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"Lost Verizon"/"Earthly Girls Are Easy"/"I Dream Of Jesus"/"The One That Got Away"

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What a difference a week makes. Last time I was pretty hard on American Dad for hammering its jokes too hard, and felt like King of the Hill was the best for telling a compelling, complete story. Well things have definitely shifted here in Animation land, and my feelings towards those two shows have reversed–at least as far as these episodes were concerned.

But first, The Simpsons, where things are business as usual. As has been pointed out before, the show's been on so long that it's common to crib from past storylines and jokes. This one was no exception–much of what happened reminded me of the season seven episode "Marge Be Not Proud." In that episode (one of my favorites ever), Bart, in a desperate attempt to secure a copy of the Bonestorm video game, steals from the Try 'N' Save. He's busted by the store's security guard, but the real tragedy is that Marge and co. don't trust the boy anymore. Marge laments Bart's loss of innocence in her eyes; Bart, at first aloof, realizes he needs his mother and isn't as tough as he thought he was.

Much is the same tonight: Bart's desperate for a cell phone, so he steals one from Dennis Leary (how awkward/unnecessary was that celebrity cameo?). Marge finds out, but takes Leary's advice and starts tracking his activity. Bart swindles his family and sends them to Machu Pichu so he can have the house to himself, but he gets scared and wants his mommy. Meanwhile, Marge realizes the boy won't be young forever.

The show has been around for a long time, so evaluating these episodes is tricky–sure the Simpsons have done it better before, but is it fair to hold the new ones up against the old? My gut tells me no, and more often than not that'll be the case. But I'm finding it hard to not dock tonight's episode a few points, mostly because I can't seem to distance it from "Marge Be Not Proud." That's because the first one got so many things right that "Lost Verizon" got wrong. Rather than showing Marge's struggle with Bart's maturity (via a convo between her and Homer) and Bart's regret (going back to the store and getting his own photo taken), tonight's episode has the two characters boldly declaring their feelings/realizations to no one in particular. Same goes with the comparision between Bart's lack of motherly love and Milhouse's abundance of it–where we had Bart desperate to spend time with Mrs. Van Houten, now Milhouse has to basically scream to Bart that his parents spoil him. And then there's Lisa: Tonight she decides to tell Bart that their parents are tracking him, because she thinks wire tapping is wrong. But since when has she been Bart's enabler? Surely stopping him would prevent even more crimes from occurring.

On the other hand, it's becoming clear that the one-off gags on the show are getting increasingly better. Loved learning that Moe's been spying on Marge; that Nelson has to remind his mother where she is every time she wakes up, which is at night; and that Principal Skinner's mom reads Bingo strategy guides entitled "It's All Luck." I'm just missing the really well-rounded episodes of yore.

While King Of The Hill once again presented a pretty straight-forward message-heavy episode, this week's felt strained. It was a green-touting one–our culture is heavy on the green movement nowadays, and a lot of that's been reflected in TV land. It's discovered that Strickland has been dumping in the river, so the company, much at the request of Hank, has decided to go green. But everyone except for Hank quickly realizes it's much easier (on the conscience) to simply buy carbon offsets and not change anything about your gas-guzzling life. This fact dominates the majority of the episode, with Strickland employees struggling to deal with carpooling and Hank reminding everyone that every little bit helps.

It's not till near the end that we get much of anything besides outspoken Hank refusing to stand up to his boss. When he gets his chance, and denounces the company's lame efforts at the benefit concert they're throwing, the crowd doesn't seem to care. It's not that they hate the environment, but that they're really just seeking cognitive peace–tell me I'm doing good so I can stop feeling bad. Kudos to King Of The Hill for capturing the actual zeitgeist so precisely, but getting there wasn't nearly as much fun as it should have been.

Tonight's Family Guy ostensibly had both simple and grandiose goals–literally half the episode was composed of Peter repeating "Surfin' Bird" gags, while the other had Jesus returning to Earth and coping with the state of affairs. I didn't mind all the "Surfin' Bird" stuff–it escalated pretty nicely, starting with Peter dancing at the diner and including a commercial he had air on TV. Plus, the ending contained the spot-on Office Space spoof with Stewie and Brian. If there's any show that could get away with this type of ongoing joke, it's Family Guy

The Jesus story, simply by the time constraint it was under, was abrupt. They had some fun with his reintroduction to society (I for one thought it was hilarious that Dave Coulier was a higher-billed guest on Leno than Christ), but it felt like there was a lot of ground Family Guy didn't tread that they wanted to. It would be impossible for people in this day and age to accept anyone claiming to be the savior (they'd be labeled as crazy, methinks), and that part of the episode was over in a few seconds. I liked what they did with it, but I wanted more.

Which leads me to tonight's great, albeit slightly imperfect American Dad. The split personality story simply worked–it fit with what we know about Roger, and took things in an unexpected direction. It felt right to tell Roger's side of the story, then Sydney's (the alter ego), then show how the two resolved themselves, including joint interaction with the hitman. (Best business card ever: "I'll kill HIM for YOU.") The dichotomy also added to the humor–Sydney worships Johnny Appleseed; Roger rapes sycamores.

The non-Roger stuff wasn't as strong–both the Simon family bit and Klaus's struggle for acceptance didn't fit with what was going on, and thus distracted from the story. But as a Roger-centric episode, this was surprisingly solid.


The Simpsons "Lost Verizon": B-

King Of The Hill "Earthly Girls Are Easy": B-

Family Guy "I Dream Of Jesus": B

American Dad "The One That Got Away": B+

Stray observations:

- Speaking of "Marge Be Not Proud": that episode contained a great Alan Sherman bit, as did tonight's Family Guy. Coincidence? Yeah.

- Did anyone catch what song they were playing when Jesus came out on Leno? I rewound my DVR a few times but couldn't figure out what it was.

- "You're talking so loud, of course I'm in!"

- Loved that Hank referred to the green movement as not all "California nonsense."

- Have you heard? About the bird?