Regarding tonight's episode of The Simpsons, I think I have to refer to the words of the ever-wise Lenny Leonard: "Well, I thought every part of it was good, but overall, I hated it."
So much about "E. Pluribus Wiggum" seemed right: relevant, current material; smart, erudite references (a World Bank joke AND a Patriot Act joke–both from none other than Homer Jay himself); Jon freakin' Stewart and Dan "The Man" Rather; and lotsa Wiggum-y goodness sprinkled throughout. Hell, even the plot was relatively digression-free, which almost never happens these days. So why did it all seem so unsatisfying in the end?
Socio-political satire on The Simpsons is nothing new, but over the years we've gone from the cheeky mockery of "Two Cars In Every Garage And Three Eyes On Every Fish" to a parade of political caricatures and tired observations: Dennis Kucinich is short! Hillary has Bill whipped! Yawn! Even when it's funny ("Ha-ha! Your medium is dying!"), it feels rehashed. Perhaps the influx of political humor over the past decade or so (The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, that one satirical newspaper whose name I can't remember) has made it harder to do satire without resorting to one-liners.
Then there was that ending; for the second episode in a row, The Simpsons has gone out with a resounding "huh??" "Eternal Moonshine Of The Simpson Mind" left us with that strange "The End?" teaser, and this week we were left with another head-scratcher: Is Ralph's candidacy going to be revisited? Or have the writers become so accustomed to the show's "reset" mentality that they don't even bother to wrap up storylines anymore, knowing that it won't matter in a week? At any rate, who wants to take bets on how long it takes for "Wiggum '08" T-shirts to hit the net?
It's too bad Noel Murray has placed an injunction on a certain three-letter non-committal adjective 'round here, 'cause it sure would be useful in describing tonight's King Of The Hill. Alas, I'll just have to say that "Doggone Crazy" left me feeling neither elated nor enraged–really, just kind of sleepy. When I read the synopsis of tonight's episode, I had high hopes, as Ladybird episodes usually tend to be exemplums of how well KOTH can straddle humor and pathos ("Hank's Choice," "Pregnant Paws," "To Kill A Ladybird"). Tonight's episode, though, was deficient in both regards.
While Hank walking with an invisible top hat and walking stick in order to assert his dominance over a disobedient Ladybird was chuckle-worthy, it was no "Ladybird Hill you're beautiful." And while it was sweet to see Ladybird bonding with the nursing-home residents, the last-minute "waitaminute, she's deaf, everything's okay now" resolution was a little baffling. As the owner of a very old, very deaf, very fat beagle, I can attest that watching your beloved pet's health deteriorate is heart-wrenching, and I was expecting a little more on this front, especially after Cotton's death earlier in the season; it seems like this might be the season of "big changes" on KOTH (assuming Baby Platter-Kleinscmidt ever shows up), so why the cop-out? Was I the only one who thought this might be the last we saw of Ladybird Hill?
As much as it surprises me to say it (and as much shit as I'm sure some of you will give me for saying it), American Dad was the big winner for me tonight, laughs-wise. Maybe it has to do with the fact that both The Simpsons and KOTH looked like they were going to be great, then didn't deliver; American Dad, on the other hand, took a pretty average, sitcom-y storyline and tweaked it all the right ways. Each character was utilized in their best way: Roger was über-Lyndeian, Francine was the perfect waif-bitch hybrid, Stan was a jerk, but not ridiculously so, and Haylie, Steve, and Klaus provided zany background antics. And the wigs! So many Roger disguises this week!
Despite the fact that American Dad's humor is the most inherently fragmented, this episode felt the most complete of the three tonight. There were lots of extended, offbeat gags, but they all made sense in context: Francine's panicked inner monologue ("Clapping!"), Stan fucking with Francine after she fake-kidnapped Roger, the montage of Roger's past bitchery. And while Steve's incessant background dancing and Haylie and Klaus' "Dare or Dare" hijinks could have been obnoxious, they were sprinkled so nonchalantly and consistently throughout that they became a delightfully silly counterpoint to the shrillness of the main storyline. There, I said it. Flame away.
The Simpsons, "E. Plurbius Wiggum": B-
King Of The Hill, "Doggone Crazy": C+
American Dad, "Frannie 911": A
--Another extended couch gag on The Simpsons this week. Between that, the parody of political show video packages, and the attack ad, there seemed to be a lot of filler in this episode.
--I love how Mr. Non-Sequitur himself, Ralph Wiggum, becomes "the master of the soundbite" in the world of media spin.
--I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who keeps bacon in my pocket in case of emergency. Kudos to you, Bill Dautrive.
--The "hunt for Ladybird" climax on KOTH was very well done: the pacing was almost cinematic and created an appropriately tense atmosphere. I think KOTH is the only one of these four shows that has the balls to do such an extended, joke-free segment.
--"There's got to be an explanation. Is it Gallagher day?" "Do you see a Gallagher tree Francine?" Further proof that Gallagher is always funny–except when it's actually, you know, Gallagher.