I’ve recently reconnected with Adult Swim on Cartoon Network. The nightly block of programming has become dominated by cartoons that used to air or still air as part of Fox’s Sunday night, formerly “Animation Domination” block.
There are still plenty of avant garde offerings from the folks at Williams Street, probably no more or less than any other time in Adult Swim’s history. After all, Adult Swim runs a full three hours longer than it used to run in the early days. Further, Anime used to be a daily staple on Adult Swim, but it has now been relegated to the rebranded “Adult Swim/Toonami” block on Saturday nights.
There are three categories of animated show that runs on Fox. The Simpsons deserves its own category, article, and blog. It is my favorite television show of all time and I’m not going to do it the disservice of writing about it in a generalized discussion such as this one.
Second are the Fuzzy Door shows (Seth MacFarlane’s production company) – Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show. Third are the others, both hits (King of the Hill, Bob’s Burgers) and misses (Allen Gregory, Napoleon Dynamite). Let’s focus on the ones that have found a home on Adult Swim, in order of airing.
King of the Hill
King of the Hill is in some ways the forgotten show of network television animation. It was on forever (259 episodes over 13 seasons), always got solid ratings, but never really attracted the type of following that the Simpsons or Family Guy enjoy. It still holds up, however, and it is at its best when it portrays the mundane, often frustrating aspects of American life.
While Family Guy is the most popular and successful of the Fuzzy Door shows. At it’s best, it’s hilarious, but it remains extremely flawed. Its reliance on “cut-away” gags has been criticized for years, most notably in an episode of South Park. Even after all of these years, only Stewie and Brian have been really been developed as characters. Peter and Lois remain knockoffs of Homer and Marge Simpson. The rest of the characters are essentially one joke told over and over again. That’s not to say it isn’t funny – it is – it just doesn’t have much depth.
In contrast, American Dad is by far the best of the three Fuzzy Door shows (it’s also the one that MacFarlane himself has given the least creative direction on – take that for what it’s worth). When it first premiered it seemed like nothing more than “conservative Family Guy,” but the longer it aired, the more it became surrealist, unpredictable, and fun. The key is that, unlike Family Guy, all of the main characters in the Smith household are capable of carrying their own storyline. That and Roger, Roger is hilarious.
The Cleveland Show
The Cleveland Show was the least successful of the three Fuzzy Door shows. I’m not a fan. First, I find it incomprehensible that a good number of its African American characters are not voiced by African American voice actors, including the title character. Beyond that (and really, isn’t that reason enough to dislike the show?), it lives in an awkward space that’s “not quite as warm as a classic network sitcom” and “not quite as outrageous as Family Guy.”
Bob’s Burgers is a bit of lightning in a bottle. After almost a dozen failed attempts to introduce a show that 1) wasn’t the Simpsons and 2) wasn’t produced by Fuzzy Door, Fox was ready to pull the plug on Animation Domination (which they actually did in 2014 by re-introducing live shows into the block). One wouldn’t think a low key, King of the Hill type show about a family run burger joint on the Jersey or Delaware shore would sell. It did though, and it might be the second best animated show to air on Fox, owing to its strong characters and fun storylines.
So there you have it – my thoughts on the Fox/Adult Swim shows. One of these days I’ll get around to writing a Simpsons retrospective, but that’s for another day.
(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe