However, the laughable premise did allow for a few nice ensemble moments, with a bunch of secondary characters logging some good laughs. It also provided confirmation that, yes, Luanne is still preggers, and apparently takes the Manger Babies everywhere, which means that kid is gonna grow up even scarier than we thought. While I couldn't really get behind the silliness of the plot–nor the sight of the entire cast in '70s club-wear–it kind of had the feeling of a destination episode on classic sitcom, where the weirdness of seeing your favorite characters in London or Disney World or whatever creates this weird haze that obscures the episodes glaring faults. It wasn't unforgivable, but don't pull this crap again, KOTH.

Of course, no one beats Family Guy when it comes to throwing logic and continuity out the fucking window, and tonight's episode epitomized that by revealing that Brian THE DOG is the father of a HUMAN child, which he created with HARVEY FIERSTEIN. But Brian's on-again-off-again dogness is one of Family Guy's bedrock gags (along with Stewie's on-agan-off-again babyness/gayness), so I was willing to play along. Unfortunately, that story didn't really offer many surprises or laughs–outside of maybe Brian's annoying-father-guy routine–so I'm left to judge tonight's episode based on the cutaways. While it earned points for an Al Harrington commercial, that Matthew McConaughey gag made me want to chuck my remote through the TV. I'm fine with the drawn-out, so-unfunny-they-become-funny bits that FG likes to gamble on, but man was that one a stinker.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here with a gross generalization and say that Brian plotlines work best when they're closely entwined with Stewie. I'm sure that there are plenty of examples to refute this, but I don't care, because I really wanted more Stewie-Brian interaction tonight. There was a little bit at the outset, but then Stewie was relegated to the background (a teabag joke? Really, that's still funny?) while a bland nobody–Brian's son, Dylan–sucked up all the funny. Brian works best as a foil to Stewie, as Peter's conscience, or as an awkward paramour to Lois; he's too much of a straight man to carry an arc with one-time character no one cares about. But I did like when he ran around with the paper bag on his head–heh, it's funny 'cause he's a dog….

Similarly, American Dad suffered a bit tonight due to a lack of its resident "wacky" character, Roger. Too much Stan is generally American Dad's downfall, as tonight's episode illustrated. Stan humor tends to be a little too blunt-force for my liking; I like it tempered with some silliness courtesy of Roger, or even Francine. But tonight was all about Stan and Steve: When Stan's supposedly reformed Commie ex-nemesis moves in across the street, he helps Steve out with his rocket-building project for school when Stan is too busy/disinterested. When Sergei teaches Steve about the proletariat and hammers and sickles or whatever, Stan uses a Capitalism-themed montage to win his son back over to the American Way. It was a fairly convoluted plot that took too long to get where it was going, which means that everything else–including Roger and Klaus' much-funnier trip to Europe–faded into the background. While I usually admire American Dad's ability to twist standard sitcom-y clichés into something more absurd, this time it felt too unwieldy and didn't leave enough room for laughs, which is a shame, because there were a few really solid gags tucked in there: "Argh! Raisins!" Roger and Klaus at the Louvre, Stan's Anticipating Doorbells book. I guess what it boils down to is that Stan isn't all that funny and I have a thing for drunken, Paul Lynde-ian aliens. So sue me.

Grades:
The Simpsons, "Apocalypse Cow": B-
King Of The Hill, "Strangeness On A Train": C+
Family Guy, "Former Life Of Brian": C+
American Dad, "Red October Sky": C-

Stray Observations

--I think Meg had only one line in tonight's Family Guy, which is nothing new, but it was probably one of my favorites of the evening: "I'm a girl, I don't even like the GOOD Monty Python sketches."

--Who knew fiberglass insulation was so funny–apparently both KOTH and Family Guy, that's who.

--Bart accidentally sling-shooting that cow off into the distance was a nice reminder of one of my favorite old-old-old-school Simpsons gags, Homer's attempt at trapping food in "The Call Of The Simpsons."

--I am DYING to know what "the propane death penalty" is.

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