Tonight's local telecast of The Simpsons was delayed by some big Nascar event; as few things in life infuriate me more than grown men wearing jumpsuits and driving around and around and around in circles, this was an inauspicious beginning to the evening's animation festivities. Perhaps Jeff Gordon and Co. are to blame for my general malaise while watching tonight's episodes—or maybe tonight was yet another installment of an increasingly lackluster Sunday night lineup.
I should rephrase that—tonight's episodes weren't big knee-slappers, laughs-wise; but they were all pretty high quality in terms of story. Then again, this is supposed to be "Night of a Million Laughs" (thanks FOX promo department!), not "Night of Solidly Constructed, Well-paced, Not-really-objectionable-in-any-major-way Prime Time Animated Programming."
Take The Simpsons: I laughed exactly once, at the final line of the episode ("The rat symbolizes obviousness!"), but I wouldn't call "The Debarted" a bad episode. In fact, I think it was my favorite of the movie parodies we've seen in the lineup this season (Family Guy's Star Wars blah-a-thon, and American Dad's not-awful Bond parody), probably because it wasn't really a full-on parody; it just limited its pop-culture riffing to a single entity for once (remember the days when The Simpsons didn't even bother with pop-culture riffs? Damn you MacFarlane!). It also felt just the slightest bit old-school in terms on the everyday-ness of the two plots—Homer didn't get a wacky new job, the family didn't jet off to some exotic locale, there were no disbelief-suspending time/reality-warps. Just some good old-fashioned schoolyard shenanigans from Bart and Principal Skinner and some silly, but not absurdly stupid, Homer antics with his loaner luxury-mobile. I wouldn't go so for to say it felt like a classic Simpsons, but it didn't have that odd sheen of desperation and hackery that many recent episodes have had. But again, not many laughs. (A couple of inward chuckles though, as documented below.)
King Of The Hill pretty much owns the good-story-few-laughs formula, but tonight was especially lacking in the joke department. After last week's episode, which was riddled with Dale/Bill one-liners, this week we were treated to a fairly dry retread of the old "Hank is too trusting" theme. In fact, tonight's episode was a little depressing, as Hank discovers his "car guy" (and probably his "appliance guy" and "electronics guy") have been ripping him of for pretty much his entire adult life. Somewhat oddly though, his typically bland plan for revenge (papering the car dealer's lot with "Liar" fliers) goes awry when he finds himself attached to a shaggy-haired, liberal-arts co-conspirator who torches the dealership. For a moment it felt like we were headed for a Debbie Grund/MegaLo Mart-explosion-style extended arc, but instead it was wrapped up quickly in the third act. While I'm not sure that I would have wanted to go through the whole "Hank proving his innocence" construction again, it was a little jarring how quickly the whole fiasco got wrapped up. Thank God for guest turns from Fred Willard and Ted Danson though, otherwise there wouldn't be much to distinguish this episode at all—it also felt desperately in need of a silly alley b-plot to lighten things up a bit.
Family Guy brought out some of its biggest guns—a high-octane ultra fight, TWO musical numbers, and Herbert the Pedophile—for the sorta-culmination of one of the show's biggest ongoing subplots, Brian's crush on Lois. Lois and Brian are probably the sanest combination of the FG characters, so their story really depended on interjections from a perpetually drunk Peter and phone calls from Stewie (and an inexplicable, awful Osmands sight-gag) to liven up the proceedings. Some viewers enjoy those quick gags more than others, but I tend to like Family Guy best when there's some good back-and-forth between the characters (which is why I generally enjoy episodes that pair Brian and Stewie, who have a delightfully twisted rapport). Tonight's episode felt a little sitcom-y, in the sense that there was a fairly straightforward plot framing the episode, with auxiliary characters walking in the frame to provide the laughs. With the gags being, as always, hit-or-miss, there wasn't enough story-based humor to maintain the momentum. With that said though, I did actually like how Lois and Brian's story played out—it was kinda sweet, but at the same time devoid of any sentimentality whatsoever, thanks to the old Brian-is-still-a-dog gag—God, is a dog humping someone's leg ever NOT funny?
The Simpsons, "The Debarted": B
King Of The Hill, "The Accidental Terrorist": C+
Family Guy, "Play It Again, Brian": B-
-One of my guiltiest pleasures is puns, so I couldn't help but love this exchange from The Simpsons, when Lisa walks in on Marge squeezing ketchup and mustard packets into bottles to save money on condiments: Lisa: "Do you do it with relish?" Marge: "No, I'm kind of embarrassed about it." RIMSHOT!
-Along the same lines: Nelson haw-hawing at Bart's see-saw prank: "SEE-SAW!"
-I know he's not a voice actor, but couldn't Topher Grace, the voice of Donnie the Rat on tonight's Simpsons episode, have altered his voice just a little—what fourth grader has a voice that low? (I never thought I'd be complaining about Topher Grace sounding too masculine.)
-I'm surprised at the restraint the KOTH writers showed in having Peggy wanting to get a convertible; I figured a hybrid to be a much more obvious Hank-infuriating vehicular choice.
-That was Seth MacFarlane singing "As Time Goes By," right? We get it Seth, you have a good singing voice. Here's an imaginary cookie made of sarcasm with annoyance chips. Enjoy.