Bob’s Burgers: “Art Crawl”; Family Guy: “Trading Places; The Cleveland Show: “To Live And Die In VA”
C+

Bob’s Burgers: “Art Crawl”; Family Guy: “Trading Places; The Cleveland Show: “To Live And Die In VA”

Bob's Burgers: It's a great feeling to be there when a show filled with potential suddenly fulfills it. First off, because you can get the feeling that you're special for being one of the few million who was actually there, live, when Bob's Burgers went from good to great. Second of all, because you can't stop laughing at how ridiculously good “Art Crawl” is. Bob's Burgers has been developing several different threads, and they all work really well here: the ineffectual liberal antagonists, Bob's stubbornness when things don't work the way he thinks they should, Gene and Tina's absurd asides, Louise's megalomania, and Linda's intense willingness to make sure everything goes smoothly.

There's also a new world record for number of times the word “anus” is uttered on a major network over the course of half an hour.

There's an “Art Crawl” in Bob's neighborhood, and Linda's sister is hanging up art in Bob's Burgers. The art consists entirely of animal anuses. The kids, naturally, love it. Bob and Linda hate it, as do the customers, but when the Art Crawl chairperson comes and censors it, well, Bob will have none of that. So he turns his shop into anus painting central. Meanwhile, Louise sees how well the crap on the Art Crawl is selling, so she turns Gene and Tina into sweatshop laborers to turn a quick buck. When they fail, she finds a few really weird neighborhood kids and puts them to more successful work. One predictable twist aside, that's the bulk of the plot, but it's not the plot that makes this episode work.

The key difference between this and earlier episodes is that the brakes get taken off Bob's character. We saw some of this two weeks ago when he befriended the transvestite hookers. He's moved out of the protective, small-c conservative dad and into a slightly deeper, slightly more flawed, and much, much funnier character. His rampage in the competing art store is one of the best scenes the show has done, because it makes perfect sense for the character, yet it's absolutely absurd in practice—egged on by his kids, he slaps anuses on every painting in the place.

A few weeks ago, Alan Sepinwall dropped in on Bob's Burgers and identified one of its strengths as its willingness to get really weird while maintaining a strong emotional core. The weirdness is in full, excessive force in this episode, though the emotional core is a little low. That makes me worry a bit that this might be a similar situation to early Family Guy, which built humor over the corpse of character-building. But Bob's Burgers has been reasonably consistent with its characters and could be on the verge of something consistently special. A

Family Guy: Once again, we get an episode-long Family Guy experiment with sentimentality and conventional structure. The setup for the episode is that the kids and the parents both think the other side has it easy. So they switch for a week, hilarious complications ensue, and lessons are learned. Fortunately, Family Guy plays the sitcom structure straight, with minimal winking at the audience (possibly learning a lesson from The Cleveland Show's mugging, winking “live” sitcom episode), which keeps the episode moving and relatively entertaining. Unfortunately, it's a little short on big laughs, Family Guy's biggest strength.

It does manage to keep a pleasant set of chuckles going. The Interminable Family Guy Anti-Humor Joke of the Week comes early and seems better than most, with Lois' dad renting a backhoe to destroy things Peter loves, and then trying and oh-so-slowly destroying a random sidewalk bench. I don't know that I can describe why I thought this one worked, but it's my job, so I'll try: It flows both naturally from the character of Lois' dad and from the situation, in which he has a new piece of machinery that he really wants to use for a dumb reason, but since he just got it, he can't. So it combined the usual absurd premise of random destruction with an emotional core: Using machinery for the first time is hard. From this, humor is derived. Or perhaps it was the brandy. Or perhaps residual goodwill from the excellent Bob's Burgers episode.

The straightforward way in which Family Guy played its silly little premise actually allowed for the show to make some small steps towards emotional connection. The eventual moral—life sucks, but family might make it worthwhile—surprisingly felt earned, if cliché. It also gave the kids more to do than just be punching bags for annoying jokes. Chris is given a decent episode where he's not just treated as a moron, and Meg isn't insulted every time she walks on the screen. I wrote some time back that it might be impossible for Family Guy to actually successfully use sentimentality, but this episode made me wonder if it may yet be possible. Whether that's a good thing remains to be seen. I prefer Family Guy to be shockingly funny, but too often, it only gets shocking instead of funny. B

The Cleveland Show: Cleveland singing “Everybody Hurts” is an entertaining start to the episode, but when it turns into The Lester and Kendra Show, I lose interest fast. In a show filled with flat characters, these white trash stereotypes are both terrible and unfunny. That said, given that it's an episode focused on some of my least favorite characters, it's moderately tolerable. The B-plot, with Rallo finding a cool barbershop and Cleveland Jr. learning to become a hairdresser, is actually pretty entertaining. Decent enough to watch if that's what you're doing, but don't go out of your way for it. C+

Amusing Lines and Tidbits for your Edification and Enjoyment:

  • “Let's just walk around here and make fun of this.” Tina's suggestion that they leave the Art Crawl for a museum is soundly rejected.
  • “You smell like ointment and pee!” “No, YOU smell like ointment and pee!!!”
  • “Yeah! Anuses!” Gene's asides are especially good in this episode.
  • “Horse butt.” But Tina's asides are especially good in this episode.
  • “Milk, milk, lemonade, around the corner where the art is made.” Okay, this could be ephemeral pop trash reference, which is not normally my thing, but there's something special about “Milk Milk Lemonade,” arguably the worst piece of anything ever to exist ever. Fuck you, Katy Perry and her writers and anyone else who thought this was a good idea. "Milk Milk Lemonade:" Never forget!
  • “ninjarobotninjarobotninjarobotninjarobot....” Gene prepares himself for the pain.
  • “What knife?” “What are you doing with that knife?”
  • “No, Bobby! No leveling!”
  • “Step into the butt closet!” “I will not!” “You should try it.” “I will not!!”
  • “This one big enough for ya', Edith? AHAHAHAHA!”
  • “No water, Harold!” “Pleaaaaassseeeee.....”
  • “You call that an anus??”
  • “This is what God must feel like.”
  • Linda's Dumbo anus dream is magical.
  • “I got this one, Dad.”
  • “Too late! I already narrowed my eyes!”
  • “It's like putting your penis to sleep in a featherbed.”
  • Peter's Columbine joke isn't the worst thing ever. Good on you, Family Guy.
  • “I would suggest that you suck that.”
  • Stewie's prepared to trade places with Brian. “Hey, I forget. Were you in for this or not?”
  • “Now I'm mad at you!”
  • “Let's see the money.”
  • “Well, then I guess I can't help you with that. Little smartass.” A rare moment of cartoon lucidity from Donna.
  • “You're pretty. Prettier than I'll ever be!”
  • “I have swank in my eyes!”
  • “My name is Glenn Quag-mire and I say gig-get-ty....” Yes,Cleveland Show, if that's the alternative, I will grant that you have a reason for existing.
  • “My chair is a no-stress zone.”
  • “Just because we're black doesn't mean we have to pretend Barbershop was a good movie.”
  • Both Bob's Burgers and The Cleveland Show use the “shh shh shhhhhhh” joke when a character is protesting. Is this a thing? It was great when Community did it, sure, but gender-bending elfsex is special. I'm worried that this joke might be overstaying its welcome. Where did it come from anyway?

More TV Club