"Tears Of An Inflatable Clown" / "Funeral For A Fiend" / "Peter's Daughter"

"Tears Of An Inflatable Clown" / "Funeral For A Fiend" / "Peter's Daughter"

And so continues FOX's Great Sunday Night Shuffle. And there wasn't even a football game to blame this time. I'm not sure what happened to the American Dad that was scheduled to air tonight (it's still listed on the FOX media site), and poor ol' King Of The Hill was inexplicably ousted from its nice new post-Simpsons slot to kick things off at 7 p.m. ET (which is a ridiculous 6 p.m. here in good ol' Central time). But at least there were two extra Simpsons repeats and a Family Guy--'cause you know, you can't see those in syndication every freakin' day of your life.

Thankfully, TiVo is smarter than I am, so I didn't miss King Of The Hill. Though, to be honest, if I had, it wouldn't have been the worst thing. After two strong weeks in a row, KOTH fell back on a humdrum impressionable-Bobby storyline. Bobby's blind enthusiasm is one of my favorite aspects of his personality, but this plot is getting a little moldy: Bobby sets out on a project (this time, a school carnival) with good intentions (ramping up school spirit, pleasing his dad), but soon gets sidetracked by a wily/stupid/selfish pseudo-villain (a school-board employee pushing "diversity training" that encourages self-loathing). Cue Bobby going overboard with his latest distraction (turning the carnival into a "carnival of learning" i.e. self-hatred assembly) until a monologue from Hank sets him back on track, just in time to fix everything. We've already seen this pattern once this season (in "Bobby Rae"), and countless other times throughout the show's run ("Husky Bobby," "Spin The Choice," "Reborn To Be Wild"), and while there's nothing inherently wrong with returning to good, solid tropes--all of those episodes, with the exception of "Bobby Rae," rank among my favorites--this one felt just a tad too familiar. Perhaps it was the ridiculously overblown Dr. Pope, who might just be the most frustratingly one-dimensional Hank foil to ever appear on the show.

I was also a little thrown off by the time element, which is something KOTH usually pays attention to, at least more than the rest of its Sunday-night brethren. While I chuckled more at the side-plot involving Hank and the guys trying to get Lucky to go to the hospital after injuring his hand (Bill: "He keeps slipping away! He's like happiness!") than at the rest of the episode, I was confused by the fact that they seemed to be pursuing him for the exact same amount of time it took Bobby to plan and ruin the school carnival. Huh? Either that is one crappy carnival, or one very infected hand. This would be a minor quibble on The Simpsons, and not even worth mentioning on Family Guy, but I expect more of you, KOTH.

The Simpsons was the high point of the evening, thanks to those three wonderful words, "AHHH! SIDESHOW BOB!" Ten foiled plots later, Sideshow Bob still always signals an above-average episode--and yes, I'm including the last two, "Day Of The Jackanapes" and "The Italian Bob," both of which I liked much better upon repeat viewings. We also got an appearance from Bob's brother Cecil, once again voiced by David Hyde Pierce, and--for those of you still mourning the passing of Fraiser, you sickos--the introduction of the Terwilliger boys' father, voiced by John Mahoney.

The Sideshow Bob storyline forced The Simpsons to do what it's been having trouble doing lately: picking a story and sticking to it. This was one of the most linear episodes we've seen in a while, and the lead-in story (the Simpson family getting a TiVo) actually fed into the main plot, albeit kind of sloppily (I still don't understand why no one else in Springfield either a) saw or b) responded to Sideshow Bob's phony commercial). This was especially welcome after last week's go-nowhere comic-book plot. I'm also glad that Bob's foiled death-by-laptop-battery scheme was intentionally asinine--though it did provide for some nice monologuing and an excellent smarty-pants-off between Bob and Lisa, who we've seen VERY little of this season... I think Maggie has gotten more plot points devoted to her so far. While the episode wrapped up a little too quickly for my liking--they definitely could have shaved a couple minutes off the TiVo storyline in exchange for a little more drama during the final standoff--there were some excellent sight gags (the coffin with extra foot-room, the cops wrestling Bob's hair into the police car) and quips ("Why must I feed him straight lines?"; "Take that, ashes").

While I suppose Family Guy was remarkable this week in that it had a Meg-centric storyline that involved more than the family heaping abuse on her for a half-hour, it was pretty bland--and only on Family Guy could an episode featuring gags concerning Hurricane Katrina, abortion, and incest seem bland. I was initially into the idea of Peter's ambivalence/malevolence toward his daughter turning into rampant overprotectiveness, but--and I can't believe I'm saying this--it just didn't go far enough. I would've happily scrapped the whole pregnant-Meg story in exchange for Peter ruining her life by going typically overboard with his newfound appreciation for his daughter. And yes, I know I've complained before about the inexplicable cruelty heaped on Meg in this show. But let's face it, it's part of the Family Guy universe, and I think this could've been a really good twist on that old joke, had it been played out further.

The side-plot featuring Stewie and Brian's house-flipping venture felt similarly mishandled. For one, that set-up was begging for a musical-number-slash-fixing-up-montage (though the "over" bit was a different kind of classic Brian-Stewie humor). But the gratuitous-explosion finale seemed completely uninspired (though maybe I've just seen Hot Fuzz too many times) and a little truncated. The main story had a similarly rushed conclusion, though a little bit of Conway Twitty was the perfect salve on that wound. There's rarely a Family Guy that doesn't have at least two or three good gags, and this episode had a handful of good laughs (doggie hell, Alien as voiced by Bruce), but there were too many missed opportunities to make it memorable.

Grades:
King Of The Hill, "Tears Of An Inflatable Clown": C
The Simpsons, "Funeral For A Fiend": B+
Family Guy, "Peter's Daughter": B-

Stray Observations:

--I wonder if Lisa's recap of Sideshow Bob's plot was meant to be an homage to "Black Widower," when Bart recapped Bob's plan to kill Selma. If it was, it was half-assed; if it wasn't, it was a pleasant bit of unintentional nostalgia.

--I wasn't aware the Netherlands was such of font of comedic opportunity: A couple of weeks back The Simpsons covered the long-brewing feud between the Dutch and Danes, and this week, KOTH gave us this useful lesson: "Ah, the Dutch: windmills, wooden shoes, apartheid."

--"Have a socially relevant day!"