In honor of Mothers' Day and tonight's Simpsons, I have to start out with a little shout-out to Mama Koski (yes, she reads this, so be nice!), who watched The Simpsons every week with me from the very beginning, while the parents of all my other elementary-school buddies were busy getting those Bart T-shirts banned from school. Thanks Mom; you're the reason I'm such a sarcastic potty-mouth today!
The writers of The Simpsons, on the other hand, chose to honor Mothers' Day by killing off Homer's mom, Mona (voiced as always by Glenn Close). Thankfully, she got a decent send-off, devoid of too much cringe-inducing Homer wackiness or a silly B-story. It didn't quite have the tender sadness that the ending of "Mother Homer" did (quietly fading out as Homer watches the sky after saying goodbye to his fugitive mother), but as far as modern-day Simpsons deaths go, at least it was no Nick Riviera. In fact, the moment when Homer finds his mother sitting dead in front of the fireplace, right after he repeatedly refused her attempts at reconciliation, was one of the most gut-punching Simpsons moments I can remember in a long time. And friends and family helping him through his grief afforded a couple of nice laughs (Apu's explanation of reincarnation, the phone call to Lenny's mom).
However, that all happened in the first half. From there we're led through a typically outlandish plot that finds Homer honoring Mona's final wishes: scaling a big rock in order to scatter her ashes at precisely 3 p.m., just in time to thwart Mr. Burns' plans to launch a missile of nuclear waste into the rain forest–as Homer put it, "One last stupid hippie protest." Bond-style (or maybe Hank Scorpio-style) action ensues from there, with the family banding together to rescue Homer from Mr. Burns' hired goons. This is where the episode lost me, mainly because it reverted back to no-consequences cartoon mode, where Homer can get stabbed in the skull with a Swiss army knife and survive a huge explosion no problem (and no mention is made at all of how Mr. Burns avoided the detonation). Sure, the characters in the Simpsons universe have always been pretty impervious to physical calamity, as two-dimensional characters are wont to be, but somewhere along the line they all seemed to inherit the Wile E. Coyote gene. I wish the episode had kept up the momentum of the first half, focusing a little more on the–for lack of a better term–humanity of Homer, something we haven't seen in a good long time.
King Of The Hill relegated its mother figure to a pretty go-nowhere B-plot tonight, though Peggy did provide a nice chorus to the solid Hank-Bobby main story: her discovery of a pile of used psychology texts giving her the jargon necessary to meddle in the most efficient–and hilarious–manner possible. But the real emotional thrust of the episode came from Hank's phobia of bats, which prevents him from realizing his long-standing dream of building something–a boat–with Bobby. When a bat drives Hank from his garage, Bobby ends up working on the project by himself, gradually becoming overconfident and going so far as to take over Hank's household maintenance. In a nice twist on the ol' Hank Fixes Everything formula, Hank has to face down a horde of 20,000 bats when cocky Bobby takes the boat out for a test run and it begins to sink just as it floats under the local bat-infested bridge.
I was really happy with the pacing of this episode of KOTH, especially compared to the bifurcated Simpsons episode that preceded it. Even though the big climax on KOTH was just a raft floating down a river and some nocturnal mammals, it had way more excitement and heart than The Simpsons' exploding missile shenanigans. Chalk that up to a good two-thirds of the episode devoted to subtle moments that served to reinforce the magnitude of the final scene: Hank's excitement at Bobby's initial enthusiasm, his disappointment when Bobby turns out to be not much help at all, and his shame when his phobia demotes him to, as Dale puts it, "the Bobby of the house." Sure, there were some silly moments–mainly from the alley guys, who first build a bat-boat to taunt Hank, then tie him to a tree to help him overcome his fear. But for the most part it was a solid take on one of King Of The Hill's go-to plot points, Hank teaching Bobby to be a man.
American Dad came to a similar conclusion tonight, but got there in a typically convoluted and vulgar (though often funny) manner. Tonight's episode kept close to home, which can be a hit-or-miss tactic on American Dad. After suffering a near-fatal accident, Stan becomes fixated on leaving behind a legacy when he dies. His solution? To find Oliver North's legendary treasure, which is supposedly buried beneath his house. Meanwhile, Francine is left alone to try and tame Haylie "Dreamsmasher" and Steve as they test the limits of their assholery. When Stan finds the treasure and is nearly killed again in a cave-in, he has an epiphany–"It isn't just a name black people give their daughters"–that his kids are his real legacy. Surprising? No, of course not; when you get down to it, American Dad deals almost exclusively in classic sitcom tropes–it just farts all over them along the way.
Tonight's gags were split between pretty solid (the Iran-Contra Schoolhouse Rock parody) and kinda dumb (pretty much everything having to do with Steve's vacuum-cleaner girlfriend). The Roger B-story–him playing double-dress-up, as Laura VanDerBooben and Luke Fondleberg, in order to bilk a company out of a sexual-harassment settlement–seemed like a bit of a throwaway. I would have preferred to see him and Klaus more engaged in the main story somehow; Stan's shenanigans could have used a little Roger commentary.
Next week: finales! Has it been seven months already?
The Simpsons, "Mona Leaves-A": B
King Of The Hill, "It Came From The Garage": A-
American Dad, "Stannie Slickers II: The Legend Of Ollie's Gold": C+
–The Simpsons has been using some of its longer couch gags–specifically, the evolution of Homer one and the tapestry one–a lot this season. Have they been coming up a little short time-wise or something?
–A couple of steal-able Simpsons quotes tonight: "I'm fine, it's my feelings that are mad," and "I'm really glad you corrected me Lisa, people are always realllllly glad when they're corrected." Go ahead, use 'em in everyday conversation.
–Hey Simpsons writers, HEMP DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY.
–Peggy on Bobby learning from his mistakes: "Will he lose a finger? Maybe. But he will gain a finger of knowledge in his brain."
–The synopsis of tonight's American Dad on the FOX media site said that Stan nearly died in a collision with a pudding truck, yet I saw no pudding. I was led to believe there would be pudding, FOX.