So your friend and mine Steve Heisler is otherwise detained this evening, which means that I will be guiding you through the season finales of the Fox animated bloc (depending on when, exactly, Fox chooses to burn off the leftover King of the Hills it has). I watch these shows every week, but I can't say I've been terribly engaged with any of them not named American Dad, despite the occasional amusing episode from all of them. I still say The Simpsons is better than it was five or six seasons ago, but it's the sort of good where it's just a nice capper to the weekend. King of the Hill behaves similarly (though I hope Fox gives it a few extra episodes to plot out an actual series finale, as it would be the first long-running animated show to get a chance to do a planned series finale and could thus set the template). Family Guy has mostly been coasting this season and also mostly been really bad. American Dad, however, while not at the level Simpsons or King of the Hill were at in their past, has evolved into a genuinely enjoyable show in its past two seasons, differentiating its characters in a smart fashion and coming up with some good, character-based plots. It, too, can be bad, but it's had a better batting average.
(Also, I realize all of you have discussed this in past weeks, but I suppose it's good to let you all know where I stand on these shows, and season finale time always prompts a bit of looking back over what's come before.)
The Simpsons: If you could ignore the fact that The Simpsons already did a pretty great episode about immigration (season seven's "Much Apu About Nothing"), then "Coming to Homerica" was a pretty solid episode of The Simpsons, particularly for a latter-day season. The episode started strong, with a handful of strong jokes about eco-crazy Springfield residents buying Krusty's new burger made from barley, but where it really took off was when all of the people of Ogdenville moved to Springfield, bringing their Ogdenville culture with them. Perhaps it's the upper Midwest in me, but I do enjoy a good string of Norwegian jokes, and almost all of these were just weird enough to work, especially hearing the Ogdenville guy sneeze (and then having Homer catch the same sneeze). The episode kinda went downhill after the town meeting that concluded with Mr. Largo being chased from the room, xylophone around his neck, largely due to Homer's "xylophobia," and the "Ogdenvillians and Springfield folks becoming friends while building the border wall" climax was fairly predictable, but the strength of the first two acts made this one of the better episodes of the season. The commentary on immigration issues was pretty toothless, but The Simpsons has mostly abdicated the hard-hitting political satire throne anyway. Question, though: Did Marge's attitudes toward the Ogdenville immigrants seem a little all over the place to anyone else? Grade: B+
King of the Hill: Too bad, then, that the last King of the Hill that might ever air had to follow that Simpsons, especially as it had a heaping helping of Canada humor (which seems more ubiquitous on television than usual as of late), which is all but indistinguishable from Norwegian humor for the most part. Hell, Khan even said people wanted to build a wall on the wrong border! Canada humor is so ever-present in the culture that to do it right you have to either get really specific about the oddities of Canadian life or just make stuff up. King of the Hill didn't go far enough in either direction, bringing up Canadian mowers but also just relying on a free-floating and not-specific-enough "Canadians don't like American ways and vice versa" vibe to get through the episode. Sure, the climax where Hank, et al., kinda sorta realized the error of their ways was nice as it usually is, but the episode just wasn't that funny. And since this is the last time we may see this once terrific show (though it seems likely Fox will eventually air the remaining episodes - rumored to be six in number - at some point), that was disheartening. But, hey, at least we got to learn Boomhauer's first name finally. Grade: C
Family Guy: Critic Jaime Weinman's "Why I Hate Family Guy," written back in 2004 when it was still considered kind of shocking to write something against the show on the Internet, still strikes me as the most succinct takedown of the show, particularly as it gets at something that few other critiques of the show have ever gotten into: Family Guy is not as shocking as it thinks it is. The sorts of gross-out gags it goes for are not of the sort that would genuinely provoke its 18-34-year-old male audience but instead make that audience THINK it was watching something shocking. That said, loading up tonight's unfortunate and unfunny flashback to Peter's past life in England and colonial America with lots of incest gags was genuinely queasy-making, but not in a way that made anyone laugh from the shock of recognition or anything like that. It was just an easy, lazy gag. "Hey, wouldn't it be funny if Peter slept with Meg in the past?" Harping on Family Guy feels way too easy at this point, but this season has pretty much coasted, with no episodes that managed to hit the sorts of heights that the show has been capable of in the past. Family Guy is never going to be one of the all-time greats (it doesn't have the interest in telling stories or keeping its characters consistent to do that), but it can be damn funny when it wants to be (witness tonight's gag with the Fox promos that take up the bottom quarter of the screen). It just seems less interested in doing anything original at this point, instead choosing to rest on what laurels it has. Grade: D
American Dad: On the other hand, despite both shows having How I Met Your Mother gags, of all things, American Dad continues to show off why it's the best thing Seth MacFarlane ever put his name on, despite the fact that every time I say this, people stare at me quizzically and say, "You like that show? Really?" Honestly, for reals, though, I do, and tonight's episode, while not as good as some of the earlier really good ones this season, was a good example of why. It told two fairly coherent and well-thought-out stories, one featuring Stan's night out with the guys going all different directions of wrong and the other showing Haley and Roger having a battle to see who was more attractive. (Side note: Is Haley the most attractive female of the Fox Sunday night animation domination lineup? Discuss.) Both stories were sort of predictably unpredictable. They wandered in interesting directions, but never in a way where you were genuinely surprised or shocked by what happened. The fact that American Dad is sort of playing in sandboxes that have been picked through so thoroughly means it's never going to surprise, I suppose, but that's kind of a good thing. The episode's major failing was that it never found anything to do with Steve, the one character who can be interesting with any of the other characters (Roger's enjoyable enough, but his petty rivalries with Haley can be grating). Stan's night out with the guys, though, was a fun redo of the old sitcom standby, where things just get worse and worse and worse. American Dad does these kinds of farcical stories well, and the conclusion where Stan relied on the earlier information about how to start a mower tied everything together well and resulted in a pretty fun twist. I look forward to more American Dad next season, and that's not something I'm sure I would have said at the start of this season. And I say that especially if Cheesers comes back for more. Grade: B
- ABC seems to be burying Mike Judge's King of the Hill follow-up The Goode Family on Wednesdays in the summer. Is King of the Hill going to be the only time Judge gets treated well by a major network or studio? And even that show was bounced around the schedule quite a bit after its first two years (when it was a genuine sensation, as people seem to forget fairly often).
- Anybody like our look at The Cleveland Show, already picked up for two seasons? How about those bits with Stewie and Eminem, resulting in the MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT that Eminem was ... uh ... going on tour? And streaming his album?
- "The real drowningest catch is man."
- "I am afraid of xylophones. It's the music you hear when skeletons are dancing."
- "It's like that one grape in the bunch that never gets to be a grape."
- "Nathan! Stop it! This is why you keep getting molested!"
- "Now, Cheesers! Coward!"