It’s the second week of Animation Domination, and most of the night’s shows are already coasting. Been hoping you might get to see a Simpsons episode that gives a tertiary character what seems like a promising storyline, then devolves into weak satire? Wondering just how The Cleveland Show would try to forge its own identity while also pretty much copying its parent show? Looking for Family Guy to wander into a half hour of broad, politically incorrect “jokes”? Then tonight was probably the night for you. Thank goodness, then, for American Dad, which came up with something pretty great that managed to work as character-based story, easy political satire and weird tale of sexual obsession. It wasn’t the greatest thing ever, but in comparison to everything else, it seemed like Shakespeare (which, let’s not forget, Peter Griffin doesn’t know so much about).
Let’s go to the tape.
The Simpsons: I know a lot of fans complain when The Simpsons goes to an episode that prominently features a supporting character who’s previously been not all that interesting, but I don’t mind it. The Springfield ensemble is so deep and under-utilized much of the time that I’m cool with an episode that delves into the loneliness of one Edna Krabappel. A lot of the Springfield folk these days are pretty much one joke characters (I’d hate to see a full episode about that irritating Italian restaurant guy), but Edna has always managed to have a loneliness to her that keeps her more than just the woman who hates teaching kids like Bart. Granted, the storyline here – Bart gets Edna fired, then tries to get her back – has already been done by the show many times over (usually with Skinner), but it was promising for offering us a glimpse into Mrs. Krabappel’s life, consisting of sitting alone at home with her cat and listening to songs by Paul McCartney and Wings. But the story here, in true Simpsons fashion, tries to incorporate way too much, and in true latter-day Simpsons fashion, feels like it was written by a bunch of elderly people. The jokes about how the kids today have too many gadgets and the text messaging and the Twitter and the OMG were all kinds of on-the-nose, and the shoehorned in storyline about the preponderance of muffin shops might have been relevant 18 months ago when people cared about The Secret. So I liked the Krabappel and Bart stuff, but everything else was pretty bad. Grade: C+
The Cleveland Show: I’ve seen three episodes of The Cleveland Show, and so far, this is my favorite. This probably doesn’t bode well for many of you, but I liked the story here, even if the jokes weren’t exactly funny (though there’s something so amusing in Mike Henry’s delivery as the title character that I can’t help but laugh at some of the stuff he says). Probably the most important thing The Cleveland Show can do to make the rest of the show work is believably play out the conflict in Cleveland trying to integrate himself and Cleveland Jr. with his new family, and this episode did a good job of starting down that road with the slightly too-convoluted storyline about Cleveland trying to get Roberta to go with him to a father-daughter dance and in the process somehow running over Rallo’s dog on his way to get an ice cream cake (yeah, it wasn’t the clearest storyline in the world, but the emotional beats made sense). Still, the series is burdened by this need to continue to do cutaway gags that end up going on way, way too long, like Cleveland’s YouTube video for Roberta or his take on Halle Berry’s Oscar speech (which mostly just seemed to exist to show him in a dress). Fortunately, there were far fewer cutaway gags here than you might have expected for a Family Guy spinoff, and the story itself was mostly pretty strong. It’s still not terrific, but this felt like a solid step in the right direction. Grade: B
Family Guy: This, on the other hand, I laughed at a few times, but I still mostly disliked the episode, wherein the show continued its quest to produce as many episodes as possible where one of the letters in "Guy" is replaced by another letter to create an episode title (see also: "Family Gay"). In particular, the cutaway gag where Peter had a turf war with a feral cat was really funny, and I liked most of the things Stewie did in the episode (including when he said he hated his life after Peter stole the wood from his crib to make a cross). But overall, the episode was just an excuse to drag out a bunch of tired Jewish jokes and also have Peter briefly descend into anti-Semitism. Why did he do this? Because he was approached by the ghost of his father and told he could go to Hell if he didn’t give up the Jewish stuff. Why was he a Jew? Because Lois discovered her mother was actually a Jew at one time. I get that there’s rarely rhyme or reason to a Family Guy storyline, but in the early days of the show, they’d at least try to make the spine they hung jokes off of make some sort of logical sense. Now, it pretty much just feels like they come up with some ideas for gags and then retrofit a completely random story to hang the jokes off of. Sure, some of the jokes are funny (again, I enjoyed the Shakespeare cutaway), but the show feels so calculated and lecture-y now that it’s hard to derive a lot of pleasure from them as they float on by. Grade: C-
American Dad: This, though, was pretty funny throughout. The idea of tossing Roger into the middle of a banana republic and making him the dictator was inspired, especially as his personal obsessions somehow made him even more of a power-mad ruler than the old guy. American Dad’s political satire is always as broad and non-specific as possible, but this was a pretty amusing take on the U.S.’ relations with Latin American countries as well, and the attempts to tie everything in to some sort of personal story involving the characters – specifically Roger’s desire to have Stan be his best friend and go pants shopping with him – worked better than it sometimes does. Even the random gags were a cut above tonight, like both Roger and Klaus waiting to go hiking in S&M gear. The plot where Steve and Snot competed to see who could get whose mom to fondle whom in the most egregious fashion was a little overly broad, to be honest, but enough of the lines were amusing that the plot worked almost in spite of itself. American Dad sometimes wins the animation week by default, but this episode was actually and genuinely a fun piece of television. Grade: A-
- I’m going to try to add Sit Down, Shut Up’s final episodes to the write-ups next week, since they’re now airing on late night Saturdays. This week, I couldn’t, as I completely forgot about it. (As has most of America.) But three of you have demanded it, and so shall I deliver.
- "Available wherever dubious, quasi-scientific self-help books are sold!"
- "I'm a Simpson, and a Simpson never gives up until he tries at least one easy thing."
- R. Crumb's Keep on Muffin'.
- "Hooray for the Browns and Tubbses!"
- "Wow, Dad. Where did you get all that glistening chest hair?"
- "And my favorite part of my trip to China was the panda bears. The end."
- "You know that sketch of the nude man in the wheel? Blueprints for a rape machine."
- "Great. Now I have to get another imaginary job." (I say this all the time.)
- "Diving for a touchpass. Y'know. Sportball."
- "Steve, I now have no choice but to get your mom to accidentally handle my nardlebangers."
- "You're such a Pollyanna. I bet you kiss prostitutes."
- "Welcome to Bananarama, where it's party time all the time."
- "The Generalissimo dies tonight. I have painted my children for the last time."