[Hello devoted Fox Animation Dominators-
Because of a conflict having nothing to do with TV Club or bashing Family Guy, I won't be able to write anything until really late Sunday night—or, worst case scenario, Monday morning. So consider this an open invitation to start the discussion thread, and I'll be back to post a few thoughts later.]
Hi guys, I'm back.
I'm gonna try something different tonight, for a few reasons. It's getting late, and you commenters have already gotten things moving nicely; plus, this is the first time I've ever had the luxury of reading other people's opinions before penning my own (they were pretty formed, though, before I sat down). So I thought I'd write tonight's recap the way the comments have been coming in; also, you all probably read the grades first anyways.
The Simpsons: B
This episode stood out as one of the better ones this season for me. It gave Grandpa some time to reminisce and flesh out his back story, like the Flying Hellfish episode of yore, and also allowed the show to have fun with its surroundings, like when the gang visited New York—the Q-bert gag was particularly inspired, especially having Bart reappear at the top.
Here's the quick run-down: The Simpsons buy a hot tub, which has them living in a hazy cloud of relaxation and dehydration, to the point where they completely forget to hang out with Grandpa for his home's family day. As payback, he forces them to head to Ireland with him, so he can have one last drink at a pub he loved. Turns out, people in the small town no longer frequent the place, and to make matters worse, the family buys the bar in the midst of a whirlwind of drunkenness.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: This show benefits from singularly focused episodes. This one told one story, added a few surprises (Moe in a crate, for one), and got out pretty painlessly—with a few humorous gags along the way. Going really big can work, as it did with last week's Da Vinci Code–inspired thriller, but these kinds of episodes need to serve as the show's anchor. The Simpsons have spent 20 years cultivating these animated characters, now it's time to let them play around in their world.
King Of The Hill: B-
While not laugh-out-loud funny—though, these days, this show rarely does that—I appreciated the fact that they showcased a fairly minor character this week in a major way. It starts when Nancy, small-time Arlen reporter, is asked to do a piece on a cute possum at the school; she blows things way out of proportion and instead reports on the school's lack of security, thus instigating paranoia among the city's residents. Her story catches the eye of a Dallas news team, though, and thus begins her catapult to stardom, followed by a quick downfall. This was a pretty knock-you-over-the-head kind of message episode (fame makes people evil), but it gave Dale, one of my favorite characters on the show, plenty to do—and a sweet moment at the end, where he admits he needs Nancy around. Installing air-conditioners throughout the house in her absence is a fine example of the kind of hair-brained schemes he has running through his mind constantly.
Family Guy: B
Say what you will, but I thought tonight's Family Guy was the best it's been in a looooong time. It came in two parts: One followed Lois as she takes a job as an anchor at Fox News (the shared themes among animation brethren is shocking every week), only to learn that the network clearly is in the tank for conservatives; the other centers on Peter, Chris, and Meg creating an animated show of their own to pitch to Fox, about handicapped ducks.
Honestly, there wasn't much different between this and a handful of other recent episodes. But here's why I think tonight's worked while the others tend to fail: Family Guy always makes a game of letting Peter do whatever the hell he wants, consquences be damned, but often either a) it takes forever to establish the game of what Peter is doing, or b) the show gets too caught up in individual gags to let anything actually happen. Despite the somewhat belabored schtick of Peter and Chris leaving the room to talk about Meg, most of what happens on that side of the story happens quick, and things move along—right up through the Fox executive actually greenlighting the project. As for Lois's story, the first half vindicates Brian's constant nagging about the network's evil ways (he's the show's go-to guy for the liberal agenda, eh?), and the second half has them working together quite nicely. In both cases, the game is established early—Peter will take the nuances of his stupid ideas ridiculously seriously; Lois is completely self-serving in her desire to report—and the show escalates nicely. Plus, was it just me, or were the cut-away gags a lot more inspired this week? Particularly the FDR press secretary one. ("Aw, he's adorable!")
American Dad: B+
I loved the whole "Steve cons Eitan out of his money" angle—a lot—and not just because it brought back memories of my own Bar Mitzvah hologram invites. Most importantly, I think, it started with a solid foundation: Steve loses his girlfriend to Eitan because he's not mature enough, and rather than, you know, be mature, he decides to embarrass the guy to win her back. Steve has painted himself into a corner with this one, and that's a great place to start for a character as kinetic as him. The scam he pulls is multi-faceted, involving a diversion to make Eitan think his presents are in danger, when in reality Steve is actually going after the collection of checks and cash stored away in Eitan's jacket. It's devilishly clever, and when you get right down to it, pretty damn feasible too. And having Roger be a part of the formula, of course, only made things more ridiculous/costume-driven(/full of hand j's).
The only thing I'd dock points for would be the Stan/Francine storyline, because it only served as pay-off for the big meta joke a few of you have already covered. See, Francine came up with the idea that you should be able to call your phone, when set on vibrate, and punch in a code to make it ring—helpful for when you can't find where it is. Stan sees the genius in the idea, and decides to set up a meeting with a top wireless executive. It falls through, because… cue collapse of story into commentary on "lazy writing." I didn't mind when Roger and Steve had their "breaking of the fourth wall moment," mostly because the joke wasn't the breakaway itself; and I completely lost it when I saw giant Klaus by a green screen, with a huge cell phone that dispenses jelly beans. As a one-off gag, sure, but we were already three or four scenes into this plotline before the joke collapsed, which seemed like unnecessary set-up for so little reward.
But the end of the episode was an example of this sort of meta humor done right: Roger is in character at another Bar Mitzvah, pulling his own con. He signals a guy in a car across the street, the camera cuts away, and we see Roger again in another costume. "How did I get all the way over here?" he asks. Nice.