The Five: Adam's fall picks
Okay gang, here's what I'm looking forward to in the new fall season. Slip on your reading socks and enjoy:
1. The return of South Park: Many shows have a tendency of starting off strong and then entering a slow decline if they stay on for too long. South Park is one series that I think has actually improved with every season, and last season's episodes, most notably the two-part "Cartoon Wars," contained some of the most hysterical and vicious jabs at every religion, political affiliation and societal norm you could think of. As Stan so rightly points out, either everything is okay to make fun of, or nothing is. That mantra is what makes South Park still one of the best shows on television, even as it enters its tenth year.
2 and 3. New Adult Swim shows from the creators of Home Movies and Sealab 2021: Brendon Small created one of my favorite shows of all time, Home Movies. His new Metalocalypse, which he created with Tommy Blacha (a writer for Conan and TV Funhouse) won't have the same poignancy of Home Movies, but that's just fine with me. Also, the crew behind Sealab 2021, an Adult Swim "classic" if it's not too early to use such a term, are also returning with Frisky Dingo, the tale of a super hero named Awesome-X whose secret identity is that of Xander Crews, a billionaire who makes money from the toys based on his alter ego. He battles Killface, an evil mastermind who wants to plunge the Earth into the sun, but only if he doesn't lose interest in his plan. I'm anxious to see how both of these shows fare.
4. More Simpsons: Complaining that the Simpsons has never been able to duplicate what it was in its early years has become a kind of knee jerk Pavlovian reaction on the part of anyone with access to a blog or messageboard. What a lot of these opinions lack, however, is any kind of information to back them up. That isn't to say there aren't thoughtful people out there who can point to specifics, but the bromide of "The Simpsons was once good and now it sucks" has been repeated so many times it's become a kind of Truth that to many requires no explanation. Any show that has been on for almost twenty years is going to lose a little bit of its flavor, but I think that's due more to familiarity than a decline in quality. At this stage, I think of The Simpsons and its relationship with its audience as a love affair that has evolved into a marriage. You can never repeat the thrill and excitement of those first few seasons when the show was fresh and unlike anything else on television, but Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie have become like family to those of us who have been following them since they began on The Tracey Ullman Show, and while their familiarity makes us pine for something that once made us feel the way we did when the show first swept us off our feet in the early nineties, there hasn't been a cartoon that has come along since The Simpsons that so poignantly and irreverently taps into the way we humans stumble along through life. Some may argue that South Park has picked up that particular torch, and I think some legitimate arguments could be made in that respect, but I see them as two complete different shows. South Park picks a target and attacks it relentlessly, but The Simpsons has always had a wider, and more substantive, satirical scope. South Park more or less excluded, a lot of primetime animated shows claim inspiration from The Simpsons, but emulation is not enough without a profound understanding as to why The Simpsons' approach has worked so well and maintained for so long.
5. A second season of Everybody Hates Chris: It's a personal preference to be sure, but I don't care much for sitcoms. I think even those sitcoms that are lauded by critics and audiences as being above the fold are at best just slightly above average. It's not that there aren't different levels of quality within the realm of sitcoms, because there undoubtedly is, but the basic sitcom model is something I find tiresome no matter how it's dressed up. Everybody Hates Chris, however, is the exception that proves my personal rule, because it exists very much within a sitcom framework: a problem is introduced, the protagonist faces the odds, and a conclusion, satisfying or not, is reached by the end of the episode. However, creator Chris Rock and everyone involved with the series understands a very important aspect of comedy: pain is always funny. I'll compare it to The Cosby Show not because both centered around a black family, but because one focused on a wealthy family while another focused on a family always struggling to keep their heads above water. Race and racism is certainly a factor in Everybody Hates Chris, but it's really just a show about people who do what they need to do to get by. Bill Cosby wanted to create a series that showed blacks can be affluent people, too, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that, but I can actually relate to Everybody Hates Chris and the idea of growing up in an environment where one must live from paycheck to paycheck and hard work isn't merely its own reward, but a necessity.