"Chief of Hearts"/"Merlot Down Dirty Shame"

"Chief of Hearts"/"Merlot Down Dirty Shame"

It seems like there's one week every April where The Simpsons airs a new episode and there's nothing else on with it. This week was probably intended to be that week, but the unceremonious and hurried return of American Dad to the lineup meant that The Simpsons had company, even if that company was pretty far away on the schedule. Fortunately, these are the two shows I enjoy the most out of the current animated lineup, so I was hopeful that an evening where I could skip over The Cleveland Show and Family Guy would just make me appreciate each all the more. While that was true for American Dad, which had one of its best episodes of the season, The Simpsons struggled a bit, though it ended up being a winning episode.

As a side note for just how little these shows stay with me: I had to physically go and check my review of tonight's Cleveland Show episode to make sure I'd reviewed it before, because I didn't trust the Slingbox or Yahoo TV listings with describing the plot. When I read it (something about Rallo wanting to be the man of the house), I had virtually no remembrance of the episode, and I didn't trust the Internet for saying it had originally aired on Nov. 29, since I'd reviewed it, and I'd remember it surely. But, no, "From Bed to Worse" did, indeed, air on that date, and I gave it a B-, which is pretty much the me equivalent of saying, "Eh. I laughed once or twice. I dunno." (I did, however, vividly remember the Family Guy episode, which was the one where Brian was upset when no one was concerned about the death of a dog. Funny how that show sticks with you, good or bad, while some of the others just roll off your back.)

Anyway, on to the capsules, expanded this week!

The Simpsons: Let's get this out of the way first: The less said about the Marge thinks Bart is doing drugs but he's really doing some sort of new Pokemon-esque game (which is based on a real game I've seen kids playing but can't be bothered to look up) plot, the better. I get that the laughs were supposed to be in the resemblance to old sitcoms, where the parents think the kids are smoking the marijuana like a cigarette based on overhearing a few things out of context, and then when they sit down the kids to have a talk with them, they realize it's all OK. These episodes were the very weakest way for networks to not have to worry about exposing kids to seeing their "role models" using drugs, and they never made for very good episodes. Despite a promising start with Marge not knowing the gender of the kid throwing the birthday party, this plot mostly fell apart over time, and it felt as though the writers knew it too.

That said, I quite liked the other plot, which maybe wasn't the funniest thing the show's ever done (or the funniest thing it's done this season) but was a plot that played off of a character relationship the series has had little to do with in the past. I'm sure there's been a plot or two where Homer and Chief Wiggum have had to hang out, but Wiggum has always been more of a broad comic relief character than anything else. One of the most interesting things The Simpsons has done since Al Jean came back to run the show (and, believe me, there aren't all that many "interesting" things) is try to play up character relationships that either didn't exist before his return tenure or had never existed in the first place.

I'm not sure Homer and Wiggum is going to join the pantheon of great character relationships on the show, with Homer and Flanders or Mr. Burns and Smithers, but pairing the two up for a faux-buddy cop movie was pretty fun before the whole thing took a turn into someone being mad at Homer for doing something perfectly normal, thus driving the conflict through forced reasons. A lot of latter-day Simpsons episodes do this to goose the climax, since the ending of a Simpsons episode, even a good one, is usually its weakest point. This was no exception, so that keeps the episode from the heights of some of the others this season, but it's nice to see the show try new things every once in a while. Grade: B-

American Dad: It's probably hard to explain just why I laughed at this episode so much. I haven't quoted it nearly as much as The Simpsons down in the stray observations, and when you explain the main storyline - Roger is worried Stan will be upset with him after he drunkenly kissed Francine - it sounds like pretty standard sitcom misunderstanding fodder. Instead, it becomes something that gets steadily more and more genius, as Roger, clad in a disguise that makes him look like some sort of suburban lothario, progresses to more and more ridiculous ways of keeping Stan from finding out the truth from Francine. By the time Stan finally does find out (when he's buried underground, no less), the situation has progressed to such a strange place that Stan's unrestrained rage makes way more sense than the rage of the henpecked husband might on, say, Still Standing.

But, really, I'm just a sucker for any episode where the characters embark on increasingly elaborate ruses to keep another character in the dark, and both storylines in tonight's episode met that criteria. The jazz-scored montage of Roger's increasingly desperate attempts to keep Stan and Francine apart was very funny, but so was his attempt to give Francine something to eat when she was stuffed in the underground box (particularly his horror at how many calories the "healthy" chips actually had). This storyline played off of all of the best things about Roger and his relationship with both Stan and Francine, and that meant it could have coasted a lot more than it did and still been funny.

At the same time, I also really enjoyed the storyline where Klaus and Haley tried to keep Steve believing that he was lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming is one of those things that has lots of potential for laughs but never turns up in shows (or at least never turns up all that often), and the increasingly bizarre lengths that Haley and Klaus had to go to to keep the guy believing until it all ended disastrously were very, very funny. I guess that's what sets American Dad apart from the other shows. It tells coherent storylines, yes, but it's also constantly raising the stakes in those storylines in ways that make sense within its daffy universe. This maybe wasn't the funniest episode of the show ever, but it was still very well done. Grade: A-

Stray observations:

  • "Let me check the invitation. Fish theme?! That tells me nothing."
  • "It's a Japanese card game, based on a cartoon, based on an ancient religion, based on a candy bar."
  • "I'll serve anything but the community!"
  • "They call me Daddy Round Round."
  • "Not a good time to be carrying this cake."
  • "That's drug talk. But I could be mistaken. Just let me listen to a little more out of context."
  • "His left lung was filled with Shamrock Shake."
  • "Bart Simpson, are you a druggo?"
  • "I was just telling Toshi how I wanted to teach some whiny fish how to lucid dream."
  • "I'm the vagina goalie. Got it."
  • "I say we take down Steve without using our powers."
  • "Like he was when he was an ice dancer? Remember, it was his winter secret?"
  • "I got you a woman's small. I had a fat kid try it on. It looked great on him."
  • "Go home and put on your best Disneyland sweatshirt! We're goin' out!"
  • "Go kiss him while he's pooping! You know, give him a San Diego thank you."

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