"Judge Me Tender"/"You're the Best Man, Cleveland Brown"/"Something, Something, Something, Dark Side"

"Judge Me Tender"/"You're the Best Man, Cleveland Brown"/"Something, Something, Something, Dark Side"

Look, Animation Domination fans. It's been a long night.

Lost had a finale. Breaking Bad had a stunning, off-format episode. Regardless of what you thought of either episode, both were deeply ambitious pieces of television, well worth discussing and arguing about in the weeks and months to come. They both attempt to push what the form is capable of, and what you can do with the medium when you're aiming high. I ended up writing pieces about both of them, and doing so was one of the highlights of the TV season for me.

So I'm just going to say that there was a SLIGHT tonal disconnect after coming from an event where I watched the Lost finale with a bunch of fans and fellow TV followers and writers and came home to sit around in my chair and watch The Simpsons, The Cleveland Show and Family Guy. And, honestly, I don't even know if I'm in a place to talk about the shows in anything approaching a coherent critical fashion. I watched all three. I laughed a few times at all three. I mostly found them disposable.

I really, really make an effort to approach TV episodes on the level that they aim for (perhaps too much of one, really). I attempt to do that old Roger Ebert thing where I talk about something based on what its particular goals were and how well it achieved them. Obviously, tonight's Lost and Breaking Bad episodes were both aiming really, really high, ridiculously so, but I find watching them soured me more on these three shows than I normally would have been. When The Simpsons cranked out a pretty listless episode that mostly existed to ask, "What if Moe were an American Idol judge?" I couldn't really keep my mind on it. It was just lazy, and a poor excuse for a way to wrap up the season. And The Cleveland Show? That whole show is lazy in and of itself, even if I laughed a number of times at the episode.

So I'm saying I don't really know if I approached these episodes in a fair fashion. I even gave up writing quotes after a while, when I normally find a bunch of them I found at least moderately amusing to toss at you. I'll watch these episodes again tomorrow, when I have a clearer mind and I'm able to approach them as shows that are just trying to make me laugh a few times and give me some moderate amusement, but right now, all I want to do is rant. These shows think they're in the same universe as Breaking Bad or Lost? They think they can even pretend to be so? Yeah, ranting. Let's do that.

The Simpsons: I'm firmly on record as stating that The Simpsons is my favorite television show of all time. My affection for it is so great that it colors a lot of what I write about the show, and while I definitely think the series has had its dark periods (the seasons in the early 2000s, in particular), I think it's picked back up in the last few seasons and particularly in this season, which has had a lot of fun episodes in it. It's no longer an essential show, and if you think it sucks balls or something equally colorful, I'm not exactly going to forcefully refute what you're saying. It's a show that's mostly stopped really making any effort whatsoever, in favor of coasting on the goodwill of people like me, who love the early seasons so much that they're willing to forgive a certain level of crap to spend more time with the characters and remember what was.

But watching this episode immediately after the aforementioned other programs just drove home for me how tired this show is and how little it tries anymore. The series is only aiming for slight amusement anymore, and it often pulls that off. But when that's all you're aiming for, is it even worth being on the air anymore? Obviously, lots of people - myself included - still mostly enjoy the show, so I guess so, but I remember when this show dared great things. Now, it's been on the air so long that it can't dare anything. It's simply run out of room. "What if Moe were an American Idol judge?" isn't a terrible concept for an episode, and I smiled at, say, Simon showing how his dark T-shirt made him disappear in the shadows. But, God, "I smiled a few times!" isn't much of a criterion to evaluate this show on, no matter how much I used to like it.

Don't get me wrong: I do think a number of episodes this season have been quite solid (the curling one, in particular). And it's entirely possible this was just a relatively weak episode for the show, one that was shunted to tonight because all involved knew it was a little weak and figured it was best to bury it. That's a long-standing TV tradition. But my secret fear is that this weird leftover from the Mike Scully years is a harbinger of what's to come next season. C'mon, Simpsons. Make me care again. Grade: D

The Cleveland Show: And THIS. I don't even know what to say about this, except that I laughed at it more than The Simpsons. I did appreciate the stab at genuine sweetness in the final moments, as "September" gave way to the long tilt up to the sky, but much of the episode was just based around the most obvious jokes imaginable. Now, I like Cleveland, Jr., and I like Rallo, and a lot of the best material was based around them, but hinging this episode on the remarriage of Cleveland's parents was kind of pointless, since I barely remembered anything about either of them. Neither has been a successful extended family extension of Cleveland in the way that, say, Lois and Peter's respective dads have become characters in their own rights on Family Guy. There's nothing here that particularly bothered me, and some of the laughs were solid, but there's nothing here that suggested this series is going to do anything like what Simpsons was once capable of or even rise to the level of reliable laugh-generator its parent show once got to. Grade: C

Family Guy: This I mostly liked. I thought "Blue Harvest" was fun when the show did it a few years ago, largely because it was one long cutaway gag, but one that was done with a sort of affection for the material it was aping. This one wasn't as good as that one, but it still had a lot of solid laughs in it. On the other hand, it really petered out as the hour went along (though the very ending gag in the Empire Strikes Back recreation was pretty funny), and too much of it eventually felt like the laughs were supposed to come entirely from which Family Guy characters were cast as the Star Wars characters, something Peter even commented on directly. I mean, Meg as the giant worm in the asteroid? Booooooo! And yet, I have to admit I rather admire the show for really throwing itself into these outsized movie parody things, and I will await the inevitable Return of the Jedi thing with something like breathless anticipation. "Something, Something, Something, Something Dark Side" wasn't a great episode of television or an episode that pushed boundaries, but it WAS a pretty good episode of Family Guy, and I guess, in the end, I'll take that. Grade: B

Stray observations:

  • Who knows what will become of this column in the fall? Will there be a fourth reviewer in as many years? Will we just end it entirely? Will I come back and, if I do, return to shrugging and saying, "Eh. It was all right" for everything? STAY TUNED.
  • "It was all the dog's dream. Watch us."
  • "Even the Koreans wouldn't touch this dog."
  • "I was wondering if you would judge a crazy beard contest I'm in tonight?"
  • "Animation domination. Live action surrender."
  • "They charge you for parts AND labor? Pick one, buddy. I can do this just fine myself."
  • "And good morrow to you, father."
  • "For a second, I thought I was a falcon. But I'm OK now."
  • "It's HanSolo1964@compuserve.com."
  • "There are way too many elderly comedians out here in the snow."
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