I think the last time The Simpsons was the strongest of the animated shows, it was the week in December where it aired solo, the rest on break already. But tonight's just barely passes everything else for the win—a much tighter and unexpected episode than anything this season. No, really.
It stems from the fact that this episode's story was actually fairly original (at least I haven't seen something like this), which surprisingly doesn't happen all that often. Homer throws a Fat Tuesday party—apparently one of many—and, of course, neglects to invite Ned Flanders until the last minute, and out of guilt. Well, these shindigs are costing a pretty penny, one Homer is dumping onto his home owner's ARM, which kicks into full effect immediately. Now nerdly Ned is the only one who can save the Simpsons from eviction; and ignoring all the terrible things Homer has done to him in the past, Ned follows through, buying the house and allowing the family to remain. This is good news at first: Finally, a competent person is available to fix the leaky faucet and many gas leaks. But as the Simpsons are wont to do, they wear out their welcome and get the boot once and for all—that is, until Flanders realizes he just can't have different neighbors.
Yeah, the story was mighty predictable, but what I liked about tonight's Simpsons was that it ventured into character-based territory, rather than an oddball, plot-driven direction. Ned-as-landlord works because of the show's rich history, not in spite of it; Homer's attempt to change Ned's mind by dressing up as Jesus, followed by his selling Ned up the river with Kent Brockman ("Whose fault is it? The person whose side of the story we didn't even bother getting"), is another case of Homer not realizing how good he has it with Ned as a neighbor—and another chance for Ned to take it. Some might not appreciate this bit of rehashing, but I for one enjoyed the (slight) return to form.
King Of The Hill mixed things up for the second week in a row, with nary a strawman in sight. The worst day of the year has arrived in Arlen, Texas: Not the election of President Barack Obama, but the anniversary of their defeat in the big state football game. See, 23 years ago, Hank—and, to a lesser extent, Bill—dominated the field; but when the big game arrived, Hank broke his ankle, and was unable to secure victory. The winners have been coming around Hank's house ever since, tormenting him year-after-year about the loss. It's gotten so bad, even, that one guy moved out of Arlen and now lives in Phoenix, where it's even hotter outside. But God-sarnit, Hank's not gonna take it any more! Dignity will once again be divvied out on Arlen's terms! A flag-football rematch, it must be! Like Friday Night Lights, two decades later.
But then the episode veered into really odd territory. At a practice, Bill busts up Hank's nose, which forces Hank to see a plastic surgeon. His nose is fixed, and then some—the strange nostril imbalance is corrected at no additional charge. Actually, it works a little too well, as Hank now can't stop looking at himself in the mirror. And when it comes to football, well, forget about it; Hank's too afraid to catch anything, and instead just swats the ball away when it comes within face-shot. This side of the story was particularly clunky (Hank blurts out, "My nose!" each time—and it happens a few times), and I didn't quite buy its resolution—Hank revisits the doctor's office, but admits, hey, it's the fear of losing after all this time that's really got him down. I thought the idea of revisiting a football game was rich enough to stand on its own, and unfortunately this nose business—not that kind of nose business—soiled the redemption angle too much.
And then there was Family Guy. Not a whole lot happens tonight: Peter buys a braindead horse out of stupidity, then fails to make any money on it at the racetrack. He's forced to undergo medical experiments for pay, including one treatment that turns him gay. Lots of penis jokes ensue, including Lois's realization that she only cares about Peter's happiness, even if that doesn't include her anymore. But lo, the serum reverses itself, and Peter returns.
Yeah, pretty inoffensive and all, but here's a question: Remember when this show was relevant? When its most biting pop culture commentary wasn't a tired Seth Rogen kick? I hardly do. Tonight's episode felt, to me, like yet another pointless exercise in Family Guy insider smugness—Hey, listen to all these gay things; ooh, Stewie's sexuality is questionable; references! We've seen far less Family Guy this season than any other show, but why does it feel like we've still seen all this show can do? Even the "canceled Fox shows" bit was straight out of a few years ago.
But then American Dad came along and changed everything yet again… well, sort of. I enjoyed tonight's Roger vs. Stan–fest—Roger becomes chair of the housing board under the name Roy Rogers McFreely, and proceeds to make Stan's life a living hell—but was a bit annoyed that this was yet another episode about Roger feeling like an outsider in the family. We already got that this season with "1600 Candles," and while the back-and-forth shenanigans were entertaining (particularly Stan's oneupsmanship with the horseradish), what I've liked best about American Dad this season is how it's managed to explore larger character themes in each episode. This one was a bit of a rehash, but at least Stan and Hayley got to team up; her ability to tell a guy how to pull a rope will never get old—neither will her Ghostbusters body paint.
The Simpsons "No Loan Again, Naturally": B+
King Of The Hill "Bwah My Nose": B-
Family Guy "Family Gay": C-
American Dad "Roy Rogers McFreely": B
- "You can't run, but you can flee."
- "I'm not in-your-face hetero." "No, you are not."
- Stan and Steve dancing to "Thriller": Easily best moment of the night.