Welcome back, Animation Domination, um, Obama-nations. (TBD.) We had a week off for the World Series–part of a game at least–and we're here just in time for the annual Treehouse of Horror tradition on The Simpsons.
But before getting into that here's a thought. How long is it going to be before all four shows are decent on the same night? Will that ever happen? Tonight was particularly gruesome in the middle, and even though we came away with winning Simpsons and American Dad eps, I couldn't help but hope, just once, for a consistent two-hour block of grown-up toons. Might not happen any time soon, but a man can dream.
Anyways, I digress Treehouse of Horror numero nineteeno was up tonight, an episode that's already gotten a fair amount of buzz. The show released the opening scene, in which Homer attempts to vote for Obama, a few weeks ago, and it made the rounds through the series of tubes we call home (the Internet). And just this week, critics all over my RSS feed couldn't wait to sing the Simpson's praises for their spot-on parody of the Mad Men opening credits sequence.
But it isn't just that stuff that makes tonight's episode work. As one commenter astutely pointed out last week, many recent episodes have felt Treehouse of Horrory–things happen with little consequence to the show's character consistency. (Hans Moleman dies? Eh, he'll be back.) But if there's one thing hardcore Simpsons purists and new-fangled fans can agree on, it's that the show has gotten better in recent years at punchy, shorter gags. And as that's what every Treehouse of Horror essentially is, this particular one was the best Simpsons of the season thus far. Mad Men gets its due (though I'm wishing they had donated an entire segment to a parody maybe it's too obscure a reference for the general viewership?), but so does It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Transformers. Bart debates purchasing "somber string"; Golda Meir lays the smack down; the gang rocks out to Vince Guaraldi on an iPod. Minus the need to tell a story or further the show's plot, the writers demonstrate their knack for smart comedy–even when it's in service of the funniest anal sex euphemism I've, probably, ever heard: a poker tournament at the rec center. Sadly, I don't expect the ride to last long, as next week they'll certainly be back to the recent formula. But perhaps the writers can do more of these sorts of broken-out episodes, as they did back in the day of "The 138th Episode Spectacular" clip show.
Then there's King Of The Hill, which was mostly a snoozer. Part of the show's charm is that Hank enjoys living in a simple world, and we're able to slowly watch him adapt to newfangled gadgets, lifestyles and whatnot. But tonight's "MySpace is the wave of the future, so get with it" episode hits us over the head with the fact that "Hank's sure not going to like where this is going." Hank's old fashioned, see, and he prefers doing business face-to-face, even though having a kickass MySpace page is affording Strickland tons of sales. The introduction of social networking does give us a chance to learn some surprising things about other community members–Bill drunk messages people; Peggy adopts the online persona of Ted Dan Son; Donna clearly has no life–but the original face-to-face vs. online conflict never really gets addressed. And I'm docking it a few grade points for it's way-too-casual depiction of the way people on MySpace meet up in the real world. You address the person by their online handle? LOL, and stuff.
Family Guy suffers similarly from problems that have plagued its newer episodes. This one's, without a doubt, the most meta episode I've seen in quite some time. The count was astronomical: Lois tells Peter not to embark on a "series of comedic stunts"; Brian can't do a good Stewie impression; Quagmire tells Cleveland what doesn't give him a boner (misuse of the word "rubbish"); Chris saying, "Ha ha, movie references." And speaking of, there are a ton of those too, including the overarching Home Alone plot (the family goes to the Grand Canyon, but leaves Stewie behind; he parties) and the second Back To The Future one in two episodes. If Family Guy wants to make the show itself the butt of every joke, it needs to ramp up the conflict and tone down on the flights of fancy–most of those are funny for a bit, but excess can ruin just about anything.
But all was well in Langley Falls this evening–a straight-up American Dad winner on all accounts. It starts with the revelation that Francine gave her heart to another man way-back-when, a fact that sends Stan into fits of jealousy. With the help of Roger, he tracks down this studly pilot, now living on a farm and birthing baby calves with the help of John Cougar Mellencamp (who fashions picks out of the "sundried placenta"). The insecure Stan concocts a scheme in which he can truly test Francine's love: he fakes his own crash landing and spies on his wife to see if she moves on. Meanwhile, Steve is practicing cello in order to woo a "cello slut" (ha!), but finds himself inexplicably attracted to a stray cat. Both story lines are clearly ridiculous, but singularly focus on their respective absurdity. And as Stan posits on the deserted island, "Not everything is funny. Sometimes you just have to get information out." It's a simple truth that works in American Dad's advantage, and it's one that its lead-in should take to heart.
The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror 19": A-
King Of The Hill "Lost in MySpace": B-
Family Guy "Baby Not on Board": C
American Dad "Choosy Wives Choose Stan": A
- "That was a powerful, powerful wet dream."
- "We have a good back-and-forth, you and me." "I've had better."
- "Don't ask what I was doing under there ask."
- "I have to go trim my mustache for synagogue."
- These are all from one of the shows. Care to guess?