Hello, animation maniacs! Todd asked me to fill in for him this week since he's traveling, and I accepted, forgetting the fact that today's my birthday. Because everyone wants to spend their [redacted]th birthday with The Cleveland Show, am I right? Yes? No? No. OK. At any rate, on with the shows.
The Simpsons: Both previous times I covered The Simpsons I described their storylines as “If this sounds like the plot of (Golden Age Simpsons episode), that's because it is like that.” With tonight's episode, it's like they're just taunting me, as Bart adopts a new pet pigeon, and then they worry about the dog, and then there's therapy, and yeesh. Still, at a certain point, saying “The Simpsons is recycling its plots!” is pretty pointless.
It's like those people who polish their monocles, turn up their nose, and say “well, there are really only two/three/seven/etc plots in all of literature” as if they've said something really intelligent. Yes, there are lots of plots and they can be sorted into different categories. Yes, The Simpsons has been on a long time, and unless they start killing off characters like The Wire, they're going to be recycling plots. But that's not really the point, is it? The point of a plot is how it works with characters, writing, setting, and all the things that make a story. And The Simpsons has seemed to be making it work fairly well this season.
It's an especially bad idea to focus on the plot of this Simpsons episode, because most of its joy comes from its visuals. More than most episodes, “How Munched Is That Birdie In The Window?” relies on sight gags or extended bits of dialogue-free comedy. It starts even before the credits, with The Simpsons going up against Bill O'Reilly again, showing a Fox News helicopter saying “Not Suitable For Viewers Under 75.” Homer tells the kids a scary story set in London, and when he says the city name, a Hollywood-esque LONDON sign appears above the action. Bart adopts the pigeon and grows to love it in a silly little montage including a bit where he puts worms in the blender for the pigeon. Marge takes a drink, Bart silently tries to stop her, and then she comes back for seconds. Milhouse's eyes dance along the fence. Mr. Burns does naked ballet with Smithers in silhouette. Santa's Little Helper eats the bird, which momentarily escapes before falling right back into the dog's mouth.
The dialogue fares less well. The storyline is pretty straightforward and uninteresting, and the verbal jokes aren't top-notch. There's a fairly funny throwaway cameo by race car driver Danica Patrick, but Rachel Weisz is ill-used as a therapist who supposedly tries to get Bart and Santa's Little Helper to like each other again. (And what happened to Dr. Marvin Monroe, anyway?) Still, it's nice to see the animation take center stage of an animated comedy. B-
The Cleveland Show: I go into this show hoping I can get a chuckle or two, see some nice animation, and not be horribly offended. By those standards, tonight's Cleveland Show was a success. By most other standards, well, it's still The Cleveland Show.
Cleveland is setting up for Thanksgiving, his favorite holiday, when Donna tells him that her sister Janet is visiting. Cleveland doesn't like Janet and acts amusingly childish about the whole situation. It escalates when Janet gets drunk and porks Cleveland's short, white neighbor, Holt. Cleveland tries to rub her nose in it, but the situation escalates as Janet and Holt run off to Vegas. The Brown family gives chase, leading to a “Going to Vegas!” episode. There, they discover that the couple is planning on getting married, and Donna and Cleveland try to stop the nuptials. They succeed.
There's a much more entertaining B-plot, as Rallo and Cleveland Jr. win at the slots and, needing an adult to cash their ticket, pick up an escort. They tear through Vegas having a grand old asexual time. Cleveland Jr. also has the best joke of the episode earlier. When Donna, saying that she can be a diva like her sister, starts to sing, Cleveland Jr. comes down the stairs singing louder in Aretha Franklin's bow from the Obama inauguration, upstaging his step-mother. I think Todd was right last week in saying that Cleveland Jr. is the best-realized character on the show. C+
Family Guy: Hey, it's a repeat of the Rush Limbaugh episode. Since I already reviewed this once, I'll do it as a pull quote:
“Tonight's episode of Family Guy ... made me ... dead! … I had a ... bizarre and unhealthy ... screw. ... My problem is ... a ... multi-racial ... Nancy Pelosi smoking crack ... It failed.”
American Dad: There Will Be Blood is a fascinating, intense film. It's also so over-the-top that it makes an excellent target for parody. Witness Super There Will Be Blood:
This week's American Dad sticks an utterly pointless pun in the title and has a premise with vague similarities to the film, as Stan's half-brother Rusty shows up. Stan finds out that Rusty has more money than he knew, so he tries to take it away from his brother. But that's really about it for similarities. I just saw the episode title and wanted to show you that video.
After Stan decides to take Rusty's money and house, he gets caught and stuck walking through the desert, when Hayley returns and rescues the family, as a Thanksgiving miracle. A grateful Stan invites Hayley and Jeff to live with him. This is, I suppose, an important event in the grand American Dad mythology, but it's kind of an afterthought in the episode. The story is generally an afterthought this time around, although it's really an afterthought in the best kind of Seth MacFarlane way. The plot exists for the episode to hang its jokes off of, and this episode is well-hung with jokes.
Stan shows his house to his half-brother Rusty in a deliciously smarmy fashion, which is entertaining enough, but jumps up a notch when Francine decides to brag about her four burners on her stove. However, since Steve is getting too big for his britches with Hayley gone, Stan decides to take him to Rusty's for Thanksgiving to show what true poverty is, only Rusty's actually rich. The best jokes in the episode are the ones showing Rusty's absurd mansion. My favorite was his Lamborghini lawnmower, but Roger discovering the bar with everything, including Aboslut Everything and Sammy Hagarmeister, is also a winner. And Steve and Rusty's kid playing holodeck video games descends into Steve shooting lasers with his teenaged erection, and American Dad actually manages to make that joke funny.
Still, the best joke is saved for the end when, wandering through the desert, a pack of wolves find the family. Roger, however, recognizes one of the wolves as one he rescued in the past, leading to an extended flashback parody of the Christian the Lion viral video.This episode of American Dad didn't offer much but sustained funny, but sustaining a good level of funny for a half-hour is the main thing I want from it. B+
- “He's a homing pigeon. He comes home. Unless you wanna spring for a limo?”
- “My mom ran off with my birthday clown!” Thank you Simpsons for making a birthday joke ... on my birthday!
- “Pretty much if it moves, you can bet on it.” “What about the Detroit Lions?” “Hey, lay off Detroit. Them people is livin' in Mad Max times.”
- “This funeral just got depressing.”
- Skinner notes that Bart's grades are improving and his pranks falling off since the bird's death, and tells Homer and Marge: “If anything, you should make him sadder!”
- Rorschach test jokes in the psychiastrist's office? That's new!
- On the other hand, I could use some Oxycontin candy ...
- “I'm gonna change your name to Luke Wilson!” I guess I'm not the only one to notice those unexpected jowls.
- “What's the classiest restaurant in Stoolbend?” “Applebees!”
- “Oh, Bill Maher is right here.”
- “You don't think I want to sleep with every man who buys me a drink? All women do!”
- "Hayley, you have no idea what turns me on, and you probably never will.
- Speaking of entertaining animation, I was endlessly delighted that American Dad's history lesson of the Thanksgiving miracle was done in stop-motion.
- "And then we're going to Four Corners, so I can breakdance in four states at once!"
- "If Native Americans could kill a white man, they would have done it already."
- "Hayley, you're officially undead to me."