May 29, 2009

Goode Family Does Weak Ratings
— Ace

Not awful, but neither good enough to suggest it will be on for long.

I wasn't going to review this, as my review is pretty negative, and I didn't want to say bad things about Mike Judge or a conservative-friendly show. But as the show already seems on life support...

Bear in mind, the first episode of Seinfeld (the first four episodes really) were horrible. The show only became non-horrible in the second season, and only became good in the third.

Most shows start out rather badly.

Caveats aside:

There were a few decent jokes, but only a few. The bumper sticker on their car? "Support Our Troops... and Their Opponents" was inspired. Incisive and witty and mean, too. And the dog, forced to be "vegan" but dreaming all day of bloody red murder of squirrels and cats? Cute.

I was surprised by how many direct shots the show took at liberals. I was not expecting it to be this aggressive.

It attempted to sugar-coat the shots by demonstrating empathy for the family having to persevere under such ridiculous rules. And they were portrayed as underdog strivers, too, while richer liberals derided them as "poor." They're shown as victims of this absurd culture of ostentatious Concern Fascism, which is a nice way to try to have one's cake and eat it too; but I don't think they quite pulled it off.

I just don't think Mike Judge empathizes with these people they way he so obviously did with Hank Hill, his family, and neighbors. The empathy seemed contrived rather than genuine. It seemed that it was the result of "notes" from the network demanding sympathetic characters.

Which is actually important if the show's going to work. Politically, hell's yeah, show no empathy for liberals; tear 'em to pieces mercilessly; I'm down with that. But artistically and commercially the audience has to identify with the characters, and for that to happen, the writers and producers have to identify with them first.

Besides: Hank Hill and the rest were kinda real-ish characters. You knew damn well that Judge knew people more or less exactly like this, and the characters on the show were close approximations of real people. Exaggerated, but based on reality. Fake but accurate.

I don't get that sense from The Goode Family -- I get the feeling the characters aren't people the writers really know, but merely imagine. And so they come off as artificial.

And the closest the show can manage for empathy for them is to portray them as pathetic, beset by social pressures that they violate at their own peril. Not really fun to watch.

On top of that: Look, politics is a very narrow subject to focus a show on. Most people are interested in seeing human, rather than political, foibles. (King of the Hill wasn't really about politics. To the extent it was about anything political, it was about culture.) I don't know how far they could carry this premise even if the show managed to become a hit.

Even in their first show, they couldn't seem to focus much on any particular aspect of the liberal malaise; they tossed out, in rapid fashion, jokes and vignettes about: white guilt racial panic, vindictive anti-white affirmative action (another good joke here), veganism, leftist status-seeking, fashionable fair-trade organic shade-grown whatnots, excessive openness to the sexualization of one's children, excessive desire by adult liberals to be perceived as "cool" by their children, hostility to religion and patriotism, etc.

Is that bad? I don't know. It's scattershot, for one thing, not really spending an entire plot on one particular element, exploring the studio space, as it were; and on top of it it sort of burns a lot of potential future plotlines.

I sorta think the right way to have done this was to do a more convention sit-com about more appealing characters who were pretty much apolitical. With the humor focused on more typical human stuff. And then toss in one character who's a goofball liberal and pillory him in a B-plot once every second or third episodes. Make the anti-liberal thing a major part of the show, but not the only part of it.

Okay, that's the review for the first half of the show, because the second half pulls a 180 and is completely different.

In the second half, the show makes fun of fundamentalist-types hosting "Purity Balls." (No, there's no joke about "balls" made by the show.) The father and daughter become much more sympathetic characters, and are, through contrast with the weirdly Oedeipal father-daughter "marriages" going on at the purity ball, made to appear to be the normal, non-weird ones.

Now this section sorta follows "the rules" by making the heroes, well, the heroes, and so it feels more like a real show with real characters and some modest chance at success.

On the other hand, this section isn't really conservative friendly. It's not unfriendly, either, really; these particular Purity Balls are depicted as weird (and so they seemed to me), but the father and daughter were both open to the idea of abstinence and purity balls. Just not this version.

So even though the second half is not exactly conservative-bashing, liberals are once again the heroes, and we've seen that in.. well, every other show.

I liked the show as a show more in the second half, despite the fact that all the good conservative political stuff was in the beginning.

So the question is: Who is going to watch this? When the show makes its liberal protagonists the heroes (and a show's protagonists really ought to be its heroes, unless you're beyond brilliant and can get away somehow with violating this basic rule), conservatives aren't interested. On the other hand, when it pokes fun at liberals, liberals get turned off.

And liberals have no sense of humor about themselves, so even the lightest poking will be met with stony silence. So no, they can't even do a show in which liberals are mostly virtuous and wise and heroic, but occasionally ridiculous; that "occasionally ridiculous" part will be entirely unacceptable to 95% of liberals. Dealbreaker. "Reich-wing propaganda."

So, really, I have no idea what this show is or who it's for. It just seems terribly misconceived. It might be that interference and demands for "balance" by the network resulted in some schizophrenic furred fish, but the problem seems more of basic concept than bad tweaking by the network.

Posted by: Ace at 03:09 PM | Comments (4)
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