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"Double, Double, Boy In Trouble"/"Square-Footed Monster"/"Road To Germany"/"One Little Word"

Hmm…not the best night of television, eh?

After a week off, our beloved Fox Animation Domination has returned…before taking another week off next week. But before keeping us waiting with bated breath, wondering what scary movie tropes The Simpsons will be marching out for their annual "Treehouse of Horrors" affair, Fox hits us with sub-par episodes all around. Well, King Of The Hill and American Dad weren't all that bad, but certainly not nearly as good as their best so far this season (weeks one and two, respectively).

But before going any further, I feel like I should let you guys in on something. I've been thinking a lot about The Simpsons since posting two weeks ago. Like I said before, it's hard to deny the show's incredible past and keep it from tarnishing the way we all watch the new episodes. So I decided to try as hard as I could to watch tonight's episode with absolutely no preconceived notions–as on-its-own-merits as I possibly could; after twenty years of television, it's almost like watching a completely different show now anyways. When an episode screams for a comparison, like it did last week, I may get sucked back in. But for now, I'm going to make as much effort as I can to watch the show given only recent history.

That said, what a boring, flat, contrived episode that was. Take one part unsympathetic, uninteresting Bart–who the writers have literally say, with complete nonchalance, "I don't know why I do the things I do"–and another part dopey, yell-y Homer–whose stupidity is bordering on offensive (what kind of "person" honestly thinks a doggy squeak-toy newspaper is real? Who? Honestly. He's not four)–and you've got the recipe for fleeting conflict that's forgotten as quickly as it's just starting to play out. In this case, it comes in the form of Simon Woosterfield, Bart's exact, richer double who convinces him to trade places. Simon discovers he hates poor-person food; Bart learns the rich life isn't all it's cracked up to be; Joe Montana. Hilarity.

As usual, King of the Hill stays much more grounded than its cartoonish lead-in. Hell, it was an episode about the disruption of simple values, big and small–in this case, tradition and craftsmanship. Ted, a man Kahn looks up to, is an outsider with no need for these things, and he bulldozes his way into the neighborhood determined to spark drastic change, particularly away from the redneck lifestyle the neighbors find comforting. It starts with a shoddily constructed model home, with the threat of more to come. This enrages our crew, and for the first time this season, they band together to take down Ted–figuratively and literally. They succeed, with the help of Hank's extensive knowledge of all things plywood and down spouts, but even more triumphant is their decision to built a house facade over the power station that sprouts up next door, a veritable "Fuck you" to anything that dare threaten their lifestyle.

I'm getting a little ahead of myself, though, because the big thing I felt was missing from "Square-Footed Monster" was a real feeling of the stakes involved. King Of The Hill isn't an in-your-face type of show, opting for quieter moments over verbal shock or visual spectacle. As such, it's sometimes hard for episodes to build momentum, and while this one had heart, its pace was stymied by the matter-of-fact tone.

By contrast, tonight's Family Guy was all pace, and not much else. Brian and Stewie rush to the year 1939 to rescue Mort from the Nazis, a quest that has them running through Poland, zipping away in a U-Boat, leading the British air force and sneaking into Hitler's own Berlin, coming face-to-face with the man himself. There are certainly plenty of Family Guy-style homages along the way (including a Back to the Future skateboarding stunt), none of which quite work. As one commenter smartly pointed out two weeks ago, pop-culture references on this show don't make sense if the reference is the joke. I enjoyed the Office Space gag last time because it served to further the story and was given time to complete itself; tonight's bits, though, were forced, and too quick-fire to make much of an impact. Plus they were surrounded by more chasing and more bits, and the lack of pause left the whole thing feeling cluttered. Also, Mort poops himself: Thoughts?

But thankfully, there was a not-too-bad episode of American Dad to end the evening–and in the spirit of season firsts, the first Stan-centric one. Throughout his career, Stan's wanted nothing more than to be his boss's Number One (a position that affords plenty of meals in the executive lunchroom, among other things). He finally gets his shot, but with it comes a number of unexpected responsibilities: getting his boss laid, taking care of the man's son, rescuing a captured wife from Fallujah, entertaining the plump Asian mistress (every guy's got a type…), etc. This infringes on his long-standing plans with Francine to spend a romantic Valentine's Day together, and exposes Stan as a guy who just can't say no to his boss. But he finally does, even when the man requires medical attention.

The Stan-Francine storyline played out nicely, and opened the door for a few funny bits about furries and a great line from Klaus (upon seeing Koko topless: "…and just like that, I'm gay"). But Roger demanding attention when the family turns away? More whiny distraction than anything, and we already saw this behavior two episodes ago when everyone forgets his birthday. And acting like a four year old ("Four and a half")? That's Homer Simpson's bag.


The Simpsons "Double, Double, Boy In Trouble": C

King Of The Hill "Square-Footed Monster": B

Family Guy "Road To Germany": C-

American Dad "One Little Word": B

Stray Observations:

- Scarlett Johannson joke count of the evening: 2

- McMansion reference tally: 2

- "Tight white meat": 1

- Once again, The Simpsons could at least boast some solid quick gags; in this case, it was all the Aspen stuff–from the population ("white") to the names on the storefronts (Marc-Up Jacobs).