"Million Dollar Maybe"/"Our Gang"/"Dial Meg for Murder"/"A Jones for a Smith"

"Million Dollar Maybe"/"Our Gang"/"Dial Meg for Murder"/"A Jones for a Smith"

If there's one sitcom plot I hate, it's the plot where the sitcom husband has done something he can't tell the sitcom wife about, and instead of just facing the music, he comes up with some sort of wacky scheme to cover it all up, and then things spiral out of control. Now, there have been times when this plot device has been utilized well (though in recent years, it mostly happens when the plot device has been utilized to mock its ridiculousness), but when all four of the Fox animated comedies used spins on that storyline tonight, it was deeply irritating. (Also, have you realized that all four of these shows are about remarkably similar families? I suppose I had thought about that before, but it really speaks to just why the night often feels so same-y, now. Hopefully, Fox eventually tosses the revived Futurama in this bloc so there's at least a little diversity.)

Anyway, what did we think this week?

The Simpsons: The Simpsons has gone to the "Homer does something to screw up his marriage with Marge" well so often that it was almost a relief in this episode that Homer just lied about winning the lottery, thus leaving items the family needed just laying around where they would find them. Now, granted, this was a completely stupid plot, but to the show's credit, it commented on this when Homer told Marge he won the lottery and she said she'd much rather have the money than the wedding reception performance he missed. This strikes me as a perfectly logical response, but it also makes the rest of the episode - with its convoluted plot featuring Homer's lucky day and Bart blackmailing him - sort of pointless. At the same time, I really like that the episode showed just how quickly Homer burned through $1 million. (My Name Is Earl always bugged me when his cash reserves of $100,000 seemed virtually infinite.) But the Lisa gets the old people a Wii stand-in plot was one of those ones where the Simpsons writers have obviously noticed something in pop culture but have yet to wholly grasp what it is or why it's important and thus do a plot that pretty much says, "Hey. This exists." On the other hand, I laughed really, really hard at Homer singing along to Emerson, Lake and Palmer, so let's give this a Grade: B

The Cleveland Show: And now we enter the entire hour of TV when I didn't laugh once. I'm down with grading these shows on the "How much did I laugh" basis, but the middle hour of tonight's presentation was especially dire for some reason. There were moments when I smiled at this episode of The Cleveland Show, but the episode got carried away by trying to reference way too many movies where a teacher bonds with some troubled kids, every movie about how it's hard out there on the streets and, for some reason, It's a Wonderful Life. The Cleveland Show is still at that stage of its life where the regular characters are so little defined that it can get some mileage out of just doing stories about them interacting, so coming up with a story where virtually every regular character but the main character was tertiary probably wasn't the best idea. Seeing Cleveland get in over his head in a life of crime wasn't a bad idea, I suppose, but it could have been executed better than it was here. (And by not having Cleveland tell Donna, the show probably missed an opportunity to integrate her into the story, thus bringing in at least a few of the regulars.) Grade: C

Family Guy: And then there was this, where I understood what the series was going for, and I could sort of see getting on board with it, but the entire episode just seemed like a waste of space to me. Family Guy, for better or worse, survives on the strength of its cutaway gags, and I'm struggling to remember a single one from tonight's episode. (Oh, there's one. A reference to a crazy woman dating an even crazier guy, followed by a soundless shot of a photo of Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy that will make no sense to anyone in even two years. Good luck with lasting syndication success, Family Guy!) There were things I found potentially amusing here. Peter's reliance on TV Guide to tell him what was going to happen was an idea that had a lot of promise, and I liked Stewie's lengthy discussion of his building of a Sand Retreat for Singles in Their 30s. But most of the episode relied too heavily on the show's old fallbacks of politically incorrect humor and ostensibly funny violence, from Meg taking over the house after her stint in prison by beating up Peter to Peter getting raped by a bull. I've never quite liked the way the show has treated Meg, who's not so much a character as a target for the series' abuse. I like the idea of a character who parodies the lackadaisical way sitcoms made fun of the "daughter" in the '80s, but in execution, it often comes off as ugly. Weirdly, this was the one episode of the evening that relied the least on the "husband keeps a secret" plot (Peter's relationship with the bull was basically a tiny runner), but it was also the least enjoyable of the evening. Grade: D-

American Dad: I really needed an all-time great American Dad to salvage the evening for me, and perhaps I had too high of expectations, but this one just wasn't it. There were plenty more great jokes than in the prior two shows (I particularly liked Stan's race through the CIA obstacle course while high on crack), but the episode overall left me rather nonplussed. I liked that it tried to have a broader theme - the necessity of helping each other out - while still undercutting that theme at every opportunity, but I found myself wishing that it had come up with something more to the storyline of Stan becoming an addict than every wacky addiction cliche there is. It wasn't a bad episode of television, by any means (and I liked that this one undercut the "Stan tries to keep a secret" plot by having Francine discover it right away), but it didn't hit the heights the series has been capable of this season. Grade: B-

Stray observations:

  • "I'm shooting AT Nazis? That's not how I remember it."
  • "Something you lost will soon turn up. My faith in the Lord! It came back!"
  • "According to the only HONEST paper, the Beijing Daily Worker."
  • "let him go, Lou. Someone going that fast has no time for a ticket."
  • "You work hard! Or, at least, you're out of the house a lot."
  • "I dunno. I just go around saying that and hope it will be applicable."
  • "Look at me! I'm flying like Superman's dog!"
  • "When I grow up, you can buy an apartment building and make me a super."
  • "Oh, the video game. You'd think it would be dishwasher safe, but it wasn't."
  • "Get religious about a bird you see."
  • "Outrageous behavior and shocking gutter talk. Doggone it!"
  • "What about you, Coach Brown?" "Well, he did break a chair."
  • "You know how much money I lost on David Archuleta?"
  • "I simply let the Stoolbloods know they chose the wrong Negro to futz with."
  • "Hold on, Lois. This is some serious parenting. I'm going to go put on my Cosby sweater."
  • "I'm a member of the Aryan lassies now."
  • "I'm gonna keep swingin' my baby lasso till I catch me a man."
  • "CIA agents are supposed to distribute crack to the inner city, not smoke it."
  • "Oh my God, can you imagine? If I really had nips like these? I like to think I'd find love."
  • "Val Kilmer badmouthed Oprah, and now he's slowly turning into a pumpkin."