Is there anything left to say about the Fox animation bloc at this point? Somewhere along the way, we’ve all decided if we’re Family Guy fans or if we think The Simpsons is still worth keeping up with or whether or not we’re down with American Dad, I think, and now that the four shows making up the animation bloc show off less divergence in worldview than they ever have before, without King of the Hill there to offset the gradual MacFarlanization of the universe, whether or not you watch the whole thing basically comes down to your feelings on Seth MacFarlane entirely and alone. Me? I’m sad to see King of the Hill go, even if it was getting pretty boring in its last couple of seasons. It aspired to a kind of reality that none of the shows in the lineup do anymore. Our remaining series are so obviously CARTOONS at this point that it all becomes just a little numbing the longer the night goes on. Fortunately, Fox has stuck the show that was probably the “best” out of this bloc last season – American Dad – at the end, so we’re always building to something.
That said, let’s see how premiere week went.
The Simpsons: This is approximately the 200th time The Simpsons has gone to the Hollywood satire well in its 400 episodes, and while this celebrity guest script wasn’t as good as the last celebrity guest script (that one episode penned by Ricky Gervais), Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg did a good enough job of sending up a tiny part of the Hollywood process that it managed to make a mostly amusing season premiere. At this point, there’s virtually no way to say that The Simpsons is repeating itself or isn’t as funny as it was without that, itself, becoming a cliché, so while this episode wasn’t as funny as previous Hollywood satires, the specificity of what the show was making fun of – trainers who help stars slim down (in this case, helping Homer slim down) – went a long way toward making the episode palatable. Especially enjoyable was the surprisingly amusing sight gag of Homer in the movie of Comic Book Guy’s Everyman (the superhero who can be … every superhero) and vacillating between muscular and fat slob. This kind of broad sight gag probably shouldn’t make me chuckle as much as it did, but something about the obvious cross-cutting and the irritation of the lizard man at just how long this was all taking did make me laugh. “Homer the Whopper” didn’t try anything new (could it have?), but I had fun with it all the same. Grade: B
The Cleveland Show: I already took a more detailed look at tonight’s Cleveland Show pilot here and gave it a Grade: C-
Family Guy: I was essentially predisposed to like this episode. I love parallel universe things more than just about any other science fiction concept, and the whole thing could just be Stewie and Brian zapping around universes where only shrimp can exist, and I’d probably really enjoy it. I’ve also liked most of Family Guy’s “Road to …” episodes. So take anything I say about this one with a grain of salt because if they didn’t make enough of the parallel universes gag, I would probably be more disappointed than necessary and if they did make enough out of it, I would probably be less disappointed than necessary. That said, the episode somehow managed to do both at once. It started fairly weakly with the jokes about the universe with no Christianity (concluding with yet another John Hinckley gag for some reason) or the universe where everybody needs to take a poop right now (though I did like the fist-pig punching Brian in the face). But in the second act, the episode got much, much funnier, as Stewie and Brian wandered through a huge number of amusing universes, like the Disney universe, complete with the first musical number on this show that I’ve actively enjoyed in quite a while (even if I could do without the endless string of Meg hatred), or the political cartoon universe, which was the sort of hyper-specific reference this show does so well when it’s on a roll. Not all of the gags here were as good as the others, but it’s worth it just to see something like the visual design of the dog Griffins and human Brian. The episode pretty much came to an end just because, well, it needed to come to an end, but I really enjoyed two-thirds of this episode. A solid start to the eighth season after that disappointing seventh season. Grade: B+
American Dad: American Dad’s premiere, meanwhile, was just this bizarrely elaborate Vietnam War movie riff that incorporated so many movie gags but set them all on a country club that I’m not even sure what to think of it. I didn’t laugh at it a whole lot (only during that lengthy CGI sequence when Roger ate the bird, watched Barbra Streisand and then tripped out), but I admired some of its ambition. The whole central conceit was just so strange that it was hard to say whether it wholly worked or not. I love stories that pair up Stan with Steve, which feel sort of like the poor man’s version of the old Homer and Lisa Simpson relationship episodes that made up the lifeblood of The Simpsons for so long. Sure, it’s just your standard “tough guy dad doesn’t understand dorky son” riff, but the characters are so specific in their tough guy-ness and dorkiness that much of the time, the show makes it work. So when Stan dragged Steve into the middle of this elaborate Vietnam War recreation that used red markers to simulate blood and ended up with Steve charging at the shack where his father was being held by Roger while spraying everyone with orange paint a la a flamethrower, it was so over-the-top that it simultaneously made me admire it and cringe a little. And all of this took place amidst the staidness of a country club, no less! That said, I liked more of the episode than I disliked (particularly the lengthy coda where Steve couldn’t shake his Vietnam War re-enactment experience), so we’ll give it a moderate passing grade. I assume it will improve on a rewatch, actually. Grade: B-
- Remember the first time Matt Groening appeared on The Simpsons and it was this big deal about how the show made sure that he was appearing as the creator of Futurama, not the creator of The Simpsons, so as not to violate the show’s already shaky continuity? Yeah, whatever happened to THAT?
- Also, my DVR cut off a lot of the closing credits tonight because it’s stupid, but was Kevin Michael Richardson in all four shows?
- "Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Egg!"
- "Alvin and the Chipmunks 3: Gettin' Rabies"
- "Me using funny modes of transportation like a hot air balloon and a camel and finally a pickup truck full of chickens then I get out of the truck and go thank the driver but I see the driver's a chicken?" "Let's just skip ahead a month."
- "I produced Bad Summer Movie, the parody of bad summer movies that was itself a bad summer movie."
- "Look! GI Joe, Transofmers, Thundercats, He-Man! Yay! Those shows existed!" "How's it feel to be on a major network for 30 seconds?" "F*** YOU!"
- "Oh, who cares? He's a cheeseburger!"
- "Here comes an overweight cat with dollar signs for eyes and a hat that says Social Security pouring a bucket that says Alternative Minimum Tax over a sad Statue of Liberty holding a Democracy umbrella."
- "Steve, he's a rock star living in a kick-ass elevator. You don't think he's getting laid?"
- "We don't know. We're from Baltimore."