"Husbands And Knives" / "Raise The Steaks" / "Padre De Familia" / "The 42-Year-Old Virgin"

"Husbands And Knives" / "Raise The Steaks" / "Padre De Familia" / "The 42-Year-Old Virgin"

Oh Simpsons, you're such a tease. Here I thought I was in for a geeked-out story pitting Bart against Comic Book Guy, with a little Jack Black thrown in for good measure. It wasn't gonna be great, but it was gonna be good. You even gave me a promo picture (above) to aid that little fantasy. Then, five minutes in, you make a 90-degree turn into an okay Marge storyline, then a 45-degree turn into a downright meh Homer storyline. Suddenly the episode is halfway over and I've forgotten why I was excited in the first place.

Was I the only one who saw a lot of promise in that first five minutes? I was envisioning an epic battle between Comic Book Guy and Jack Black's "Coolsville" owner, with Bart and Alan Moore acting as sidekicks. I didn't even mind Jack Black singing Tom Jones covers in Korean, and I usually hate it when The Simpsons does half-assed musical numbers. (Also, Black's geek-chic girlfriend introducing herself as, "My name is Strawberry, my purse is a lunchbox" was great.) Once it became apparent that Marge's endeavor as a women's-gym owner was going to become the primary storyline, I held out that there would at least be some B-plot antics with Bart and Co. But no, we instead we transitioned, once again, to a Homer-proving-his-love-to-Marge-but-acting-like-a-gigantic-ass-in-the-interim plot. (Which was a little too reminiscent of a similar Family Guy plotline for my liking.)

While there were some okay moments in that third act, I guess, I wish the writers could have picked a strong story and stuck with it rather than trying to cram three separate plots into one episode (which is the same gripe I had with this season's premiere). Maybe Homer is easier to write for because he allows for so much zaniness (in his current incarnation anyway), but it seemed like the writers were falling back on a crutch because they couldn't pull out either of the first two plotlines. There were the skeletons of three good stories in this episode (well, maybe 2.5), but the final product felt too disjointed.

King Of The Hill, on the other hand, knows how to pick a story and stick with it. Hell, there wasn't even a B story in tonight's episode, just a single solid plot that gave all the major characters some face time, with Hank as the pivot point. I think my favorite KOTH moments are when Hank finds himself justifying wildly out-of-character behavior to himself and others. Sure, he was shopping at, and eventually running, a hippie-dippy co-op (Cornu-Co-Op-ia), which placed him in the awkward position of defending hippies to his alley friends--but he did it for the steaks, man. Beef trumps hippies.

Although it eventually wandered into some unusually absurd territory--well, absurd by KOTH standards anyway--when Hank stole the free-range cattle to keep them out of the hands of Mega-Lo-Mart's "organic" devision, the moments where Hank had to calm down the panicked co-op volunteers when they discovered they had made a profit and found--gasp--yuppies in their store were quintessential KOTH gags, with Hank's level-headedness triumphing in the face of jackassery. (It also made for the ultimate Hank Hill-esque kiss-off: "If I believed in karma, I'd be really worried about you guys.") The ending felt a little truncated though, with Hank's co-op pal Appleseed escaping with the cattle to some green pasture when Kahn called the cops on Hank, and the Hill's going back to "forgetting what food tastes like," save the tomatoes they started growing in their garden. Though I guess Hank couldn't really become a backyard farmer; the guys in the alley would never let him live it down.

Tonight's episode of Family Guy was supposedly the first to air without Seth MacFarlane's blessing, as he has joined in the writers' strike. While the episode was mostly written while he was still on board, and he obviously did the voice recording before the strike began, any post-production tweaks were made without his consent, supposedly by the same big bad network brass who canned the show during its initial run. Was there a noticeable difference? No, not really. It felt very much like Family Guy, albeit a not-so-great episode.

The plot was solid, if a little all-over-the-place, with Peter first becoming a reckless uber-patriot (is there any other kind) who despises illegal immigrants, only to discover he was born in Mexico and is therefore an illegal immigrant himself. (I guess this makes him Blaxicirish, if you take into account his slave ancestors as well--keep mining that race vein, FG, maybe you'll hit gold someday.) He loses his job because of the illegal immigration investigation he started at his company, leaving him to take a job at Lois' parents' mansion, where he eventually rallies the illegal workforce in an unsuccessful coup. While that plot could certainly lend itself to some oh-no-they-didn't racial jabs, the immigrant-related humor was pretty tame. I found myself much more unsettled by the images of Peter as Mary Poppins and Mr. Pewtershmitt forcing Peter to drink his blood. I like to think of myself as a pretty crass young lady, but those images crossed even my arbitrary line I made up just tonight. Maybe 'cause they weren't funny.

American Dad had a similarly loaded plot, with Stan looking for someone to kill in order to win back his family's respect after they shame him for not having killed anyone in the line of duty. This led to a 40 Year Old Virgin spoof, which paired Roger and Stan for what I believe is the first time this season (Roger and Steve have been the dynamic B-story duo thus far). When a registered sex offender who lives in the neighborhood kidnaps Steve and his Danskin-clad friends, Stan gets his chance to pop his killing cherry. While he ultimately fumbles the kill, it leads to a American Dad-style happy ending, which in this case means the coworker Stan accidentally shoots dies (happily), conveniently giving him his first kill and winning back his son's respect, his wife's sexual desire for him, and his daughter's hatred. Sure, it's crude and inflammatory--it's American Dad, warm fuzzies are never an option--but it was also kind of sweet, in a twisted way.

While it was nice to see Stan and Roger together (I especially liked Roger giving Stan a rabid weasel on a stick as his weapon for his first kill), I kind of missed the Steve-Roger subplot, which have been consistently funny this season. And while Steve was still pretty integral to the story, there was a notable lack of Francine and Haylie, who, as last week's episode showed, can add a good bit of contrast to the equation. Though their contributions to this episode were fairly weak (with the exception of Haylie's "empathy smoothies"), so maybe that was just smart editing.

Grades
The Simpsons, "Husbands And Knives": B-
King Of The Hill, "Raise The Steaks": A-
Family Guy, "Padre De Familia": B-
American Dad, "The 42-Year-Old Virgin": B

Stray Observations

--"Anyong Pussycat" = "What's New, Pussycat." Thank you, Arrested Development.

--I usually don't like it when The Simpsons tries to pull Family Guy-style pop-culture references, but that OK Go treadmill gag was pretty good.

--The scene where the Hills discovered the joy of an organic dinner was one great line after another: "This is the best steak I've ever eaten; Peggy, I think we need to say grace again." "This is a tomato? I thought it was a heaven ball." "What are you guys talking about, tomatoes don't have any flavor."

--Bobby, regarding the steaks Hank is cooking: "What if someone want theirs well-done?" Hank: "We ask them politely yet firmly to leave." As a former professional beef-slinger, I have to give this a shout-out. If you cook your steak above medium, I have nothing to say to you.

--How many wacky porno concepts is Family Guy gonna throw at us? By my count we've had British porn, old-people porn, and tonight, Hasidic Jewish porn. Apparently it's an ongoing gag, but it's getting weaker each time it's aired out.

--I think there's been more Claus in American Dad during the past two episodes than during the rest of the season combined. I think that's a good thing. Talking animals are funny! So are German accents!

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