Steve always seems to have to take off on the Sundays that FOX animation steps up its game. The last time I covered for him turned out to be pretty strong across the board, and tonight was another string of good to great episodes. Of course, one could argue that not having to review these shows on a weekly basis anymore makes me less likely to let resentment seep into my viewing experience, resulting in better reviews. Or maybe I just see a diamond where others see a turd. But I like to think that all of you enjoyed tonight’s lineup as much as I did. And if you didn’t, I got to laugh a lot and you didn’t, so who’s the loser in this scenario?
King Of The Hill kicked things off with a new early timeslot and a familiar plotline that nonetheless transitioned into a pretty solid episode. Bobby’s conversion from chip-slurping layabout to born-again street preacher was troublingly close to the plot of “Reborn To Be Wild,” but with a fire-and-brimstone preacher and karate-studio/storefront church instead of skateboarding Jesus punks. (Not surprisingly, Bobby seems drawn to the performance aspect of religion above all else.) And his letting Milton Street take the fall for his destruction of Hank’s papier mache Uncle Sam, and the suburban war it incited, had shades of “Revenge Of The Lutefisk” as well.
But despite the familiar elements of “Born Again On The Fourth Of July” (hell, even the name is a retread), the episode had a lot of the neighborhood shenanigans that are usually my favorite part of King Of The Hill. The Rainey Street gang’s quest to out-patriot Heck Dorland’s real fireworks and gianter flag was exceedingly silly, and KOTH is often at its best when it’s mining the silly idiosyncrasies of suburban drudgery. Sure, there was a bit of moralizing when Lucky helps Bobby realize it’s not his job to save people (“You shouldn’t go throwin’ rocks at others until you’ve thrown a bunch at yourself.”), but it all came together in a characteristically sweet way, with Bobby throwing himself in the middle of the neighborhood food fight to help the two warring factions come together over their love of bunting and fixins.
The Simpsons also relied on a few old chestnuts, plot-wise, tonight, combining the “Bart has a crush/girlfriend” angle with the “Bart and Milhouse are fighting” angle, with a little bit of jaded Lisa thrown in for good measure. Overall, though, it was a good take on the material: Milhouse, loyal second fiddle that he is, takes the fall for Bart’s pretty ingenious prank of unscrewing every last screw in Springfield Elementary. Bart promises to visit Milhouse during his weeklong suspension (which cruelly coincides with Taco Wednesday), but is soon sidetracked by having to conceal his bad-boy tendencies from his new crush, a do-gooder cutie pie named Jenny (voiced by Anne Hathaway). When a spurned Milhouse returns, he threatens to derail their relationship by revealing that Bart isn’t the incredible combination of Habitat For Humanity and The Jonas Bros. that she thinks he is. Meanwhile, Lisa, after somehow stumbling on to an online repository of apocalyptic newspaper headlines from the future (anyone got that URL?), becomes so jaded and depressed she’s put on Focusyn—shit, I mean Ignoritol—a miracle drug that causes the world around her to morph into a sea of yellow smiley faces.
“Good, Sad and Drugly” benefited from a pretty straightforward A story—no weird digressions or preludes that go nowhere—and a minimum of Homer-centric buffoonery. Keeping the action focused on Bart kept things simple and damn near heartwarming at times, particularly the nice capper where he goes to apologize to Milhouse instead of trying to win back Jenny. It was a nice reminder of the humanity that used to pulse beneath The Simpsons, before it transitioned to the more manic, sometimes cynical show we see today. There were also some pretty nice gags, both of the visual—the fallen letters of the Springfield Elementary sign turning into cartoon-y “Z”s next to a knocked-out Willie—and quotable—“Seal the deal! Punch her, punch her!”—varieties. Lisa’s “concurrent storyline” about environmental despair could have been left out entirely, though—since when does Lisa need a storyline of her own in order to tell Bart what he should do?
Family Guy showed admirable restraint tonight with its pot-centric plot, only falling back on the old burned-out pothead cliché once or twice—and once with pretty funny results. (“I don’t know, here’s a list of celebrities I don’t like.”) More importantly though, it turned in a truly spectacular musical number, “Everything’s Better With A Bag Of Weed.” I’ve accused the Family Guy writers of laziness once or twice in the past, but musical numbers like this reassure me that they’re still capable of reaching beyond easy cutaways for laughs. Also, I’m a sucker for a Helen Keller joke.
Reviewing Family Guy pretty much always boils down to comparing the ratio of gags that worked to gags that didn’t, and “420” landed pretty solidly in the plus column. (Hooray for mixed mathematical metaphors! And alliteration!) I didn’t care for most of the “cute widdle kitty” Quagmire stuff that made up the prologue—and I certainly didn’t like Peter killing the cat six times—but the musical number, the “I’m a Family Guy” line, and the callback to Brian’s novel were all winners in my book. Well, mostly the musical number.
American Dad benefited tonight from its best character pairing formula, Stan/Steve and Roger/Francine (and Haylie, but she’s no fun). Stan and Steve go on a road trip to pick up a door for the DeLorean that Stan’s been secretly building piece by piece for six years, which results in male bonding, a bunch of Back To The Future references, and the best WTF-so-funny line of the night, “I saw the face of God in that big sticky.” Meanwhile, Roger, Francine, and Haylie spend their time at home “pitching” what escapade they should get into while the boys are gone, eventually settling on crashing the French Ambassador’s party after shooting down trapeze school, raising awareness about hare-lipped children, and locking David Blaine in a refrigerator. Obviously, Roger chooses the option involving full period costumes and gibberish French.
The Stan/Steve pairing almost always makes for the best American Dad episodes because their strained relationship affords the opportunity for both awkward humor (Stan’s horrified reaction to Steve spilling cottage cheese on him) and heartwarming (ish) reconciliation (Stan giving up the car door to the other DeLorean Door Seeker so that he and Steve could continue to have a “thing”). Combined with a roadtrip plot, which means lots of wacky encounters (polite bikers, vengeful SUV-driving Asian, the Libyans), it made for an excellent episode that balanced its twisted humor with solid storytelling.
King Of The Hill, “Born Again On The Fourth Of July”: B
The Simpsons, “Good, Sad And Drugly”: B+
Family Guy, “420”: B
American Dad, “DeLorean Story-An”: A
• “You rednecks are as useless as a bucket full of armpits!”
• “Hank, you check the liquor cabinet, I’ll check between his toes for needle marks!”
• Jenny brings specialized cookies to the old folks, including chocolate chip, low sodium, not made by immigrants, and imaginary.
• Lisa’s rockin’ the iMac. Between that and the flat screen, the Simpson family has surpassed me in terms of technology. This is a sad day for me.
• I hate to admit how much I giggled when Peter farted in response to Brian’s sermon about the smear campaign against marijuana. And yet I just did.
• Hey, tomorrow’s 4/20 bros!
• “Your friend can’t stay for dinner, this isn’t a Stove-Top stuffing commercial!”
• “A DeLorean? Are you running coke?”
• “Not sure if anyone’s gonna pick up a half-naked 42-year-old and his young boy companion. Just sayin’.”
• This might not be the best place for this, but what the hell: Is anyone watching Party Down on Starz? Not that anyone actually has Starz, but you can watch it on Netflix. It's pretty fan-fucking-tabulous. Just sayin.