"You Debt Your Life"/"Angry Dad: The Movie"/"Hamburger Dinner Theater"/"German Guy"/"Terry Unmarried"

"You Debt Your Life"/"Angry Dad: The Movie"/"Hamburger Dinner Theater"/"German Guy"/"Terry Unmarried"

American Dad: Tonight's American Dad just felt off. Like it was an off-brand parody of the show. The characters were there, and the situations were properly built for comedy, but the jokes just didn't land. Maybe it was Roger vomiting drunkenly in the first minute, partially in response to a few of you wondering where all the vomit was last week.

Stan saves Roger from drunkenly getting hit by a bus, thus prompting Haley to remind Stan that Roger is there because Stan owes Roger a life-debt, which has now been repaid. So Stan kicks Roger out, but he actually misses Roger, so he finds a surrogate Roger in Andy Dick, “another fey pansexual alcoholic roommate.” Then Roger devises a plot to save Stan's life again, some weird stuff happens, the reset button gets hit, the end.

Steve also has another subplot involving him and his friends, and like last week, it's not very funny. However, unlike last week, there isn't a strong main plot to prop it up. Which makes me wonder just what the hell is going on with Haley. Isn't she supposed to be a major character? She's like a sitcom actress who's off shooting a movie, so she only shows up every so often for a cameo for a month or two, except she's voiced by Seth MacFarlane's sister, so that seems fairly unlikely. Am I just misremembering her as a major character, or is she being shunted off to the side? Regardless, this is an entirely forgettable episode of American Dad, but unlike the other MacFarlane shows, that's a rarity from this show. C-

The Simpsons: I was dreading The Simpsons this week when I read the press release mentioning its premise and extended list of guest stars. It's not like awards shows are difficult targets, and Russell Brand, Ricky Gervais, and Halle Berry don't have a lot in common, other than being actor people.

Happily, as with so many Simpsons episodes this season, a mediocre episode on paper is salvaged and turned good by a strong collection of visual gags. The episode opens with a truly excellent Itchy & Scratchy episode (and I'm not normally an I&S fan), called “The Great Brawl of China” which follows the structure of a martial arts flick. A focus on short animation lets The Simpsons team go crazy with short animation parodies, including a fun parody of The Triplets of Belleville, an absurd, fantastic take on the animated war short called “Saakashvili Spring,” and an entertaining, if too-easy, Pixar parody called “Condiments.” All of them are done in the style of the original, giant noses, black and white, CGI and all. The winner of the batch, though, is a Wallace & Gromit parody which manages to convey the charm and unfunniness of the originals, while making the claymation humans look like Simpsons humans with yellow skin and exaggerated, protruding mouths.

It's fortunate that these are good, because they form the heart of the show. There aren't a whole lot of jokes to be found in the rest, as Bart turns an old Internet show of his called Angry Dad into a movie that isn't very good, so it becomes an award-winning short. Homer, the voice of the “angry dad,” starts stealing all the credit from Bart at the various awards shows. Thank God there's no Kanye “I'ma let you finish” moment, which I thought was pretty much a guarantee from the premise. The guest stars aren't bad either. Ricky Gervais basically just gives a couple of monologues that may as well come from a stand-up show, Russell Brand is barely there, and Halle Berry is fairly quick, if pointless. The meta-humor from Angry Dad looking a lot like The Tracy Ullman Show shorts is cute too.

At one point in the filming process, the animators ask Homer to do something with his ass in order for them to draw it better. He amusingly shuffles a deck of cards under his pants. It's funny. Then he opens a soda bottle with it. Same joke as 10 seconds before, only this time it's dumb. That's kind of the issue with this episode of The Simpsons. B-

Bob's Burgers: This is more like it! After several weeks of almost-identical plots and me complaining about almost-identical plots, Bob's Burgers finally ventures outside its comfort zone slightly for a more absurd but also family-oriented storyline, and the move pays dividends. This is a notable improvement for the show.

Linda wants to go see dinner theater, which inspires her to use the restaurant to put on her own dinner theater. Bob's unhappy with dinner theater, saying “It's neither dinner nor theater” and complaining that “it just makes you sing everything.” Unperturbed, she recruits the kids and Mort from next door to put on a mass murder mystery musical about love.

I'm happy that Linda gets to be the focus of the episode, as a bit too often she slides over into the “nagging wife” category of cartoon characters. Bob's easy interactions with the other characters, including his wife, are also probably the show's strength. If this episode has a weakness, it's that Louise is somewhat sidelined, with her Canada-hatred and all. Still, this kind of show, focusing on the family's often-hilarious interactions with one another, is the Bob's Burgers I've been waiting for. I hope that this is the turning point towards something great. B+

Family Guy: Of all Family Guy's myriad crimes, I'm not sure any is bigger than their consistent use of Herbert the pedophile as a recurring character, who, apparently, is supposed to be funny. Now, I'll grant that Family Guy sometimes uses anti-humor pretty successfully. It's also fairly effective at doing offensive humor sometimes. Herbert, theoretically, could fall into either of those categories. Yet he's neither. He's a black hole of shittiness whose every appearance brings out the worst tendencies of Family Guy. His appearance brings every episode he's in to a screeching halt. (Wikipedia describes his critical reception as “mixed” and then goes on to provide several positive examples of critical reception for Herbert; here's a counter-example, editors!)

He's also the focus of this episode. Not just the focus! He's the hero!

See, Chris needs a hobby that isn't jerking off. So he finds a puppet shop operated by a kindly old German man. Herbert recognizes the German as a former SS officer. Chris and Peter don't believe him and get captured by the Nazi. Herbert puts on his old US Army uniform and fights the Nazi. So we're supposed to cheer for the child molester against the concentration camp guard. Yay? It gets worse. The fight's humor relies on “old people move slowly to bombastic music.” For a good five minutes.

The relentless amorality and lack of humor would put this episode among Family Guy's worst, except for the unfortunate fact that before the Nazi storyline starts, the episode was actually pretty damn funny. The scene where Chris goes into the puppet store and sees Franz make a Chris-puppet dance and sing to the pop music of today is pretty good, as is Chris' recreation of Twilight with puppets. This prevents me from giving the full F, but it makes the awfulness of the rest of the episode stand in stark contrast. Honestly? I'm starting to think I'd prefer to watch The Cleveland Show over Family Guy these days. D-

The Cleveland Show: That last line was pretty much the definition of “damning with faint praise,” but it's especially true this week, as Cleveland sinks back into barely-tolerable mediocrity, after showing some slight improvements.

The first few seconds of the show demonstrate exactly what's wrong with The Cleveland Show. Cleveland is making coffee. He can't find the coffee pot, so he wonders aloud where it might be. Cleveland, Jr., bursts through the door to the strains of “Iron Man” in an armored suit made of pots and pans, blasting the entire kitchen with gatling lasers. It's surprising and funny and cool, all at once. Then Cleveland shouts “Cleveand, Jr., you made an armored suit out of pots and pans! With gatling lasers!” Because nothing accents a good visual joke like immediately shouting what happened in the joke.

Cleveland, Jr., is the only good thing about the episode, really. When Cleveland rhetorically demands that Donna imagine a pitcher he just threw has shattered, Junior says “All right, I'm imagining it” and scrunches up his face. It's a decent enough joke, but it's dramatically improved by the fact that the glass suddenly shatters, which makes it legitimately good. I think I know get what Todd was trying to say when he declared that Junior was the best character on the show.

Unfortunately, that's about it for anything good from this episode. Cleveland discovers that his friend Terry Kimble is gay and also that Donna is officially married to him. So there's some gay panic, and a hasty double marriage in Vermont, and that's about it. Also, Rallo has a singing booger, in a scene that goes on way too long in a sub-plot that goes on way too long, largely because the singing booger is Justin Timberlake, I guess. You had to be there, but you shouldn't want to. D+

Stray Observations:

  • Among the many things Roger's proud of as his life flashes before his eyes: the concept art for Jar-Jar Binks.
  • “I wouldn't even do coke off that picture!”
  • “Here's your trophy!”
  • “Sometimes, I think I should have just stayed in Peru moving blow.”
  • “You ate his yogurt in the car!”
  • Homer starts comparing Bart's budding movie career to Roman Polanski's, until Marge tells him not to. “HE WHAT? YOU MONSTER!”
  • The Adventures of Parody Man
  • Lisa gets in Mixar's way. They call out the big guns: “Randy, tell her how we feel.” “You've got an en-e-my....”
  • “According to this live blog, Ben Stiller and Jack Black are doing a bit that will not end.”
  • I liked the Extras homage with Ricky Gervais and “Ridley Scott” over the credits.
  • “I hate that country....”
  • “Don't. Don't score me.”
  • “I hate stage fright?” Flashback Tina was pretty great.
  • Mort's blood effects are how gross-out humor works. When you expect it, it's mostly meaningless, Family Guy. When it's in the middle of Bob's Burgers, it's funny.
  • “Bob, we're a hit!” “No, we were hit.” “Good one.”
  • “Well, maybe just a condom and a hat?” Gene gives Tina advice on how to view her audience to get over her stage fright.
  • “All right, Chris, this is one of the oldest hobbies in existence: drinkin'!”
  • “How do I know which one to shoot?”
  • “Back in the day, he was the Rock Hudson of Stoolbend HighOOooo!” Mike Henry, who I insulted above as he apparently invented the Herbert character, gets a compliment here: his voice work for Cleveland is often a high point. He sold this joke perfectly. It was probably the only laugh I got in the second half of the episode.
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