Since it's season finale time, I thought I'd break the normal pattern of a short review for each show. Each of the finales are, I think, indicative of where each of the shows is right now. They're easily—but not necessarily—sorted in terms of age.
The youngest show, Bob's Burgers, does the biggest and most accessible episode of the night. The pleasantly middle-aged American Dad does a pretty normal episode, although one which seems to tie what few themes have wound through its season together. The elder statesmen of the evening, Family Guy and The Simpsons, sadly, rely on gimmicks that have worked for them in the past in order to create television “events.”
They acknowledge that they're doing it, but somehow, winking at the audience about their uninspired ideas doesn't actually make it better. When your best jokes are about how bad the rest of your jokes are, well, perhaps it's time for some soul-searching.
That complaint applies to Family Guy's bloated Return of the Jedi parody a bit more than The Simpsons. They start it off with a joke about how inevitable it was, followed quickly by the Star Wars screen crawl including an apology from Seth MacFarlane about how they basically did it for the money: “Lower your expectations, all right?” There are also a lot of Seth Green jokes, a carryover from previous Star Wars parodies, and it ends with Meg asking “What about the prequels?” to get the response, “I think The Cleveland Show is gonna handle those.” Which is funny, logical, and sad.
As for the jokes that weren't meta-references, well, there weren't very many of them, but a few landed. Peter/Han Solo screaming at Imperial soldiers to dig their own graves with their helmets in order to cleanse the taste of cutesy Ewoks is problematic as a joke, but it least it engages with the original material. Still, the apparent demand for pseudo-comedic Star Wars references/parodies baffles me, and I hope it baffles its fans when people start doing the same with the prequels as cultural touchstones in another 20 years. Episode C- Season C+
The Simpsons' attempt to recreate its glory years comes from its audience participation cliffhanger, bringing to mind the “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” contest from their sixth/seventh season. This time, the participation comes from voting, instead of a contest, but it's still directly and ironically referred to at the end of the episode. Fans are being given the opportunity to vote on whether Ned Flanders and Edna Krabappel—already described as “Nedna” in the episode itself—become a couple or not.
To put it bluntly, this aspect of the episode is not very good. It starts as a bunch of references to just how wacky the Simpson family is, as both Ned and Edna are quite aware of certain aspects of the titular characters' behavior. Following that, well, it's still not terribly great. Which is sad, because the episode as a normal, non-stunty episode of The Simpsons, actually started pretty nicely. Bart was back to Dennis the Menace-esque prankery, which caused Edna to snap and slap him, leading to comedic mishaps. I mean, how can you go wrong with a parent-teacher-principal-superintendent conference? Making fun of the bureaucracy of teachers' unions and the education system? You can't, but that's gone with the main romantic plot, which drags a perfectly fine episode of The Simpsons into later-season ennui. Episode C Season B
While such stunts are unnecessary for American Dad, which thrives on weirdness anyway, leading stunts to be essentially meaningless, tonight seemed like an especially normal episode. Like so many others this season, it's about Stan and Steve connecting as Stan comes to terms with his boy growing up.
This time around, it involves Stan accidentally bringing Steve to an outing with his buddies, and Stan discovers that Steve is cool and they become bros, which are always placed in hierarchical order before hos. Meanwhile, Roger tries to become a country music success by living a horrible enough life to play it from the heart, with Hayley oddly playing the part of wisdom-dispenser.
The usual amorality of a Seth MacFarlane show is ramped up here, with Stan driving on the wrong side of the road, causing a massive accident, as Roger deals with a set of terribly hillbilly stereotypes. There are also a few too many random references or should-be references that seem to take the place of jokes in the episode, especially early on. In that sense, it feels a bit more like a Family Guy episode than American Dad. Still, almost despite itself, the bizarre emotional climax of signing gorillas talking about fatherhood actually kind of works. It's not the funniest episode, but it's still a fairly fitting capstone to an odd season of American Dad. Episode B- Season B
Bob's Burgers has never quite gotten back to the delirious heights of its breakout episode “Art Crawl”, but since that episode, it hasn't looked back to its awkward first few episodes. It might not be genius, but it's been consistently funny and eminently watchable ever since. So while I might desire another Archer, which hits that manic genius more often than not, I'll perfectly happy with a show that gets it right most of the time, and gets it deliriously right every so often.
Tonight's season finale raises the emotional stakes slightly, while hitting an easy, if played-out, target, of cheating in baseball. Bob discovers that he's been inadvertently helping one of his childhood heroes cheat, which starts to rub off on his children. Bob's briefly convinced to not do anything about the cheating, but when it rubs off on Gene, well, it's too much.
Honestly, this is a pretty generic sitcom-style plot. A bit of corruption for one influential character here leads to further corruption amongst the innocent there. If it were a drama, it would get worse. It's a comedy, so it's easily fixed. But I guess as I grow older, I'm more forgiving of those generic plots. If it's done well—and Bob's Burgers has the characters to do it well—I'll like it. It's also nice to see a Gene-based episode, while most all of the other family members had several great moments— Louise's switchblade/lemon monologue, as ever, is a standout. Episode A- Season B+
(Cleveland season grade... well, you guys can guess...)
- “I thought it was elegantly crafted.”
- “Shipnotized?! I don't even know what that means!”
- “Have I displeased you, O Almighty God?” Patrick Stewart was so fantastic in the season premiere that I'd hoped he'd show up more. This, this was great stuff again.
- “Just leave the crust on their sandwiches. They'll get the message.” Marge Simpson was probably the funniest character of the episode tonight. Not sure that's ever happened before.
- “Who's running this meeting!” “I thought it was me...”
- “We can break up Preachy and Teachy!”
- Ned's not drinking beer, despite the fact that the Bible clearly says it's OK.
- “What? My doctor said 'don't walk!'” “That was a traffic signal.” Marge Simpson, en fuego.
- “Just vote! It's your duty as a citizen of TV!” And the hat trick!
- “Are you kidding? I wish I could afford urinal cake ads.”
- “Says 'Order Up!'” “Ooo, I like that one!”
- “Well, I call you dad. I think of it as Dad's Burgers.”
- “No one wants to ride Extra Wood Mountain.”
- “Doesn't matter. Nothing does.”
- “Just... swarthy?”
- “That'd be cool, but we've only got twelve parsecs.”
- “But today is Friday!”
- “Oh yeah? You and what lightning hands?”