It was a Seth-sational Sunday, according to the Fox promo department, which means that Seth McFarlane, instead of having three-quarters of the animation bloc, instead, had all quarters, and one of them wasn't even animated! Weirdly, though, there was an undercurrent of self-loathing to all of the shows, as though McFarlane is slowly becoming aware of the fact that he's made some sort of unholy deal with the devil (is there any other kind?). Also, are there people out there who really idolize Seth McFarlane to the degree that selling an entire night based around the idea that he had a hand in every show (much less building a variety show around him) seemed like a good idea? They never gave Matt Groening a variety special! Since the night had two Family Guys, maybe some of the self-loathing was just the fact that that show seems more and more embarrassed by some of its excesses. But let's go to the tape and see what's what!
Family Guy #1: I'm sure you've heard all about Seth McFarlane's life as a billionaire playboy. If you haven't, you're either not seething with jealousy or watching KTLA's red carpet coverage at the Emmys, where the guy showed up with two hot dates. The point is: Seth McFarlane is a guy who has a lot of money, is reasonably attractive and has something like a sense of humor. He's catnip to starlets or wanna-be actresses or what-have-you. At the same time, Brian Griffin has always been McFarlane's most obvious stand-in, actually turning into a mouthpiece for the Family Guy creator's ideals after the show returned from cancellation. So even though this first Family Guy of the evening didn't have a ton of laughs (outside of seeing the Griffin family trying to trick Brian's new girlfriend into revealing how old she is), it was interesting to watch, if only for the fact that it built to something like a genuinely emotional climax that lambasted Brian - and perhaps by extension McFarlane - for being such an immature son of a bitch. It's weird to see a Family Guy episode that has something approaching an actual story (even one ripped off from that earlier episode where Brian fell in love with the old lady jingle singer), and even the cutaway gags were more muted than usual. Does McFarlane hate himself? I suspect not (or even that he really noticed what was going on here), but it was kind of cool to have one of the characters on the show come in for a much deserved upbraiding. Grade: B
The Seth and Alex Almost Live Comedy Show: I really don't know why I'm covering this other than the fact that, well, somebody probably had to cover it. Also, it was on between two Family Guys. Also, when Microsoft backed out of it for having humor that would have seemed tame in a Family Guy episode, it caused a certain amount of controversy. And it was one of the worst things I've ever seen on television, yet so strange that I'm oddly glad I watched it. One of the nice things about McFarlane is the fact that he's genuinely interested in old-time pop culture, in things like variety shows or Broadway musicals or vaudeville. This often means that he shoehorns needless song sequences into every episode of Family Guy, but his dedication to filling old forms of entertainment with his ironic humor and pop culture gags is something that can be fun in moderate doses. The Seth and Alex show, however, was not at all in anything approaching "moderation." It was a half hour (with only two brief commercial interruptions) of McFarlane and Alex Borstein standing on a stage, singing songs, telling off-color jokes and doing Family Guy voices. Then they promoted The Cleveland Show for what felt like a few hours. Somehow, McFarlane took one of the few things I like about him and turned it into the basis for one of the most self-indulgent things ever. At times, McFarlane even seemed a little embarrassed that someone had given him money to make this. On the other hand, his genuine appreciation for the giant orchestra that scores Family Guy was nice, and the sheer oddity of seeing two cartoon voices hosting a variety special gets this a few brownie points as well. Grade: D
Family Guy #2: On the other hand, the joke at the end of this episode - where Stewie and Brian stand over the dead body of android Miley Cyrus and quote the final lines of King Kong verbatim - is the sort of thing I hate about McFarlane's shows. There's no good reason to have Stewie and Brian say those lines. It doesn't add anything to the scene other than to put a bow on the fact that the show had just done an elaborate King Kong reference. I mean, was anyone NOT going to get it when Miley carried the Evil Monkey to the top of a skyscraper and then was attacked by Quagmire and Peter in a biplane? Despite the fact that the Evil Monkey used to be one of my favorite Family Guy recurring gags and I half enjoyed the attempts to give him some backstory, the episode just drove home how much the show has abused all of the one-dimensional recurring characters since it returned from cancellation (come to think of it, the old pedophile turned up in this one too). At least The Simpsons in its heyday gave the recurring characters it needed to keep turning to added dimension. This just felt like an abashed attempt to acknowledge that some of these one-joke characters could probably have stood to have a few additional jokes (there's that self-loathing again), but at this point in the show's run, does anyone want to find out more about the true nature of the Evil Monkey? And turning Miley Cyrus into a Small Wonder parody was fitfully amusing, but the rest of the Hannah Montana material was ridiculously non-specific, filled with the kinds of jokes everyone made about Cyrus a few years ago. Grade: C-
The Cleveland Show: I suspect I'm going to be alone in this, but The Cleveland Show made the night for me. I never tire of a good, old-fashioned purity ball joke, and having Cleveland Jr. get so excited about going to the purity ball with his dad made for plenty of good jokes (and then a long string of unfunny "Cleveland Jr. is gay!" jokes). Cleveland Jr.'s elaborate plot to lose his virginity was mostly funny, and the final sequence, with Cleveland and his son dancing to "Butterfly Kisses" at the purity ball was some terrifically unsettling cringe comedy. For my money, this was the best episode of The Cleveland Show yet, even featuring some of the better viral video-style humor (with Cleveland's rap) that the show has attempted. Nothing amazing, but on this night, pretty good would suffice. Grade: B
American Dad (added at 4 p.m. CST Monday): So my DVR did not alert me to American Dad's existence this week (though I should have figured with all the McFarlane shenanigans), which is really too bad because it was the best of the night. For all his faults, I think Seth McFarlane is really a pretty good voice actor, and Stan Smith is one of his best creations. He's got every vocal nuance of the guy down cold, and when the writers give him something fun to work with, like Stan breaking down when he climbed into the Moonbounce, he makes it even funnier than it should be. Though the idea of someone going to jail and discovering they like it there has been done time and time again, the show did a good job of tying it in to Stan's continuing quest for his inner child, and the twist with Roger as the prison psychiatrist (set up back in the very first scene) was good, too. Mostly, though, I dug this episode for things like Stan buying a flying elephant he powered with his imagination and Steve trying to do the taxes. That said, the Haley gives Klaus a haircut plot was pretty pointless. All in all, though, this was another fine episode in what's shaping up to be a fine season, and if Seth McFarlane feels any self-loathing over American Dad, he shouldn't. It's, at this point, the best thing he ever put his name on. Grade: B+
- Much as I didn't much like "Hannah Banana," I did really enjoy the way that action sequence at the end was animated. It was pretty high quality stuff for the show.
- Sorry for the lateness of these pieces. Didn't get one of the recordings and had to figure out other methods.
- I also watched this week's Sit Down, Shut Up, in my continuing attempt to review the show for the one guy in comments who really liked it. And I have to say that I didn't really dig this week's episode, outside of some of the meta-humor. Gross-out gags just aren't the kind of thing I like, and this episode had too many of them and too many more potential gross-out gags.
- "On her answering machine, how long after her message is the beep?"
- "Brian, is she calling dinner supper?"
- "You kids ever read Sherlock Holmes and think, 'Gosh, there aren't enough knife fights or explosions?' Well then, this is your lucky day!"
- "My dad loves herpes!"
- "And money designated specifically for prostitutes is missing."
- "Good job, mystery bunch!"