Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

"Gone Maggie Gone"/"Uncool Customer"/"The Juice Is Loose"/"Jack's Back"

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Hooray all around! I don't know what's gotten into this Sunday night block of sketch-em-up TV, but tonight saw vast improvement across the board; in fact, the more I think about it, I think tonight was, if anything, a good representation of some of the best these shows can hope for, whether they're long-running behemoths or more manageable behemothettes. Sadly, though, that didn't necessarily translate into big funny—some shows just aren't pulling their weight anymore.

Because of some of the commenters on previous articles, I decided to embark on a little experiment: For the next few weeks, I'll be staggering which episode I watch first, tonight starting with King Of The Hill and ending with The Simpsons.

So first, the good people of Arlen, Texas, and their amusing, if highly predictable plotlines. This one was a whole family affair—after visiting the music store and not finding a Michael Buble cassette, Peggy is suddenly worried about not being hip enough with the "times"; Bobby, meanwhile, is scared he's exhausted all his female prospects, and is looking to other schools for new ladies who haven't heard all his stock jokes. The answer to both problems lies in catillion classes, new blood for Bobby and their surprisingly "with it" parents for Peggy. One family in particular, the Savages, looks mighty promising: The mom Kat is totally down with designer handbags and chic-chic wine bars tucked away behind walls of ivy; the daughter Michael (yes, as Arrested Development would say, "Girl Michael") is a little hottie who enjoys Bobby's one-liners and has been strategically hiding her ungloved hands from the world. Both mother and son pursue their respective Savages, and finally join forces for Michael's birthday party, the final test of their newfound coolness. Of course, this is King Of The Hill, so that means taking things to goofy, somewhat endearing extremes—Peggy and Bobby don outragously unfashionable clothing and enter the party with more yo-yo's than the Obama inauguration. Yeah, they embarrass themselves and the birthday girl, but they out Kat for being a desperate trendsetter eager for respite; actually, it was Peggy's unwavering uncoolness—the dedication to Aloe Vera, the way she says what she's thinking like she's "already drinking"—that finally convinces her that it's okay to just be herself.

Even though this plot, or some variation, have been plaguing King Of The Hill for years, I didn't mind tonight's episode, actually finding it downright enjoyable. First of all, Bobby is often funniest when he's driving himself nuts with desperation, as he does near the end once Michael sours. I also really appreciated the fact that a few of the other parents were fleshed out, like the overly excitable closeted dad who forces his daughter to do everything, up to and including asking Bobby out on a date. (Loved that he accepted even before he knew who was calling.) I also kept shaking my head at the Hank subplot, in a good way: He notes at the beginning that they had turned that polygamists' compound into a new restaurant (watch out, Big Love), and within he finds the best meatloaf sandwich he's had in years. Only problem is, the restaurant is one of those newfangled spots with big communal tables, and Hank can't bring himself to go sit with strangers, let alone sit with them for a few minutes while he waits for carry-out. It gets so bad that he has to pay someone to pick up the sandwich for him. Ridiculous, yeah, but I found the extremeness of his reaction to everything about the dining experience quite funny, and a nice addition to what was going on across town.

Family Guy was certainly stronger than last week, but still relied on an overabundance of pop culture riffs far too dated to elicit much more than a brief chuckle—again, probably the best we're going to get out of the show this season. This one has to do mostly with OJ Simpson, a problem spelled out up-front by claiming the episode was found in the Griffin's basement, and was apparently from 2007. My guess is that Seth MacFarlane had this one in the can, but had to somehow couch Simpson's recent law-type problems. So Peter plays golf with the man, befriends him, tries to convince the town that he's actually a decent guy, and he goes and stabs people and runs away. Also, MacFarlane somehow thought airing a few minutes of an archival Conway Twitty performance would be "edgy" or something. No glaring misfortunes in this episode, but I really, really don't have anything to say about it, so please forgive me.

Tonight's American Dad, by contrast, did just about everything right. Steve wants to enter a father-son bike race with Stan, but discovers that Stan actually never learned how to ride a bike. Actually, he and his father never had a good relationship, and he hasn't even heard from the man in years. Steve, being the good son he is, tracks down Stan's father, who has been serving time in prison and rockin' an eye patch something fierce. He swears he's a changed man, so Steve convinces Stan to pay bail and let daddy Jack hang out with the family before his trial. Stan remains skeptical that his father has truly turned over a new leaf, but Steve wants to believe the best, and so puts total faith in the man—which turns out to be a big mistake, as Jack has been scamming the family the whole time in the hopes that Stan will put in a good word and reduce his sentence. Steve learns this after running off with Jack, an escapade cut short by Jack's newfound actual moral compass—he wants Steve to learn from Stan, a good role model, and decides to turn himself in as one last act of good will towards his son.

Stan's unwavering commitment to ousting his failure of a father was amusing to watch, and so was the odd B-story between Hayley and Roger; Hayley needs an internship for her business class, and Roger agrees to take her on at the bar, forcing her to clean out rat feces and other terrible jobs. Hayley pretends to be a bureau inspector to set Roger straight, and thus begins an elaborate costume-off between the two—mafia kingpins, the kingest of king pins, an undercover agent, etc. As long as they were going to have Roger do his thing with multiple personalities, I'm glad the show decided to take it to the extreme, and let another family member play along for a change.

Which brings us to the wholly original Simpsons. It's been a long time since the show has done something fresh, and I think this is about as good as it's gonna get for a while—even if the episode took a while to get going. It starts with an eclipse, one Marge accidentally looks at without the use of a paper towel tube device. Her eyes burn, and Homer is left to take care of the house while she heals. Unfortunately, rats have taken over the Simpson abode, so Homer has to go buy rat poison. And thus begins a series of riddles the show asks us to solve during the commercials—the first being how to get Maggie, Santa's Little Helper, and the jar of poison across a river, given that Maggie can't be alone with the poison, and the dog can't be alone with Maggie. And it's not just that The Simpsons includes this brainteaser, it's that the solution—bringing Maggie across first, alone—leads to the rest of the story—she is taken in by nuns while Homer returns in the boat to the rest of his stuff.

The plot thickens from there on out. Lisa soon discovers that those nuns are seeking some sort of gem, that a prophecy says will save the city and create peace. What follows is a series of riddles involving anagrams (Lisa's gotten a lot better at those since "Jeremy's Iron"), and a strange kaballah of hooded brethren (not the Stone Cutters) who are also seeking the gem. I guess this answers a question many of us have week-after-week: Say you're The Simpsons, how do you keep things fresh after 20 years? The answer, it seems, is to be loftier with your episode ambitions—do these sorts of geeked-out specials to keep people guessing, and mix in more specific, character-based outings in the interim. It's becoming more and more obvious that repurposed old methods aren't going to cut it for much longer, particularly with this episode in stark contrast.

The Simpsons "Gone Maggie Gone": A-
King Of The Hill "Uncool Customer": B
Family Guy "The Juice Is Loose": C+
American Dad "Jack's Back": B+

Stray observations:

  • Bobby can choose between catillion and ROTC. Strange to think those are his only two options.
  • "Mr. Belivered… look it up."
  • Great M. Night cameo on American Dad, needs to happen more often.