I'm becoming more and more convinced that every week, the animated shows are just exchanging the same four plots back and forth, executing them with varying degrees of panache. One week, The Simpsons will be visiting another time or place. The next week the gang from The Cleveland Show will. Or then you'll have an episode where the Griffin marriage is in danger, only to have the Smith marriage be in danger the next week (which will evidently be sometime in June). The other two plots involve one of the families' kids getting in trouble somehow and the parents realizing they haven't paid as close of attention as they should have and some sort of showbiz satire/blatant ripoff of a movie or TV show. I get that all of these plots are pretty standard sitcom fare already, so I shouldn't be complaining that the series just reuse the same plots over and over and over, but it might be nice to see the series break out of their standard-issue plots every once in a while.
Well, they didn't tonight! And that wasn't so bad, really, particularly in the case of The Simpsons. But on to the grading.
The Simpsons: A couple of weeks ago, I complained about episodes where the Simpson family visits some other place or takes a trip through time via storytelling or reading old Simpson diaries or something. And I was all set to hate on this episode, which involves the Simpsons going to the Holy Land and seems to consist, at one time or another of some of the more ridiculous "ain't Jews funny?" jokes the show's done in quite a while. But, ultimately, the episode landed for me for a few reasons. The first reason was that I laughed a lot. The Israeli tour guide had the exact pitch and cadence of most tour guides, combined with a ridiculous accent, and that made pretty much everything he said funnier than it normally would have been. And I know Homer being immature and a jerkass at historical landmarks/important places is something the show has gone to quite a bit, but it's still funny when done well, as it was here. The second reason was that the episode played off a relationship the show hasn't done an episode on in a while: the relationship between Homer and Flanders. I don't know that there are a ton of stories to tell within this relationship (and, indeed, the show seems to have told most of them at one time or another), but it's nice to see the show do an episode that doesn't revolve around Homer and Marge's marriage falling apart or the parents worrying about one of the kids. That said, though, I'm less certain of the ending of the episode, which involved Homer thinking he was the messiah and passed by way too quickly to have any sort of impact. And, yeah, there were jokes here that went on way too long, like that whole krav maga thing. But, for the most part, this was a funny vacation episode, and the show hasn't done one of those in a while. Grade: B+
The Cleveland Show: Here's one I'm less certain about. On its own merits, the episode was funny enough, particularly the old, "The marriage is in trouble because the wife wears the pants, and the husband is embarrassed about it" plotline, which at least got a pretty nice twist here, with Donna finally just shooting her husband so he could say the thief shot him. But too much of that plotline required us to buy that Cleveland is just a callous jerk to his wife, much like Homer and Peter are to their wives on the other two shows. I get that having the husband be a callous jerk is a time-honored way to get laughs in a comedy like this, but having three shows like this in a row is maybe having three too many, and it's not hard to see that the producers here are just copying what works, since Cleveland was rather a different guy back in Quahog. Again, it was funny, but I'm not sure that I like the Griffin-ication of the Stoolbend gang. American Dad really started to stand out when it made its own name for itself, and I'd rather The Cleveland Show run away from its parent show and find its own identity. (Also, the less said about the "Rallo thinks Roberta is dying because of her period" storyline, the better.) Grade: C+
Family Guy: I'm not sure this is going to play very well for the folks out there who have absolutely no interest in how television is produced, but for myself and the others like me, who hang on every drop of casting news in pilot season, this was a pretty funny, if uninspired, take on the pilot process. Everything here is pretty much a watered-down version of the largely enjoyable film The TV Set (which features one of the all-time great Sigourney Weaver performances, if you haven't seen it), which was already a pretty watered-down showbiz satire. So while I enjoyed the story of Brian's pilot slowly getting destroyed by the process, I think it could have been more gutsy, in a lot of ways. Having it become a cheesy sitcom that was so cheesy it wouldn't get on the air anymore was funny, in the way that making fun of awful sitcoms from the early '80s often is, but it might have been funnier to dig into the fact that Brian's pilot was clearly pretty awful. (Did you hear that dialogue from it?) It's always fun to see Brian taken down a peg, and the show could have gotten deeper into it here. Still, it was good enough to earn this episode a Grade: B- (A note: I refuse to grade the Stewie plotline simply because I am notoriously unable to take that kind of grossout gag, and I'd want to give it an F or something when it mostly succeeded on its own terms of, well, grossing the audience out.)
- "If I don't hear a computer word every couple of sentences, I'm outta here."
- "What about Sodom and Gomorrah?" "He lovingly destroyed them."
- "The man hates pants."
- "Welcome to Israel. Your American tax dollars at work."
- "For all we know, Jesus could have given a talk in Conference Room C."
- "Now we have no time to see Masada! Where everybody died! For no reason!"
- "Finally, something you like better than Pechanga."
- "Ned. I'm an American tourist. I'm just here to see some sights, try goofy new food and spread some shekels with my Carolina Panthers credit card."
- "Dear Lord, please fix the following parking tickets ..."
- "What are you up to?" "Reading prayers and ignoring them. Just like God!"
- "And Lord, thank you for letting me see this wonderful place, where the end of the world will soon begin."
- "It's so nice and cool in the Tomb of the Unknown Savior."
- "Porky Pig's a pig, and he's not even a real pig!" "But he is buried here, right?"
- "Homer, do you know why I'm a Christian?" "Because your parents made you?"
- "A sandhorse. Car of the desert!"
- "So salty. Maybe if I add a little salt."
- "Chosen for what, almighty gherkin?"
- "THE MESSIAH ... has the passports."
- "Look not upon her with lust, and do not send her friendly e-mails. That's how it begins."
- "Have you ever noticed that dad gets the disease they write about in the in-flight magazine?"
- "Some of us don't eat pork. Some of us don't eat shellfish. But all of us can enjoy chicken."
- "Peace and chicken!"
- "No! It's a chemical fire. You can't use water. We'll have to neutralize it with calcium and boron!"
- "Do I look like Richard Branson, the rebel billionaire?"
- "All right! I'm gonna go buy a tent, so I can sleep outside for fun!"
- "And I'm Esther Rolle. 'Oh, J.J.. Don't you join a gang!'"
- "That's a lot of money for some pants we gonna bury."
- "Heaven is a place where women will bring you a drink without any lip and keep their opinions to themselves because they realize their words are just noise."
- "I won't have my man compare himself to anything on NBC."
- "What's so funny? You guys watching a JibJab?"
- "Now, the only proof that I'm a man is my ambiguous homophobia."
- "I could have killed you, Mr. Weinberg."
- "Oy! Elijah Wood! I've got a little bit of a crush on him, I have."
- "I discovered a much more precious element. I discovered dad-mium."
- "I felt whatever the most senior executive in this room felt!"
- "We thought it would be a lot funnier if it was a sitcom."
- "You're always saying our show sucks. Let's see yours."
- "You smell that? That's brain smell."