It was an evening of odd characters wandering into the lives of our favorite Fox animated characters, of new mentors and crazy friends. It was also an evening of half-hearted social messages, occasional holiday references and assorted speeches about someone getting their life back on track. Also, two of the shows had a gag about someone getting stuck underneath a pool cover, though, to be fair, when it was Seymour Skinner, he was trapped under there with a bunch of worms. While it wasn't the best week of shows this season, none of the shows was horrendously bad either, and all of them actually picked some fairly interesting targets for their storylines. So, that being said, let's go on to the grading.
The Simpsons: I realize that the storyline where someone who's very important to the characters but is never mentioned again and was never mentioned before turns up is a TV staple, but it sort of feels like it accounts for roughly a third of all of the Al Jean era episodes of The Simpsons. Tonight's zaniness revolved around one Andy Hamilton, the once greatest prankster of Springfield Elementary, who's now slumming it and trying to recapture the glory days. Not a bad setup for an episode, particularly as Bart's shenanigans are one of the few things the show does consistently anymore, but it just never felt like the Andy and Bart story ever went anywhere. The two met, then engaged in some mutual pranking, then gradually grew apart, mostly due to the fact that Andy was a complete bum and Bart couldn't figure out how to get him back on track. In the end, he became a TV writer! Ha ha ha! Meta-commentary! On the other hand, a lot of the pranks the writers came up with for Andy to pull were pretty inspired, particularly the worms prank (which was completely horrifying and worked as a secret origin for Seymour Skinner). I also liked the B story, wherein Marge gradually became aware of all of the dangers she faced in junk food and common plastics thanks to a baby play group that Maggie was a part of. The show's portrayal of hyper-vigilant mothers who worry too much and the sorts of inane baby activities that occur at these groups was spot-on, and Homer and Marge's junk food binge made up for some of the sloppiness in the main plot. Grade: B
The Cleveland Show: I think we've all realized by now that there are a handful of good characters and ideas in The Cleveland Show, but the series is not yet using them to their full potential. The same was true for this episode, which had a pretty inspired conceit at its center - what would happen if you suddenly ran across a Mrs. Doubtfire or Big Momma in your real life but you didn't know it was a man? - and wedded it to the rather underrated holiday (for purposes of building a TV episode around) of Thanksgiving. Introducing the members of Cleveland and Donna's extended families was the sort of thing that could have potential for future episodes, but the storyline never took any of this anywhere. Instead, Cleveland's dad had sex with Auntie Mama, and then everyone threw up a lot. Now, I'm not a huge fan of vomit gags, but I could tell these were about as well-executed as such a thing could be. At the same time, they were still vomit gags in lieu of Cleveland spending time with his dad or something. It's not a big deal if these shows don't want to do complicated character development (Lord knows Family Guy didn't need it), but Cleveland Show has headed in this direction so often that I was a bit disappointed the episode didn't tie all of this together better. Grade: C+
Family Guy: One of my favorite South Park story arcs was when Kenny was supposedly definitively dead and the boys had to find a new fourth friend and cycled through Butters and Tweak and a bunch of other characters before finally landing on the newly resurrected Kenny. This semi-ongoing plot where Quagmire, Joe and Peter are looking for a Cleveland replacement is sort of a half-assed attempt to do that, but it's having the same effect on me, though I wish the show would turn to the guys hanging out with pre-established characters more often than characters shifted only into the show's world to hang out with the guys. (I also can't escape the suspicion that the whole thing is just a constant way to remind us that, HEY, CLEVELAND HAS HIS OWN SHOW, YOU GUYS!) So, again, I thought the main plot - Peter finds a new friend named Jerome, and he turns out to be a former boyfriend of Lois' - started out well before sort of just petering out as the episode went on. I get that storytelling isn't Family Guy's strong suit, but there had to have been some notes to hit here other than the utterly predictable ones. That said, I quite liked Brian's attempts to get Quagmire to like him, particularly Quagmire's lengthy monologue about why Brian is so insufferable. I highly doubt this is all Seth McFarlane meta-commentary as I suggested a while back, but it's certainly amusing that the show is spending all of this time tearing down the one character who's a mouthpiece for the creator. Grade: C+
American Dad: Good old reliable American Dad was again the best of the bunch, though I suspect I would have liked this episode a lot more if I had any real knowledge about My Morning Jacket, a band I always mean to get into but never do. The show seems to do a lot of plots where Stan is introduced to some new craze by one of the supporting characters and then he goes nuts for it, but it's usually funny because Stan is such a straitlaced character. So his obsession with the band, which seemed like it would stop being funny roughly a minute after it was introduced, kept getting weirder and weirder and funnier and funnier. There was even an extended parody of Almost Famous, featuring Roger as Abbey Road and Stan as a journalist for "the Rolling Stone magazine." And, hell, if that's your sort of thing, there was a lengthy montage of objectified shots of Francine in skimpy clothing. American Dad is the one show in this lineup that uses all of its characters almost exactly right, even in episodes where they don't logically fit, and this episode was another good example of that, as every character got at least one good gag. Grade: B+
- Seriously, what was up with the Christmas opening for The Simpsons? Not to mention Cleveland singing "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." I'm a Christmas-aholic, and even I think it's a little early.
- "Poop in the tub. Poop in the tub. I'm not gonna poop in the tub."
- "Right back at ya, Jason. Stay in school." "I will!"
- "Don't worry. He's defanged, although he can still rub poison on you with his gums."
- "Did you know that Lard Glug contains neither lard nor glug?" "From now on, we'll only make the kids eat healthy!"
- "I meant no disrespect. Let me get you a Jet magazine and a sweet tea."
- "You told me that I should fly like a bird because you can't keep a bird in a cage. And then you farted. And then you said that you were outrageous."
- "We're not supposed to profit from my powers!"
- "Because people make fun of me all the time for being stupid about everything!"
- "Stan, you didn't come to bed last night. I checked the couch. I checked all three of your webs."
- "This one time I was freebasing drugs in a van with Tina Jivestrong and the black guy from the Beatles, and I was all, 'I think I'm gonna like it here.'"
- "It's like we're soul neighbors, and we're constantly borrowing sugar from each other."