TV Review: FOX Rules on Sunday With ‘Animation Domination’

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CHICAGO – The legacy of “The Simpsons” lives on as the show premieres September 25th for its record-holding 23rd season. Afterward, the season premieres of Seth MacFarlane’s cartoon classics – “Family Guy,” “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show,” are all part of “Animation Domination” on FOX.

It is always interesting to see how the veteran shows challenge themselves on premiere night. Will “The Simpsons” show all the others how it is done? Will the manic, surreal weirdness of “Family Guy” reign? How about the newest kids on the block, “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show”? Here is quick rundown…

Star”The Simpsons”

Two years ago, “The Simpsons” surpassed “Gunsmoke” as the longest-running scripted show in television history. Never content to rest on their significant laurels, America’s never-aging TV family throws down a very funny premiere night episode, and the best of Animation Domination. Welcome back, Springfield. Television Rating: 4.5/5.0
Television Rating: 4.5/5.0

Kiefer Sutherland guest stars as the voice of Wallace, a new security guard for the nuclear power plant. When Homer decides Wallace must be his new best friend, it opens up the past of the reticent and typical Sutherland character. He is ex-CIA, in accordance with his links to Jack Bauer, and with Homer’s “help” accidentally exposes himself through a series of very funny flashbacks. When a Russian spook kidnaps Homer to get through to Wallace, it is up to the reluctant former spy to save the day.

Moe, Homer and Wallace (voice of Kiefer Sutherland) in ‘The Simpsons’
Moe, Homer and Wallace (voice of Kiefer Sutherland) in ‘The Simpsons’
Photo credit: © FOX Broadcasting

The style and humor of “The Simpsons” is fairly consistent, even after 23 seasons. There is a breath of life in this season premiere, after Season 22 seemed to coast a bit, and it bodes well for the series to come. There is a tendency for both the producers and their audience to take the town of Springfield, and their characters, for granted. But as long as there are moments, like in this premiere, where Moe the Bartender gets angry because his ceiling mosaic gets shot up in a robbery attempt, all will be well for longtime admirers.

Star”The Cleveland Show”

This spin-off of “Family Guy” begins its third season with truly one of the oddest casts in AnimationLand. Cleveland Brown was Peter Griffin’s neighbor in “Family Guy,” and the premise in this show is that he remarried and moved back to his hometown of Stoolbend, Virginia. He brings Cleveland Jr. from the previous show into the new situation, and his new wife Donna brings in two kids, Roberta and Rallo. One of Cleveland’s pals in the series includes a large bear (voiced by Seth MacFarlane himself). Television Rating: 3.0/5.0
Television Rating: 3.0/5.0

The premiere gets some help from Peter Griffin, as Cleveland learns that his old friend has visited Stoolbend and failed to look him up. This irritates our hero, and he does what any man would do – attend a friendship bonding camp run by wrestler Ric Flair. His buddies, including Tim the Bear, end up getting captured by local woodsman, in a parody of “Deliverance.” Meanwhile, stepson Rallo is attending his preschool reunion, and ends up participating in an “Intellectual Bowl” quiz show to prove that he is as smart as some of his ex-schoolmates. Or not.

Peter Griffith Guest Stars on ‘The Cleveland Show’
Peter Griffith Guest Stars on ‘The Cleveland Show’
Photo credit: © FOX Broadcasting

Despite having one of the best opening sequences in television, “The Cleveland Show” tries way too hard, and is often chilly when it is suppose to be generating heat. The Deliverance parody is lame, but it does have some strange moments with Ric Flair. The Cleveland character is inherently funny, but as this show seems like a carbon copy, with slight cast variations, of “Family Guy.” And the Peter Griffin appearance reminded me of the old Hooterville universe, where characters from “Green Acres” would be on “Petticoat Junction” and vice versa. Is that reference too old school?

Star”Family Guy”

The Griffin family – Peter, Lois, Chris, Meg, Stewie and Brian – are back for their 10th season. Remember, they premiered on FOX in 1999, were cancelled in 2001, and came back in 2004 because of their popularity in DVD sales and reruns on Cartoon Network. Despite protests of being too much like “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” has established its own cult, and has done some ground breaking parody and audacious humor. TV Rating: 3.5/5.0
TV Rating: 3.5/5.0

The 10th season opener is typical “Family Guy,” showing Peter and Brian watching “Star Trek: Wrath of Khan” adjusted for a goat audience. Instead of Shatner screaming “Khaaan!,” he bleats like a nanny goat. Strap in, it’s about to be another bumpy ride. Money problems are the theme, and their hometown of Quahog, Rhode Island, is in the grips of big lottery fever. Naturally, Peter goes overboard in purchasing tickets, and the family actually wins. How they spend and/or blow the money are the wacky antics that ensue.

Peter Wears the Golden Tuxedo on ‘Family Guy’
Peter Wears the Golden Tuxedo on ‘Family Guy’
Photo credit: © FOX Broadcasting

Sometimes there is much to forgive in “Family Guy” to get to the pure gold (like the tuxedo that Peter buys with his lottery winnings). Last season was hit or miss, culminating with the third installment – and weakest – of their “Blue Harvest” Star Wars parody. Rumors of a movie will certainly draw resources from the main series, and if “Family Guy” limps along like last season again it will no longer be appointment TV. The lottery episode felt like previous “idiotic Peter” themes, and, like Homer on “The Simpsons,” Peter can get too redundant. My solution is always to bring in Carter Pewterschmidt (father-in-law of Peter), he is by far the funniest supporting cast member. Make sure to catch the opening song (”It seems today, that all you see…”) for a nice surprise.

Star”American Dad”

Wow, “American Dad” is now in it’s seventh season. Where does all the time go (watching TV)? This show took a while to find its legs, but often it is the sneaky highlight of the Animation Domination night. Returning is conservative CIA agent Stan Smith, and his wife Francine, daughter Hayley and son Steve. The ace in the hole is Roger, an alien that Stan brought home from Area 51. He talks like Paul Lynne and often has the best lines. Throw in a goldfish named Klaus with an implanted brain of an East German ski jumper, and let the laughs begin. TV Rating: 4.0/5.0
TV Rating: 4.0/5.0

This is the second best premiere after “The Simpsons” as the cast participates in a dead-on parody of “Little Shop of Horrors,” but instead of a man-eating plant, there is a man-eating hot tub (voiced by Cee Lo Green). Stan makes the purchase, a used tub once owned by a 1970s playboy. The relationship of man and hot tub starts out all sexy and cool, but like the horrors in the musical, ends up being deadly. The songs, supporting guest cast and main characters all contribute to an excellent launch, and with alien Roger they can never do wrong.

Cee Lo Green (right) Guest Stars on ‘American Dad’
Cee Lo Green (right) Guest Stars on ‘American Dad’
Photo credit: © FOX Broadcasting

This show was easy to dismiss in the beginning, as sort of a Family-Guy-goes-to-Washington trek, but creator Seth MacFarlane has given the series its own special weirdness, and the laughs are mostly from character and parody, which is a never-ending rich vein. I’ve been watching the reruns in syndication, and often I can’t be drinking something, because this show’s slyness and surprise will result in a classic spit take. Not as good as “The Simpsons” premiere, but only by an eyelash.

“Animation Domination” has four season premieres on September 25th on FOX. “The Simpsons” kick off at 8pm ET/7pm CT. “The Cleveland Show” is at 8:30pm ET/7:30pm CT. “Family Guy” follows at 9pm ET/8pm CT and finally “American Dad” caps it off at 9:30pm ET/8:30pm CT. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2011 Patrick McDonald,

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