With the addition of Bob's Burgers, Fox's Animation bloc is now five shows, running two-and-a-half hours. For some reason, this felt much, much longer than it did at even four shows. This could be because most of the shows were mediocre this week, but I do think that the extra addition turns the process into more of a marathon. Did you make it through all five shows? Did it seem excessive?
American Dad: The put-upon housewife breaks free is a staple of most family-based sitcoms, at least, that rather high percentage of sitcoms that has put-upon housewives. I think The Simpsons does it once every other season, and I doubt this is the first time American Dad has done it. So it's with that half-hearted premise American Dad hopes to hook you in its new 7:30 timeslot. It gets off to a decent start, with a clever little split-screen montage of Francine's repetitive days making breakfast and dinner, vacuuming every room. When she breaks down into a fantasy of stabbing Roger in the neck, beheading Stan, and breaking Steve's neck, it leads indirectly to her getting a week of “Francine getting to know Francine” at a classy hotel.
She decides to use this time in order to impersonate a big-time concrete saleswoman at a concrete conference. She enjoys the experience of being an independent family-less woman so much that she gets more and more into the character. Meanwhile, Steve becomes enamored with a woman in a painting, and the hotel's concierge sends him back in time to meet the woman. It ends up most disappointing for him, and the time travel plot does come into play when Francine, 10 years later, uses it to stop herself from being a heartless career woman. Stan, lost in a pathetically-unable-to-dress-himself joke, barely appears in the episode.
I'm not sure if it's Stan's absence that holds "Fart-break Hotel" back, but other than a few lines here and there, the episode just doesn't bring the laughs. There are some conceptual jokes that inspire smiles, like the magical, Platonic concierge, and a few good lines but not much beyond that to salvage a tired premise. C
The Simpsons: When I read the press release listing the guest stars (Scott Thompson! Alyson Hannigan! Kristen Wiig!), the gay panic premise, and the episode title, I wasn't sure if I should be excited or frightened. I should have just picked excited, because this was a very good episode of The Simpsons. The guest stars added instead of subtracting, it had a gently satirical inverse of gay panic jokes, and it was pretty damn funny.
Mr. Burns has written his will and doesn't leave anything to Smithers. When Smithers confronts him about it, Burns tells him that until Smithers becomes a self-made man, he can't be respected. So, a depressed Smithers tries to go to the local gay bar, where he's made fun of for only working out six hours a day. He turns to Moe's, where Moe is also depressed about lack of clientele. Smithers decides to solve both of their problems by turning Moe's into Mo's, a classy gentlemen's club for gays. It sounds strained when I write it out like that, and I can't say that it's not, but I can say that it's relatively painless on the screen, thanks to fun gags like Mr. Burns sneezing his skull open, or riding a dinosaur in an old silent film in his dementia.
The success of Mo's causes Springfield Elementary's music teacher to quit his job, and he ends up replaced by Miss Juniper (voiced by Wiig), a hippie so joyous and beautiful that Principal Skinner falls in love with her. He recruits Bart to ask her daughter out, so that they can double-chaperone date, bringing in the almost-always charming Alyson Hannigan as the daughter. Hannigan is sadly underused (her character seems like like a young Willow, though I may just be projecting), only appearing in a few scenes. This plot doesn't really connect to the main plot in any way after the start, and it seems like it should have been its own episode, but it's still surprisingly charming.
Meanwhile, Moe is leading his new gay clientele on, afraid to say that he's not actually gay (“At first I was only gay for your money”) in a nice inverse of the usual plot where straight dudes who get perceived as gay run towards heterosexuality as fast as they possibly can. To be honest, I sympathized with Moe—Moe, the only character on The Simpsons who makes Mr. Burns look good!—in this case, as a straight dude who ends up flirting with gay men when I hang out with them too much. I dig it, though in this episode, Smithers doesn't, and he forces Moe to come out as straight when Moe starts pulling a Milk and running for office.
One of the interesting things about the episode is that, until the end, the word “gay” isn't used. It's always “you know, people like you” and “one of them.” I thought they were trying to make some kind of satirical point about the way homosexuality is used on television, but then it's largely given up at the end, when the characters start using the term after all.
Yet I'm spending most of the time here discussing plot and politics, which are important, but I'm not mentioning the raison d'etre of the comedy, which is, uh, the comedy. And it was good. The drag queens talking shit about Marge's hair and voice was damn funny. Moe starting to vogue and everyone in the bar (including Homer and Marge) jumping in was equally amusing. This combined with good character moments for Moe and Skinner, as well as handling a potentially tasteless concept with deftness. It's another strong Simpsons episode in a surprisingly strong season. B+
Bob's Burgers: This show is basically a live-action sitcom dressed up in animation. I recall The Simpsons starting off in much the same fashion, and perhaps there are parallels to be drawn between the two show in their first few episodes. But as I recall, part of The Simpsons' initial success was its novelty—it was a cartoon, but grown-ups could like it, maybe even more than kids!—and Bob's Burgers certainly won't have that advantage going forward. It does have a certain casual kind of charm, but bringing in the “evil mother-in-law comes to visit!” storyline in just the second week doesn't do it any favors. Hell, it took No Ordinary Family like six episodes to get that far.
As a side note, one of the most jarring things about the first episode was the men voicing two of the female characters. I agree that it was initially disconcerting, but I recall feeling exactly that same way about the first episode or two of The Boondocks, with its adult women voicing young boys. And it was less dissonant today, although I will say that Kristen Schaal as the youngest daughter, Louise, has been the best part of both episodes so far.
Bob doesn't like his mother-in-law, so while exploring his attic, he finds himself in his crawlspace and decides to pretend to be trapped in there until she leaves. Naturally, this backfires, as his pretend-entrapment turns out to be entirely real, and the mother-in-law decides to stay until things get cleared up. He goes quickly insane, and it ends up driving his kids slightly more subtly insane. Bob and the kids' interactions when he's intentionally trapped in the crawlspace are the best part of the episode, though his insanity with an anthropomorphized children's nightlight is pretty funny as well. Most everything else falls flat, though, especially a ham-handed monologue about how the school's guidance counselor shouldn't judge the family unless he has kids of his own. That's the kind of earnestness that The Simpsons made a killing by subverting, and Bob's Burgers would do well to learn that lesson. C
Family Guy: I don't have much to say about tonight's Family Guy. Last week, we had some comments about how Family Guy seems to be willing to play with its format this season. That didn't happen this week at all. There were a few scatological jokes, one extended bit of anti-humor, a plot that involved one of the Griffins being a terrible person and also being humiliated, and an homage to an old TV show. There really wasn't much more to the episode than that. It was boring, and that's the cardinal sin for a Family Guy episode.
Lois is a big fan of the new local news anchor, since she isn't involved in a plot to murder multiple people including Lois herself, which is understandable. Lois and the anchorwoman, Joyce, apparently become good buddies, involving them going out for drinks and sharing dirty dark secrets. Lois tells Joyce that she once made a porno, and the next night, Joyce treats it like big news, telling everyone in town that Lois is a hussy. Turns out that Lois was once involved in a vicious prank against Joyce in high school, and this was all an elaborate revenge plot! It isn't funny, and it's not good character development either. Having a previously unknown flashback as the big reveal feels like cheating, if you're inclined to view Family Guy as consistent (which I'm not, but after last week, maybe they're turning over a new leaf?).
Lois ends up taking some advice from Brian about owning her embarrassment, which she does, by showing her porno in church. Conceptually, this works, but in practice, it's pretty dull, which is the opposite of how Family Guy usually operates. Though the priest calling Lois “the burning bush” when she walks in is a nice touch. Can't save the episode, though. C-
The Cleveland Show: Maybe it's just the luck of the draw, but one of the things I've noticed in the previous Cleveland episodes I've covered has been a lack of Roberta. This was rectified with tonight's episode, but I perhaps should not be too surprised that it changed virtually none of my opinions about The Cleveland Show.
I was also dreading this episode since it was advertised as having special Glee guest voices, but happily, that fear was alleviated when the whole thing turned out to be a 20-second joke where the characters just said a couple reductionist words. It was surprisingly clever and mercifully unobtrusive.
At any rate, there's some kind of carnival in town, and the Brown family attends. Donna and Roberta usually sing a song together, but Roberta's too busy being a Generic Bitchy Teenaged Girl and hangs out with her friends instead. Donna goes to Cleveland for advice, but that doesn't work, so she leaves Roberta in his hands. Things don't go any better for him, then there's a fight and a party and a drag race and fajitas, and Roberta decides to leave her deadbeat 24-year-old boyfriend and be a good daughter just in time for Donna to come home.
There's a subplot with Rallo becoming “invisible” at the fair and running around naked with ghost cookies and ghost farts, entertainingly unremarked upon until it becomes relevant. Likewise, Roberta's Latino boyfriend starts one-note, but they double down on that single note into absurdity as he drinks tequila from the bottle while driving, then mixes margaritas, and finally offers up a hot plate of fajitas. With The Cleveland Show, having not one but two amusing running gags counts as a victory. Not much of a victory, but it's enough to not give it the lowest grade of the night. C
Stray Observations & Funny Lines:
- “Sounds like someone needs to get a life!” “Uh-ah-h-h.” Francine's reaction sells an obvious joke.
- Francine is excited about complementary Coronas and twists off the top. I don't think Coronas are twisties. Alkie commentators, am I misremembering?
- “Wanna smoke cocaine out of this pipe I made out of a Rubik's Cube?” Roger remembers the 80s.
- Hey, didn't Haley and Jeff move back into the house? Did I miss an episode?
- “They know math! They know kung fu! And they have been peeing in our Coke for too long!”
- “You weren't complaining last night, when I spent the better part of two hours eating your baaaahhhhhhhh...”
- “When did I get Paulie Walnuts hair?”
- The Simpsons opens with another mass brawl, this time involving the day and night shifts at the nuclear plant.
- “I'm your guy Friday!”
- Smithers goes to Moe's and orders a Scotch and water. “My Scotch is a Scotch & water!”
- Moe has paintings of his bar's various incarnations, including Whiskey A-Moe-Moe's. “That was a dream, I think.”
- “It's not by Salman Rushdie!”
- “You know what this makes me want to do? EAT YOUR SOUL.”
- “They're trying to bring an outside protein into the situation.”
- “Now we have nothing to do on Father's Day!”
- “That little girl is still missing. Do we have a picture? We don't have a picture. Well, she's Puerto Rican.”
- “Half of them don't even move. And the other half just blink.”
- “Ha-ha! Feelings!”
- “Oooooooo...ghost cookies!”
- “I gotta buy a bag from that kid.” First time I'd seen the teenaged bear son. Gotta say he was actually moderately amusing, though I'm not sure that would last if he had much more going on.
- The police have a deportation catapult. “I thought Obama was gonna get rid of this thing?” “Said he was.”