Morning Round-Up: Thoughts on 'South Park,' 'Suburgatory,' 'Up All Night' and more
Back in the early days of the old blog, I tended to do a lot of round-up posts where I offered quick thoughts on a bunch of shows at once. I phased that out after a while, as it became clear that readers didn't like them as much as the longer individual review posts, with the round-ups always getting a much lower comment total. But in an effort to cover as much of the new season as I can while still maintaining my sanity and a workable schedule, I'm going to try them out again from time to time, to hit up a bunch of shows that I've seen but don't have much to say about. These may be more trouble than they're worth, but I'm going to give it a shot.
When last we left "South Park," Stan had developed a severe case of anhedonia, his parents had split up, Kyle and Cartman had shockingly become friends, and it sure seemed like Trey and Matt had delivered some kind of stealth series finale. Of course, the show still has many seasons to go, so "Ass Burgers" had to get things back to normal, in what turned out to be less-than-artful fashion, including a belabored "Matrix" riff laid over a topical spoof of autism/vaccine panic, a running gag inspired by how most people pronounce "Asperger's" (a joke that "Community," among others, got to a while ago), and ultimately a reset of the status quo, made interesting mainly because Stan is still aware of it, and still getting drunk to deal with it.
Overall, I thought the darkness of the previous episode worked incredibly well, but only as a one-time thing - and perhaps something that should've been saved for the actual finale. Stan's depression, budding alcoholism, or however you want to diagnose it seems uncomfortable alongside ongoing antics like Cartman sticking burgers down his backside and a cabal of fast food chains plotting to assassinate him. We'll see if this is something the writers keep as an ongoing element, or if things really are the same as it ever was next week.
I liked the "Suburgatory" pilot a lot, but also saw ways in which it could be improved going forward, notably in finding ways to make its fictional suburb less of a cartoon - or, failing that, to focus more on the strengths of the show, which are Tessa's voice and the interplay between Tessa and her dad. "The Barbecue" spent a bit less time on the perceived weirdness of the 'burbs - other than the titular subplot about George having to throw a backyard rager, or else - and more on Tessa adjusting to the new people around her, including her unwanted, uncontrollable attraction to the hot boy across the street. That story led to the episode's funniest joke ("Scarlett Johannsson, dead"), but the exaggerated nature of most of the neighbors feels like it's distracting from what's turned out to be a much more interesting, funny father-daughter story. (The action movie-style opening where George and Tessa tried to get out of the house before Ana Gasteyer could make it over there was a familiar gag, but Sisto and Levy sold it.)
"Up All Night" continues to be two different shows clumsily welded together, though this was the first episode where I think I preferred the Maya Rudolph version of the show to the Christina Applegate/Will Arnett version. (Nick Cannon in particular has been a real treat in his limited screen time.) The family car neurosis story started with a very relatable idea (my wife and I insisted on getting a CRV rather than a mini-van when we had our first kid, just because we were afraid of becoming one of "those people"), yet was eventually taken to a too-cartoonish place with them getting drunk and buying the smelly van on eBay. (There's also the matter of Reagan and Chris having seemingly-limitless resources compared to the average new parents, and while TV characters as a rule are much richer than the people who watch them, there comes a point where the blank checkbook makes me not have any empathy for their problems.) It's early yet, and this is the time when most comedies are still figuring themselves out, but this was the first episode of the show I mostly didn't enjoy.
I'm bringing a mostly forgettable "Modern Family" up really for one reason: Cam accidentally turning into Stanley Kowalski, and enjoying the hell out of it. One of the biggest problems with the show's second season is that it turned Cam, the breakout character of season one, into a whiny, unpleasant diva, and I've been happy to see a lot of that reversed so far this season. Eric Stonestreet can do a lot more than play wounded and pouty, and that was a well-executed gag all around.
Finally, I'm a couple of days late to the second "Hart of Dixie," but I thought "Parades & Pariahs" did as good a job of any freshman show this fall of making the whole "repeat the pilot" philosophy work. The episode revisited many of the conflicts and themes of the premiere, but managed to go deeper with them, set up a clear conflict and story arc for the first season, and wrote out Nancy Travis' character far more artfully than "New Girl" did with Damon Wayans Jr. (It helped that "Hart" had Travis' services for an extra episode, of course.) With the premiere, I was mainly enjoying it for Rachel Bilson, but the second episode suggested there's an actual show here.
Okay, so that's a bunch of shows to go back and forth on. What did everybody else think?