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Cartoon Graveyard: Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

July 23, 2009

cartoongraveyard

Let’s begin on a personal note. I have an old book entitled “The Friars Club Encyclopedia of Jokes.” In this book, supposedly compiled by members of the famed old-timey comedians’ guild, jokes are arranged alphabetically by subject.  Under the heading “Liberals,” one may find several quips poking fun at those to the left of the political spectrum.  Unfortunately, all of them are lame wordplay on the phrase “bleeding heart.” This led my naive young self to conclude that Friars Club members are not only uniformly conservative, but also not very clever.  Nowadays I realize the book was just compiled by some hack or other, but it still raises a vexing conundrum: why can’t conservatives be funny?

The left-right comedy gap is longstanding and puzzling.  Liberals have The Daily Show; conservatives have that one Fox News Daily Show knockoff that lasted about a quarter-season.  Liberals have Doonesbury, in which liberal political opinions are delivered via jokes, and conservatives have Mallard Fillmore, in which conservative political opinions are delivered via a duck lecturing you.  Why the disparity?  Surely humor can be independent of one’s political opinion.  And it’s not as if conservatives are never funny.  William F.  Buckley was known for his wit as well as his right-wingery.  Ronald Reagan could tell a joke or two.  What’s going on?

Mike Judge, at least, is doing his part to bridge the gap.  His show King of the Hill often featured jabs at the lefty do-gooders of the world, most of whom ended up exposed as frauds or sadly out of their depth.  But King of the Hill is gone now, and Judge has followed up with The Goode Family, in which the do-gooder types that took their lumps every now and then are now the main characters.  Ha?

Title: The Goode Family
Network: ABC
Premise: LLLLLLLIBERALS!

Nothing about this show’s surroundings suggests greatness.  It’s on ABC, aka Sitcom Purgatory, it’s being run during the summer, and it follows Bob Saget’s new sitcom, Surviving Suburbia.  It would take a work of genius to escape that big a sea of bland.  Such a work is not forthcoming.

The series follows the title family (possible topic for later: eccentric families: hackneyed premise, or hackneyedest premise?), who are defined solely by their commitment to being the most perfect liberals ever.  To that end, they’re led by the most perfect liberal stereotype ever: the father, Gerald, is drawn like a gangly teenager, wears glasses, and speaks in a high, effeminate voice.  Because, as you know, liberals are weaklings who are emasculated by their emotional, womanlike ideals (idea: record post in Zapp Brannigan voice).  His wife’s character differs only in that she is a physically separate person.  They have two kids, Normal Teenage Girl “Bliss” and African Adoptee Who Is Actually White “Ubuntu.”

SATIRE!

SATIRE!

The show’s plots mix standard family-sitcom business with the super-liberal theme.  On another show, let’s call it “Shming of the Shmill,” parents might find themselves not paying enough attention to their kids because they are busy at, say, some sort of cooking fuel-related event.  On this show, the parents find themselves busy teaching troubled high school kids art.  Totally, totally different  (naturally this backfires because their lovably non-white students are in fact hardened criminals who can never be truly turned away from their innate criminality).

The episode I watched mixed that plot with a highly original one in which Bliss has an unauthorized party, then engages in unethical activity to impress friends, as well as another in which Ubuntu joins a nature group that shockingly – shockingly! – turns out to be a front for ecoterrorism.  He is duped into aiding a plot to blow up some giant SUVs, which was totally timely and hilarious several years ago.  In the end, of course, it all ends happily: the parents, the daughter and their lovably non-white students save the son from the clutches of the villainous ecoterrorists, mainly by having the lovably non-white students beat them up.  All is well!  On to the next liberal talking point to skewer!

Can you help us, Only Black Character?

Can you help us, Only Black Character?

All joking aside, all the jokes are in the asides, mixed into otherwise boring dialogue. As a sitcom, the show really doesn’t work.  The main reason, to my mind, is that the premise is too thin to really support a series.  The obnoxious liberal character type worked (okay, sometimes worked) on King of the Hill because they were occasional side characters, providing plot devices and brief antagonists for Hank Hill and the gang before disappearing.  Now that they’re in the spotlight, they’re exposed for the thin characterizations that they are.  Working at the Squelch, I’ve had a lot of people pitch ideas for political humor, and often they fall into a common trap: simply repeating your opponent’s slogans in a sarcastic tone of voice is not funny.  But that’s what The Goode Family traffics in.  Every other scene features Mr. and Mrs. Goode reciting some talking point or another in that vacuous tone of voice that tells the audience, psst, this a stupid person reciting a stupid idea.  The show is just too obvious.  Plot details and lessons are simply announced by the characters.  Here’s one (paraphrased, but just barely) line: “Oh no!  We tried to help the lovably non-white students avoid violence, but instead got them beaten up!” Here’s part of a phone conversation, again slightly paraphrased: “Mom!  Ubuntu’s going to blow up an SUV dealership!”  “Gasp!  Ubuntu’s going to blow up an SUV dealership!” Judge and company need to trust the audience more to get their jokes without prompting, or the only people who enjoy this show are going to be the kind of lunkheads that liberals expect to be hated by anyway.

So why can’t conservatives be funny?  I don’t know.  Making such a huge generalization would be damn near impossible, a stance that no doubt makes me weak and womanlike.  Wait, maybe that’s it.  Could it be that conservatives are less willing to add the self-deprecating touch needed to leaven ideological humor?  Could the emphasis on strength and simplicity entail an inability to abandon the very self-righteousness whose liberal counterpart The Goode Family mocks? I’m gonna go ahead and say it does.  Maybe you can’t effectively laugh at others until you can laugh at yourself.

Final Judgement: The Goode Family really isn’t all that g– wait a minute.  I can’t pan this lame show without making an equally lame pun!  Was that the whole point?  It is, isn’t it?  This is all an elaborate Andy Kaufmanesque prank on critics!  DAMN YOU, JUDGE, YOU MAGNIFICENT BASTARD!

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9 comments

  1. I think you are too hard on it. This show is uneven but not bad. The best jokes are the ones tangential to the premise but there’s a lot of good stuff on how do-gooder liberals can be motivated by status seeking just like anyone else. And you can’t make a show that never sympathizes with your protagonists — the episodes often end with them finding reasonable middle ground without selling out their ideals. And the pilot has them discover how creepy a Purity-pledging Christian group turns out to be, so it’s not like it will never take shots at the Right.

    I think the ways in which you complain it’s predictable are no worse than any other sitcom — for example, having the school kids be criminals is the natural way to subvert the Goodes’ good intentions. In fact they do get through to the kids in the end except that the kids need to maintain their cred. You seem to just be offended that nonwhites are portrayed as criminals and that is always wrong. If you’ve taught troubled kids in bad areas, it tends to be true that they are non-white and criminals — you don’t have to exist on a show with a conservative axe to grind. Also, the plot about the daughter and her fake IDs was not a political story at all. It is a typical sitcom story, but why is it that just because this show has a political theme, everything about it has to be held to a higher standard than an average show?

    Delivering stupid lines in a voice that telegraphs idiocy has always the basis of Homer Simpson, even back in the good years of the Simpsons. Doing so with the political talking points of one’s opponent is the entire premise of the Colbert Report and that show is great. There’s nothing wrong with this method of satire when done well and it works here too. Some of their liberal beliefs are pretty simplistic but it’s not like most TV comedy doesn’t portray the right simplistically.

    I will grant you that the show lacks some freshness but that’s mainly because it’s so similar to King of the Hill, which also did an SUV eco-terrorism story years ago when it was timely. And the political satire probably would work better if it were subtler and the show didn’t declare its purpose so nakedly — King of the Hill was about a basically conservative guy but it didn’t announce itself that way. Actually a good analogue would be American Dad! which was conceived as a heavy-handed mockery of a jingoistic right-winger. Compare Goode Family to that show and see which side does political satire with more fairness and subtlety.


  2. No argument on the Fox News Daily Show and Mallard Fillmore, though.


  3. You make some good points, but I don’t think I’m holding the show to a higher standard than I would a show that’s not political. The overly standard sitcom stuff is a negative for me because it’s overly standard sitcom stuff, and it would be boring on any show. When shows I like bust out that kind of played-out plot, I notice and I don’t like it. This one may be no worse than any other sitcom, but that’s not really a plus in my book.

    I would also argue that good political satire echoes the beliefs of its targets, then goes one step further into absurdity, which is what Colbert does so well. This show didn’t seem to get beyond the echoing part. Maybe other episodes do that better, but from what I saw the political commentary, which you’d expect to be a strength for a show with this kind of premise, was pretty blunt. Maybe American Dad! is similar, but I am not inclined to champion American Dad! as an exemplar of left-leaning satire.

    If my review is superficial, I’ll cop to that. I only watched one episode, and for the express purpose of writing a humorous blog post about it. I tried to get across that the problem I saw in the show is not that it’s conservative, but that it felt lazy and unfunny to me. A sitcom can make any political point it likes, but it has to make it in a funnier way than what I saw.

    On a side note, thanks for revealing that someone actually reads my posts.


  4. Brett I read your posts!!!

    Also I think “Red Eye” is still on the air on Fox. I can’t remember if that was supposed to be their Daily Show, but I remember it being one of the shows in their “conservative laff block!” blitz a few years ago. And it is still awful.

    As for “Goode Family”, I won’t say much because I’ve never seen an episode or really felt the inclination to, but it does have an incredibly boring title (as does American Dad! now that I think about it) and I can’t lightly forgive that.


  5. Jesus Christ, I’ve never even heard of “Red Eye.” It sounds like a show about severe ocular injuries, or perhaps late plane flights. The show I was thinking of was “The Half-Hour News Hour,” which Fox News ran for a while to compete with Jon Stewart and failed miserably.

    If you think about it, most prime-time cartoons have boring titles like that. The Simpsons, Family Guy, The Flintstones, etc. God bless Futurama.


  6. When has having a boring title or not ever been a criteria for good comedy or even good TV? Most shows in general have very boring titles. The Office, South Park, Chuck, Seinfeld, The Sarah Silverman Program, The Daily Show…

    Shows with non-boring titles usually involve some strained pun — actually Goode Family falls more into this category.

    Red Eye is a rotating panel of pundits and guests riffing on stories. I think sometimes they have non-conservatives on too. I haven’t really watched it but it seems less strained than Half Hour News Hour (non-boring title?) which was truly painful on every level.


  7. I just meant that “Goode” was a boring and stupid pun to base a series on. Probably no better than Better Off Ted, but I haven’t seen that either.

    I guess what I’m saying is *~*FARTZ*~*


  8. Whatever else may divide us, I think we can all agree on *~*FARTZ*~*.


  9. […] cartoons of this era, the Family Guys and post-season 10 Simpons, and even to a lesser extent the Goode Families: there is so much more to each plot of each episode than just parodying popular culture or going […]



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