Sometimes, I wonder if Matt Groening and Seth MacFarlane have each other on speed dial and if every week, one calls the other on the phone to run down just how good or bad that week’s episodes of their respective shows are going to be. “OK, American Dad is kind of a dog this week,” MacFarlane might say, “but Family Guy has its moments.” Then Groening might say something, like, “Well, we’re doing something we’ve done 15 times before on The Simpsons, so we’d better hope The Cleveland Show brought its A game,” and MacFarlane just shakes his head. (This being Hollywood, Groening possesses a video phone and can thus see MacFarlane shaking his head in shame.) I have to imagine this isn’t the case, because this week, all of the episodes of our favorite animated shows were just pretty good. None were amazing, but all were nice enough to make for an enjoyable enough evening of TV.
On to the grading!
The Simpsons: Because of a DVR error (read: Charter Cable is the world’s worst cable company), I ended up watching The Simpsons last, which felt odd, to be perfectly honest, after something like 15 years of The Simpsons at 8 p.m. on Sundays. But the episode was another that followed one story from start to finish, with some amusing detours along the way. The Simpsons has been cramming three plots into an episode for so long now that I can’t tell if this is just a weird coincidence or what, but it ended up being a funny enough episode and an improvement on last week’s overstuffed one. After a humorous prelude featuring Marge and the other women of Springfield going Crazy Bowling, the episode turned into “Itchy and Scratchy and Marge” where instead of cartoon violence, Marge’s target was the show’s Ultimate Fighting analog, the Ultimate Punch, Kick and Choke Championship. This being The Simpsons, of course Marge was challenged to a fight by the owner of the league and of course she ended up winning the fight after a hastily inserted moment where Bart was threatened by the league owner. But overall, the storyline made sense, most of the jokes were amusing enough, and the characters were used in logical ways. While the episode was similar to that prior one right down to the jokes told, it’s nice to see a Marge episode that still has quite a few solid laughs in it. Grade: B
The Cleveland Show: This one I’m a little less sure on. There were fewer laughs than in last week’s episode – outside of pretty much anything featuring Cleveland, Jr., and Cleveland’s inappropriate come-ons to a variety of teenage boys – but the storyline made a lot more sense. I mean, if you’re the kind of person who thinks that a man having an opossum stuck to his penis equals instant laughs, it’s entirely possible this was your favorite episode of television of all time, but I’m sad to say I’m not that kind of person. The cut-away gags still aren’t working, as though the show is trying to figure out a way to be its parent show without really being its parent show. In some ways, they’re just too elaborate of set-ups for payoffs that aren’t up to the elaborate build-up. Take, for example, the trapeze artist whose partner recently died with Alzheimer’s. The setup was so elaborate that the payoff probably should have been something more unexpected than the trapeze artist just swinging back and forth and being sad no one was at the other end. On the other hand, the stuff with Lester and his son made sense as a story, and the way that the show inserted Cleveland into the middle of the storyline without seeming too obtrusive worked well. Cleveland still seems like kind of an unobtrusive person to build a show around, but if he’s quietly involving himself in the lives of the people in his neighborhood, he could prove to be a good lead. Grade: B-
Family Guy: As a confession, I should say that I’ve never seen Spies Like Us. It remains one of my great blind spots in ‘80s pop culture. Well, I don’t know about “great,” but you get the idea. To that end, I don’t know how good the storyline featuring what appeared to be the elaborate recreation of the movie was in this evening’s episode. It’s entirely possible it was a worthy successor to the movie. It’s entirely possible it was a shot-for-shot remake of the movie with a dog and baby inserted. I just wouldn’t know. But, judging it as someone who’s never seen the movie, I enjoyed it, mostly for Chevy Chase and Dan Ackroyd’s voice work but also for the amusing gags like Russia being filled with bears on unicycles or Adam West turning out to be the Russian sleeper agent, even though he didn’t know it. I liked the plot where Peter, Quagmire and Joe start up an improv group even better, if only because it managed to get right down to just why every improv group turns out to be such an irritating collection of everyone who thinks they’re funny. Granted, improv troupes and ‘80s comedies are kind of lazy targets, but the show managed to give both a character-based spin, which made the jokes funnier. Because, honestly, the more times Peter broke out his John Wayne impression, the more I laughed. I am not ashamed to admit this. Grade: B
American Dad: Another episode where two largely adequate plots added up to an episode that was greater than the sum of its parts. The “someone’s accidentally taken over a drone plane!” plot was used on Chuck last year, but other than that, I think it was a new one (though, granted, it would be weird if this plot suddenly showed up on Brothers & Sisters). The storyline where Roger, Haley and Francine ended up stuck on the plane on the tarmac was funny mostly for the ways that the characters interacted with each other and the passengers around them, but it was also a storyline that didn’t really go anywhere, kind of a throwaway. Had the episode stuck more with the opening storyline of Steve and his friends taking the drone on a joyride, I might have enjoyed it slightly more, just because storylines where there’s a misunderstanding between Steve and Stan that is patched up at the last minute are turning into a well this show goes to way too often, but the episode would have been worth it just for that gag about the squirrel president, honestly. Grade: B
- I genuinely have no idea how I’m going to make the new grading system work with these shows. I guess I’ll just average them together every week?
- Man, I always forget that Mila Kunis has Ukrainian ancestry (I think?), but she was much better at the Russian than Adam West was.
- Your bonus Sit Down, Shut Up thoughts! I’m now caught up with the episodes that have been airing Saturday nights, and while the series is still deeply problematic, it’s a lot more confident than it was at the start. This week’s episode, in particular, had some very funny moments. I still wouldn’t have given any of the episodes higher than a B-, but it’s finally resembling a show I might watch every week, were it not on in the middle of the night on Saturday.
- "I Googled girls having fun and after wading through 97,000 pages of porn, I found crazy bowling!"
- "Ultimate makes everything worse."
- "Call me a killjoy, but I think that because this is not to my taste, no one else should be able to enjoy it."
- "I'll get out of these pants, and you can talk to Cleveland Jr. ... I shouldn't talk to boys."
- "You know who else was classy? Ed Bradley. Ed Bradley was a class act."
- "This is gonna be way better than when we had that Victorian girl ghost over for dinner."
- "The F is silent like in knife."
- "I'm trying to spell schizo-no-phreia."
- "Oh my god, I'm becoming uncomfortably lucid."
- "I was thinking we'd rent crossbows, go to the dog park, see where the day takes us."