Sunday, September 23, 2007

Flowers in the dustbin

Spoilers for, in order, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The Simpsons," "Family Guy" and Ken Burns' "The War" part one coming up just as soon as I pick up some deep-dish pizza...

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" remains in a groove after last week's brilliant episode. The show is always at its best when Larry's idea of how the world should work is at odds with how the world actually works, and here he gets into trouble over excessive ice cream sampling, inequitable perfume store lines and whether or not the flowers a a roadside memorial are available for picking. (I've written often in the past that I can usually find a way to see Larry's POV on this stuff; not so much with the flowers.) And as he gets into trouble with Cheryl, and Loretta, and the private school dean of admissions, and even Funkhouser (who is or isn't Larry's best friend, depending on which one you ask), he has to apologize a lot. But that's okay; as Larry puts it, "You don't need to tell me how to apologize to people. I've been apologizing to people on a daily basis since I'm six years old."

Bob Einstein as Funkhouser is probably my favorite "Curb" supporting character. There's just something about his stoic suffering in the face of Larry's standard behavior that always kills me. (He also, even at this age, has this intimidating physical presence that suggests he very well could pop Larry's head off if he wanted to.) Here, Funkhouser was involved in the episode's best running gag, about the foul-smelling 50 dollar bill. I'll admit that I'm a sucker for humor about stuff that reeks ("The Smelly Car" is always a "Seinfeld" I treasure), and you have to ignore certain questions like why Larry doesn't just buy the flowers with a credit card, but Larry throwing the 50 like a grenade into the center of the wake was another perfect subplot-connecting "Curb" conclusion, like last week's "I know who Anonymous is!" from Cheryl.

I wrote about the "Simpsons" and "Family Guy" premieres in Friday's column, but I want to add a few points. First, I loved that the "Simpsons" opening credits acknowledged the events of the movie, both with Bart skateboarding through the rebuilding Springfield and with Spider-Pig's cameo. (Though was I the only one who wanted more, more, more Spider-Pig?) It also looked like a lot of the footage of Homer's beloved private plane taking off and landing was done in the same richer, more three-dimensional animated style that the movie employed (or, at least, like "Futurama" employed); I'm going to be curious to see whether there's more of that moving forward. Like I said in the column, most of the big laughs were in the first act ("Hey you, beer me"), but I like that, even within the far wackier universe the series now takes place in, there was an attempt to take Homer's desire for success -- and Marge's desire to give it to him -- semi-seriously. (Question: why do I know the music they play over Homer's trip to Krusty Burger? I know it's a famous piece -- or film score -- but I can't for the life of me identify it.)

Like I said in the column, this was my favorite "Family Guy" episode in quite some time: all pop culture humor and no straining for plot or character, which the writers don't care about. I was, however, amused that even within an all-spoof episode, MacFarlane and company still had to go on tangents about other bits of pop culture, whether it was John Williams' orchestra performing the "People's Court" theme (good) or Obi-Wan recreating the "Dirty Dancing" finale (much longer than it needed to be). I would say that the "Robot Chicken" episode -- subject of the very funny meta-argument between Peter (voice by the "Family Guy" creator) and Chris (voic by the "Robot Chicken" co-creator) -- had some more laugh-out-loud moments (their version of the Tatooine cantina -- particularly the biography of the guy whose hands get cut off -- was better than the equivalent "Family Guy" scenes), but "Family Guy" got in a lot of good, affectionate digs at the original movie.

Finally, I'm not sure how much interest there's going to be in "The War," especially with PBS debuting it on the eve of the new TV season. Admittedly, "The Civil War" and "Baseball" did just fine going up against the network launches ("Civil War" was the biggest hit PBS has ever had), but those aired 17 and 13 years ago, respectively -- back when you could also successfully program original scripted shows on Saturday night -- and they covered territory that wasn't nearly as well-trod as WWII has been the last few years.

So I don't know whether I'll be blogging about additional episodes, but I wanted to offer a few thoughts on the debut. First, as usual, Burns is a little too in love with the small details. I understand that he's trying to make us feel like the people of Waterbury, Mobile, etc. are our current friends and neighbors, but I don't need to know everyone's street address, for instance. I really love Tom Hanks reading the columns of Al McIntosh from Minnesota (Burns' interest in them led to last week's publication of a McIntosh book collection; if they ever do an audiobook with Hanks, I'm there), but for the most part, I admired the work of Burns and his researchers more than I was really engaged by it. There's more interesting stuff coming as early as the second episode (which features a great sequence about life on a Flying Fortress), but if I didn't have to watch the whole thing for work, I doubt I would have stuck it out that far.

Also, to expand on a thought in the column, Burns chooses to deal with the added Latino material in the most obnoxious, defiant way possible. The episode proper ends, with Norah Jones singing "American Anthem" and all that, then we get the passive-agressive "each had a story to tell" title card -- basically, "Sure, I can add this stuff, and stories about Native Americans and Greek immigrants and every other group you want, and I still wouldn't be able to tell everybody's story" -- and then a completely segregated segment on these two guys from L.A. And this is actually the best of the three tacked-on segments, as at least it lasts a little while, whereas the next two run about five minutes each. I'm not saying Burns should or shouldn't have acquiesced to the protesters, but either he should have stood firm or done a better job of integrating the material into the story proper. This is a solution guaranteed to annoy everybody.

What did everybody else think?

19 comments:

Alan Sepinwall said...

Oh, and Jeff on Larry keeping Sammi out of Dryden and what he's going to have to put up with from Suzy: "I have to live with this now!"

Great delivery.

Anonymous said...

I thought the tacked-on ending was incredibly offensive as well--and I fully agree with the protestors, having seen the first episode's conspicuous lack of Latino and Native Americans--, and I agreed with you about the street addresses. I was incredibly moved by some of the talking heads, though, and I'll keep watching.

Nicole said...

There were many laugh out loud moments on the Family Guy, which hasn't happened on that show in a while. I agree that the Robot Chicken Star Wars episode was more original and overall even funnier, but they could go a bit further than network television.

The meta argument was funny too, but only to those of us who knew the connection. I wonder if this is a one off, or will we get to see Episodes 5 and 6. I think there would be more laughs to mine from the new trilogy.

dez said...

Larry saying he's been apologing on a daily basis since he was six nearly had me in tears laughing, but Funkhouser sniffing out the Belle Fille at the funeral about killed me. I wouldn't want to know any of these people in real life, but I enjoy watching them for 30 minutes a week :-)

"Simpeons" was a bit hit and miss, though I did love the opening with Spider-pig. Hopefully, the rest of the season is better.

J said...

I just hope we win this War soon, because I hope to be back home in time for Gossip Girl.

You know, metaphorically speaking.

R.A. Porter said...

I'd guess the episode 4 spoof is a one-off, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that next year's season premiere is a ST:TNG spoof. Wil Wheaton just did a voice session for Family Guy and he said that "[p]retty much everyone from the cast is on board for the episode".

If that one's half as good as this episode was (minus the Dirty Dancing homage) it'll kill.

Nicole said...

A TNG spoof? that sounds awesome... I don't know if I can wait a year though.

DonBoy said...

I hadn't read anything about the FG episode beyond the bare facts, but I was thrilled that they licensed the original soundtrack, sound effects, and for all I know actual visual effects elements from Lucasfilm -- I'm sure the digital FX from the "Special Editions" live in deliverable graphics files.

kishkeking said...

I kept thinking to myself while watching the first episode of War that Burns chose not necessarly the most interesting individuals to profile, but rather the healthiest. Unless these people were interviewed decades ago, they are all in their mid to late 80's now. Quentin Aanenson, the gentleman from Minnesota was born in 1921. He looks younger than most Vietnam Vets.

BigTed said...

The music they played in this episode of "The Simpsons" is the orchestral version of Debussy's "Clair de lune" as heard in the "Ocean's 11" movies.

It was kind of a strange choice, since they were going for a very different mood (Homer losing his job yet again, versus the hopeful/wistful note it sounds in the "Ocean's" movies). Maybe it was another nod to "The Simpsons Movie," which featured an orchestral score by Hans Zimmer, as opposed to the zany Alf Clausen music they usually feature in the TV show.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to say that there was nothing in this Family Guy "Star Wars" episode that came even close to being as funny as the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" gag last year.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zyvREOI_S4

Worse still, even with half of the material on the Robot Chickens special being recycled, it still showed more ingenuity and had bigger laughs than anything in this one.

I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you on this one Alan.

Tom said...

Regarding "Curb," last week I wrote that Larry is always right. Even I, though, must admit that stealing flowers from a roadside memorial to a wheelchair-bound woman killed in a hit-and-run is crossing a line.

On the other hand...paying a debt with a bill you take from your jogging shoes? You're asking for it, Funkhouser.

Best line delivery of the episode came during the Jeff meltdown after the school interview. Actually, it might be the single funniest *word* spoken for the entire 6+seasons. When Jeff screams at Larry, "You f*cked me! HARD!"

Moments like that are what make the improv thing all worthwhile.

LDP said...

I enjoyed The Simpsons, and I hope for a strong season.

My favorite moment was the dig a Chicago's very real inferiority complex: "While you were here, you made us feel like New York!"

Anonymous said...

In reference to Curb, was it just me or did Larry seem like a much bigger asshole than usual last night?

Alan Sepinwall said...

As said above by me and others, stealing the flowers -- not once, but twice -- was one of the few times in the run of the series where you really couldn't even try to argue Larry's side of the issue.

TL said...

Funny, Funkhouser is probably my least favorite Curb-er. Something about his martyr complex is just grating. At least Larry knows he's an asshole.

Tom said...

The Larry/Funkhouser relationship is really growing on me. I loved Larry's take when he realized that he's Funkhouser's best friend. (I think he'd almost rather have Funkhouser pop his head off.)

Steven said...

either he should have stood firm or done a better job of integrating the material into the story proper.

I was under the impression that he did stand firm, but PBS made him given in to the protesters.

dez said...

In reference to Curb, was it just me or did Larry seem like a much bigger asshole than usual last night?

You just know at some point, he'll bring his assholishness to even greater heights. That's why I love/cringe at this show.

Oh, and I thought he was a bigger asshole than usual, but because of his performance at the perfume store. The flower stealing seemed par for the course for the way Larry thinks, to me.