Doomed From The First Shot

The second episode of The Goode Family, or at least the second episode that was sent out for review (it will be the third to air) actually is quite a bit better than the pilot. It’s not exactly good; the plot is essentially a series of standard sitcom twists, but at least it makes the lead characters into something resembling human beings with emotional issues. (Even if the main emotional issue, the mother’s desperate need for attention from her mean, uncaring father, is just a King of the Hill plot with the names “Hank Hill” and “Cotton Hill” crossed out.) But it is, strangely enough, funnier than King of the Hill has usually been in the last few years. Mike Judge is funniest when dealing with characters he despises — like Beavis and Butt-head and almost everybody in Idiocracy — and the inherent basic decency of most of the characters on KotH means that most of the barbs are reserved for random guest characters. At least The Goode Family gives him and his writer-producers a chance to put their best jokes at the centre of the episodes instead of the margins.

None of this matters, though, because the pilot — or at least the first half of the pilot — was so off-putting that it may have killed this show’s chances before it even got on the air. (I don’t know if the weakness of the pilot was a factor in ABC’s decision to push this show into the summer, but it couldn’t have helped.) The first shot, of a car festooned with politically-correct bumper stickers, established that this would be a show based on an obsession with what are basically ’90s issues. It’s not like this show couldn’t get better; American Dad was terrible when it began, for the same reasons (it was built around an obsession on leftover 2004 issues, just as the political landscape was beginning to change), but it is now the best show on the Fox Sunday cartoon lineup, because it abandoned much of the cheap-shot humour and started treating the characters as characters, rather than living talking points. But that show had the benefit of being part of an all-animated lineup on the network that knows how to do prime-time cartoons. ABC is a bad place for a prime-time cartoon, as The Critic and Clerks already proved, and both of those shows began more promisingly than this one.

It’s also been noted that one of the worst moments in the pilot was when they swiped the “collared greens” joke from the second episode of the U.S. The Office. That show was run by Greg Daniels, who of course created King of the Hill with Mike Judge. I don’t know if that makes it a shout-out among friends. Probably not.

Not to get completely negative about Judge and co.; King of the Hill has had some good episodes this season (technically its last, though the remaining episodes will probably be burned off by Fox eventually when it has some space to fill), like the episode where Hank carries out his father’s last wishes. But King of the Hill in its prime was a meeting of minds: Judge’s humour is at its best when it’s bitter and angry, while Daniels added his comic sentimentality (his trademark, on KotH, The Simpsons and The Office, and even Parks & Recreation, is doing episodes that end with an epiphany or a moment of human connection) and feel for character arcs. The recent KotH and The Goode Family sometimes try to re-capture that mix, but they haven’t really managed it at all.

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