Wednesday, April 17, 2013

5-Piece Cartoon Dinner (04/17/2013): Archer, Out There, Apollo Gauntlet, Bob's Burgers and American Dad

'Put that thing away,' says Jon Hamm. 'What I'm packing is way bigger, dude.'
The producers forced Jon Hamm to wear underwear during this role as well.
Every Wednesday in "5-Piece Cartoon Dinner," I dine on five of the week's most noteworthy animated shows. The episodes are reviewed in the order of when they first aired.

Damn. So Lana Kane is pregnant, via an unspecified sperm donor. Unlike Ray Gillette ending up confined to a wheelchair once again (by the way, a bunch of Sterling/Ray shippers somewhere must be having a field day over the tickling scene that causes Ray's re-crippling), I didn't see that one coming, although thanks to all that time I spent in TV Clichés 101, when Lana started puking while heading off with the other agents to stop eco-terrorist Captain Murphy in the second half of "Sea Tunt," Archer's fourth-season finale, I knew right there she was with child. It explains her irritability and largely unspoken concern about settling down and having a life outside of ISIS in recent episodes. I appreciate how Archer creator Adam Reed didn't resort to having Lana spell out her concern in dialogue and chose to have her constantly interrupted before she could spell it out during those episodes. It shows how much Reed respects the audience's intelligence, unlike some other animated series showrunners (*cough*Ultimate Spider-Man writers*cough*).

Archer, Lana, Cecil and Ray discover that Murphy was faking his possession of nerve gas missiles, which makes him, along with Malory and Eugene Mirman's Cecil Tunt, one of several characters this season who concocted lies to get more money because they're broke. Killing off Murphy with a soda machine emblazoned with the last name of the late Harry Goz, the actor who voiced Murphy on Reed and Matt Thompson's Sealab 2021, is Reed and Thompson's twisted and oddly affecting way of both paying tribute to Goz and saying that not even Jon Hamm in the role of Murphy can compare to Goz.

The other revelation about Murphy--he doesn't have any personnel with him at Sealab--is Reed's clever way of working around the fact that Cartoon Network's legal department really did a number on Reed and prevented him from using all the other characters from Sealab. The absence of lewd and frequently nude Debbie DuPree, Sealab's precursor to Cheryl/Carol and Pam, is particularly glaring because she would have fit right in with the Archer universe. Maybe Reed should have emulated Murphy, Malory and Cecil and lied to trick Cartoon Network into giving him the rights to the other characters.

Despite the lack of those characters and the rather minimal screen time given to Mirman and Kristen Schaal in the second half, "Sea Tunt" is a satisfying season finale, thanks to the show's always terrific dialogue (especially when the agents argue over undercover personas and when Cyril frequently snipes at Lana because he's pissed that he's not her baby's father) and great character moments like Archer setting aside his usual asshole self for a moment to let Lana know that he wants her to be a better mom than Malory was. Another thing I like about "Sea Tunt" is that it's given me an excuse to revisit one of the greatest--but way too short--TV themes of all time, performed by the indie pop band Calamine.


Memorable quotes:
* Murphy, as he dies: "Forgive my candor. I just felt my spleen slip out of what was my anus."

* Murphy's last words: "Crushed by an off-brand drink machine. Oh my God, just like that old gypsy woman sa--"

* Lana, as Archer lets himself drown Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio style to save her and her baby: "Okay, here it comes! You just gotta relax and let it go in your mouth!" Archer: "Phrasing!"

***

"Viking Days," Out There's latest episode, has the feel of an old King of the Hill episode about kids and the fathers who have trouble understanding them (having their conflicts play out against the backdrop of a sporting event is particularly reminiscent of King of the Hill). That might be because "Viking Days" was written by former King of the Hill writer Rebecca May. (Pamela Adlon even does a slightly raspier variation on her Bobby Hill voice when she voices Dave, one of Chad and Chris' male classmates.) But the occasional profanity and frequent cutaways to the characters' fantasy lives--Jay continues to believe he's a space alien--are unmistakably Out There.

The arrival of Holford's annual Father/Son Hexathlon brings out the tensions in three different dad/kid duos. Chad doesn't feel like his staid optometrist dad Wayne is fun enough--or manly enough--to be his Hexathlon partner; Chris doesn't want to take part in the race with Terry, his mom Joanie's annoying boyfriend, and Terry doesn't want to partner up with Chris either, despite Joanie's urging; and Sharla is frequently appalled by the manly hobbies of her hunter/taxidermist dad Doug, who's voiced by special guest star Nick Offerman and bears many similarities to Ron Swanson, Offerman's equally macho and old-fashioned Parks and Rec character. Chad thinks Doug and his collection of stuffed and preserved animals are awesome, so he chooses him as his Hexathlon partner and winds up hurting Wayne's feelings.

Chad doesn't realize that an alpha male like Doug is obsessed with winning, so he's unprepared for the amount of strenuous training Doug puts him through before the Hexathlon. Meanwhile, Chris and Terry hate each other so much that they come up with an elaborate plan where they won't have to race together and they'll trick Joanie into thinking they were in the race. But "Operation Fake Race" goes wrong, and like Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin in The Edge, Chris and Terry end up having to get along with each other in order to survive the woods. No grizzly bears attack Chris and Terry and turn Harold Perrineau into an hors d'oeuvre though.

Again, nothing too hilarious or side-splitting takes place this week on this gentle-humored and occasionally melancholy cartoon, although "Viking Days" works in a couple of good deadpan jokes during Chad's voiceovers, like when he summarizes the history of Holford and concludes with "The warriors celebrated their victory by cutting out the beast's heart and declaring the land beneath their feet as their own. There's a Taco Steve's there now."

***

For the last several years, Sunday has been an exemplary day for TV because of quality shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. Now add the Rug Burn Channel's Apollo Gauntlet to that list of episodic masterworks. It's a captivating drama that keeps getting stronger each Sunday, thanks to Myles Langlois' masterful turn as Apollo, a Don Draper-esque tragic figure faced with the Sisyphean struggles of trying to distinguish whether it's real or Memorex and being upset when children look him in the eye and say, "Where is Baba?"

During "The Interrogation of Dr. Benign by the Hero Apollo Gauntlet," the impromptu intervention Apollo stages for Benign, the scientist who accidentally teleported both himself and Apollo to another dimension, brings to mind the power and complexity of Jon Hamm's riveting "Carousel" speech from the… Alright, I'm bullshitting. Just click to 2:21 and enjoy Apollo's threat of subjecting Benign to "a severance package," one of several "Interrogation of Dr. Benign" one-liners made funnier by Langlois' deadpan, Canadian-accented monotone.

***

The dissatisfied reactions at the A.V. Club from both the reviewer and the commenters regarding the Belchers being frequently screwed over by the game show producers during Bob's Burgers' "Family Fracas" episode says a lot about the audience's affection for these characters. That minor outcry is also surprising because I feel like those viewers are forgetting that comedy is way more interesting and funny when it arises from darkness, pain, suffering, losing or failure--the blues, if you will. If comedy was all about the opposite, you'd get nothing but Christian cable network sitcoms or... Entourage.

I don't despise "Family Fracas" as much as those viewers do, but we know that Bob will never be able to upgrade his hooptie--it brings to mind any frustrating moment where Gilligan and the other castaways were handed an opportunity to get off the island, and then fate or some last-minute twist shat on them--so that sets "Family Fracas" down a path of predictability that downgrades the episode a bit for me. (Plus a game show being broadcast live instead of pre-recorded like all game shows are these days is such a wack and tired sitcom cliché that needs to be punched in the nuts and kicked away to the curb like any person who blames the Boston Marathon bombings on brown people, although the sight of Teddy saying a childlike "Hi Linda" back to Linda on his TV screen made me chuckle.)

Still, a narratively weaker Bob's Burgers episode is way funnier than most other sitcoms from the five broadcast networks. Who doesn't enjoy Tina simultaneously flirting with and trash-talking the teen sons of the competing families in that monotone of hers during Family Fracas? And more of Thomas Lennon and Samantha Bee, who reprise their roles from "Beefsquatch" as now-divorced local TV hosts Chuck (he's now the host of Family Fracas) and Pam (she's become a judge on a courtroom show), is always welcome. Plus we need more of Childrens Hospital's Rob Huebel as the weird TV producer who keeps a bar in his desk ("You don't have a bar in your desk?," he says to a puzzled Bob as if Bob is from outer space) and hilariously likes to role-play Richard Dawson/female Family Feud contestant kisses with Chuck.

'I'm gonna take that pompadour and shove it down your throat, Jimmy Pe-chophagia!'
Other memorable quotes:
* Louise to Bob and Linda, after being subjected for too long to Tina's bad breath and Gene's smelly feet: "Why don't you wash your children?"

* Louise to Jimmy Jr., who shuts the Belcher kids out of the Pestos' van to the TV studio: "Oh, you're getting a banana in your tailpipe... And I am not talking about the van."

* Judge Pam: "I hate to agree with the defense, and also, I hate the defense. And his smug face. And his misshapen penis!" Chuck: "Ho-ho-ho-ho! Well, it pleased the court." Pam: "The court was faking it."

* Gene: "The Foam Cam! Dad, the Foam Cam is on the ceiling! I never forget a camera that feeds me."

* Bob: "Why are we getting foamed? This is a court show!" Linda: "The losers get foamed on Pam's Court." Bob: "That's insane." Tina: "They have foam on all their shows on this channel."

***

I bet Stan finds fully clothed dry-humping like in Bad Teacher to be appalling as well.
If there's any American Dad episode that I wish a group of radicals (much like the counter-protesters who came up with a bunch of brilliant ways to mock hateful protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con) would show in a screening room if they kidnapped the members of the Parents Television Council, strapped them down and forced them to watch some great comedic TV made for adults while subjecting them to some sort of Ludovico treatment-like experiment so that their heads would explode, and then they'd wind up catatonic so that they'd shut the fuck up and stop trying to ruin adult animation or adult sitcoms for everybody else, that episode would be "The Missing Kink."

I'm on and off with American Dad, even though it's the best of the many animated shows produced by Seth MacFarlane's Fuzzy Door Productions. On some weeks, I'll hear about an American Dad plot summary or catch a promo of the latest episode, and I'll see some potential sight gag that makes me worry about Fuzzy Door indulging in some of MacFarlane's lame racial shtick from Family Guy or Ted, and then I'll choose to skip the show. And then there are other weeks where an American Dad plot summary will interest me because of how strange it sounds, so I tune in or download the show on iTunes, and the episode ends up being a laugh riot. "The Missing Kink"--which centers on Francine's discovery of a way to spice things up in the bedroom because her conservative, Bible-thumping husband Stan has been making their sex life boring due to his preference for the missionary position--is one of those riotous episodes.

I remember a time when Wendy Schaal characters used to be wholesome and pure. How the fuck could you do this to America, Wendy Schaal?
(Photo source: American Dad Wikia)
Francine realizes that getting spanked turns her on. Stan becomes appalled by her fetish and banishes her to the woods, where a side story about a bluebird who disappoints Francine because of his crack addiction ("You're using again, aren't you? You piece of garbage.") is funnier than the B-story about Hayley getting back into the dating scene after Roger sent her husband Jeff away to space at the end of "Naked to the Limit, One More Time." But after some persuasion from Roger ("Sometimes it takes a lavish song-and-dance number to make a man realize he was wrong"), Stan changes his mind about people's fetishes and opts to be more adventurous in the bedroom.

However, Stan's newfound willingness to try every single kink ends up exhausting and weirding out Francine, and it leads to a hilarious montage that stays affixed on a range of astonished or horrified reactions from Principal Lewis (Kevin Michael Richardson) and his "ride" Marguerite (a Morris Day-esque hot tub salesman whom the show killed off last season and has been brought back to life in "The Missing Kink") while they watch Stan, Francine and their various sexual partners. Marguerite, by the way, is voiced by Eastbound & Down scene-stealer Michael Peña, who doesn't get any lines like "That's voyeurism, man! I love to voyeurism, bro!" but should have.

This all could have turned into a laughless, immature and oddly-embarrassed-about-its-subject fiasco on the order of the much-maligned Garry Marshall version of Exit to Eden, but "The Missing Kink," with its grown-up attitude towards freaky behavior, never does. The fact that it's done by younger writers (Jeff Chiang and Eric Ziobrowski) instead of 60-year-old men whose idea of a wild night out is watching Fonzie leap his motorcycle into a fried chicken stand sort of helps.

Other memorable quotes:
* "Fun fact: The church sent missionaries to America to teach the Indians the proper way to have sex. In turn, they taught us the proper way to sit when you're in second grade."

* Klaus, after Steve angrily tosses him out of his fishbowl: "My ankle!"

* "You made this hand filthy! The hand I wipe with!"

* Snot (Curtis Armstrong), on his boredom with dating Hayley: "I guess I'm just more interested in the hunt. I'm like a lion who brings down a zebra and then loses interest and realizes he has to go home and take a huge deuce."

* "So I'll try out something new/Like when Carradine turned blue/Who am I to think my wife is sick and strange?"

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