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Dec. 12 – Bob’s Burgers – “The Bleakening”

“The Bleakening” originally aired December 10, 2017.

All right, we’ve been at this for a few years now so you probably don’t need much of a primer on Bob’s Burgers, right? The animated sitcom which is shockingly in its 12th season (shocking because it still feels new to me) has become a reliable spot for Christmas fun each and every year. The show seems to pride itself on doing holiday themed episodes. Their bread and butter seems to be Thanksgiving as its canonically main character Bob’s (H. Jon Benjamin) favorite holiday, plus everyone does Christmas and there is no getting the Halloween crown away from The Simpsons at this point. The show will often hit on the lesser holidays too, like Valentine’s Day and Easter, but pretty much every year they do Christmas. And just about every year, their Christmas episode is one of the highlights of the holiday season. I can’t think of a Christmas episode of Bob’s Burgers that failed to entertain me. I definitely prefer some over others, but they’re pretty much all good.

The Season 8 Christmas episode, “The Bleakening,” really shines a light on how Christmas is matriarch Linda’s (John Roberts) holiday. The kids have Halloween, Bob has Thanksgiving, but Christmas is all Linda. It was her over-excitement for Christmas that got the plot rolling in my favorite Christmas episode from this show, “Christmas in the Car,” and its her attitude towards Christmas that gets this one going as well.

Being married to Linda must be exhausting.

This one begins in atypical fashion as it foregoes the opening which means no festive shop-next-door gag and no exterminator gag – darn. All we get is the message “Four days before Christmas” as we enter the bedroom of the Belchers where nothing sexy is happening. Quite the opposite, as Linda wakes up abruptly and immediately forces Bob to do the same. She tells Bob she just had a dream they threw a wonderful, Christmas, party and he could not care less. As he tries to go back to sleep she insists it’s a sign. She’s noticed that there’s a lack of Christmas spirit this year and maybe her dream was telling her that the only remedy for this malady is for the Belchers to have a Christmas party. Bob still doesn’t care so Linda stands up to describe her dream in song. As she does so, the bedsheet wrapped around her becomes a red, festive, dress and Bob is now wearing a tuxedo. She moves to the center of the bed and then off to sing, while Bob just rolls over to sleep. He does contribute some low notes during the song though, so he’s still somewhat of an active participant as Linda dances around and samples rivers of eggnog and describes her ideal party that is definitely out of reach for the Belcher family.

Linda has that crazy look in her eye again.

The next morning, the entire family is seated for breakfast as Linda tells the kids about her dream. Louise (Kristen Schaal) remarks she dreamt her dad had a ponytail and asks if they can just do that instead, so the kids clearly are not onboard with the idea of throwing a sudden Christmas party today. On the news, the family is watching a report on a local gay bar that’s being torn down and is an apparent source of the Christmas blues. Linda, seemingly inspired by this report, heads to the living room and begins sawing off the top of their Christmas tree. As the family looks on perplexed, she explains that it’s needed for their Christmas party while Gene (Eugene Mirman) describes what is being done to their tree as a circumcision. Linda then takes some more ornaments from the tree which are all homemade ones from the kids which she adores and puts them on her new, little, tree. We see quick flashbacks to her receiving the ornaments and the joke is that her reactions are all the same and that Linda will love anything her kids make for her, as all good mothers should.

Later that day, Linda gets her wish as the family hosts a Christmas party in the restaurant. Bob is tasked with handing out Santa Sliders and Teddy (Larry Murphy) questions what the etiquette is for the appetizers as he would apparently like the entire tray (the answer is apparently four). Linda gets to show off her little Christmas tree to some of the locals, the elderly craft store owners who normally hate the Belcher family, who while impressed with the decoration would still rather not talk to Linda.

The Bleaken as imagined by the kids, or told by Teddy, I’m not sure.

Teddy then asks the kids how the Santa thing is looking this year. As he does, he mentions something called the Bleaken in passing which confuses the kids. Teddy then elaborates that the Bleaken is a vengeful spirit who visits bad kids on Christmas instead of Santa. As he spins a tail, we see basically how the children envision the character who is surrounded by fog and shadows and features glowing red eyes and antlers like a deer. He’s clearly a Krampus-styled entity and the children are pretty captivated by Teddy’s story. Apparently though, the Bleaken works in tandem with Santa, or something, because after gifts are deposited, he steals them. It’s like Santa can’t bring himself to leave coal like we’ve always been threatened with, so he hires some jerk to just take the gifts and keep his hands clean. The kids definitely seem freaked out though, and Teddy might actually be aware of the anxiety he’s causing and tries to dismiss the Bleaken as something his nana probably made up.

I feel cheated out of a proper Burger of the Day.

Jimmy Pesto (Jay Johnston) makes what he thinks is a grand entrance, but no one cares. Bob seems annoyed Linda invited him, but she insists it’s Christmas or whatever as justification. At the bar, Linda is dishing gossip and eggnog to a guy named Dalton (John Early) who has the Christmas blues. He was apparently dumped by his boyfriend, and he lets us all know the eggnog Linda made is terrible as he seems to suspect she spiked it with mouthwash. He requests something else to drink and Linda cracks open a bottle of champagne for him. After he goes, Marshmallow (David Herman) enters with her friend Art (Adam Driver) the artist, and Linda finds his name amusing. Marshmallow sincerely asks him if he wants to leave, but he lets us know that he’s easily amused too and apparently likes Linda. Marshmallow tries some eggnog (“That’s nasty,”) while Linda expresses her condolences towards the pair over the closure of The Wiggle Room, the bar from the news report earlier. Marshmallow questions if she’ll ever wiggle again.

It’s gone!

With the party over, Linda waves goodbye to those still leaving before reprising her song from earlier, “It’s the Christmas of my dreams…” She sings it outside, and a passerby interrupts her. Embarrassed, she returns into the restaurant. Despite that little episode, she’s mostly content with how the party unfolded, but things take a dark turn when Linda notices her little tree is missing! Bob asks the kids if they did anything with it and they deny involvement. Sergeant Bosco (Gary Cole) is called in and he informs the family that there has been a lot of thefts like this going around this year. He mentions it’s all little stuff and casually drops outdoor inflatables in there which gets Teddy’s attention as he has an inflatable Santa that he’s now suddenly worried about. When he asks the detective if he has any leads, he just says “Yeah, some guy. Or girl. Or group of guys…” as he clearly doesn’t really care all that much. Linda just wants her ornaments back though that her kids made when they were young and cute. When Bob suggests they have the kids make new ones, she’s dismissive of the current state of her children which Gene takes offense to (“I’m adorable!”). Linda decides she needs to investigate on her own, but Bob cautions her against going overboard. You know she’s going to go overboard.

The initial list of suspects is pretty thorough.

The next day, a mere two days until Christmas, Linda works on a list of suspects while sitting at the bar. She crosses off those she feels she can eliminate, like Mort (Andy Kindler), but then Bob tells her Mort seemed unhappy about the Santa Slider he had to take so she adds him back. Bob then puts Jimmy Pesto in her mind as the prime suspect, and the two head over to his restaurant to confront him. Linda cuts right to the chase and tells him to return the tree, but Jimmy tells her he has no interest in her tree. He thought they were coming over because they found the fudge he left in their urinal explaining that he wanted them to think someone crapped in it. He thinks the bit is hilarious, but the Belchers aren’t amused. Linda then notices his security camera, but Pesto points out he would never have his cameras pointed at their boring restaurant and Bob takes offense when Jimmy makes up a fake TV show about videos of sad restaurants. The camera though actually reminded Linda that Mort has one at his crematorium next door and maybe it could have caught the culprit in the act.

Nice to see the kids haven’t lost their imagination.

At home, the kids sit around the coffee table apparently making a coupon book for their parents for Christmas, which Bob had remarked about earlier because apparently they get this every year and the kids never honor the coupons. While working, Louise has a thought that maybe the Bleaken stole the tree which leads into another musical segment. This one is pretty upbeat, like a Pat Benatar song, but the visuals are the kids heading for a snowy mountain dressed like extras from Game of Thrones. Louise’s theory seems to be convincing though as the kids make plans for how to fight this Bleaken.

Edith looking mighty suspicious and there’s certainly no love lost between she and the Belchers.

At Mort’s place of business, Bob and Linda are able to get a look at the security footage. Linda thanks Mort for the help and assures him he was never a suspect, which just causes Mort to remark it sure sounds like he was a suspect, but they’re just going to push past that. When he pulls up footage we first see Mort skipping across the sidewalk which he quickly fast forwards past. Linda tells him to stop when she sees something and Mort freezes the frame. It’s Edith and her husband leaving the party and she is clearly concealing something in her long, winter, coat. Proclaiming “Greatest generation, my ass!” Linda and Bob head out to confront the couple.

Art’s commitment to his gig is admirable.

Bob and Linda head to Reflections, the craft store owned by Edith (Murphy) and Harold (Sam Seder). Inside they find no one, but Linda wants to go look in the back. When they push open the door they find an art class and a nude Santa serving as the model. Edith and Harold are surprised to see the pair, but Bob cuts right to the chase and asks them to give Linda back her tree. They’re confused, and when Linda produces the evidence they come clean about stealing a tray of cookies. Apparently they’ve been doing these art classes all week and ran out of food, and nudes need snacks! Linda then notices the Santa model is Art and recognizes him from the party. She confronts him, in song, about an alibi which prompts him to sing in return about having nothing to hide (clearly). They go through a little number and the members of the class back him up on the claim he came there right after the party without a tree (Harold adds he did have a bush though!) and Linda believes him. Dismayed, the Belchers exit the store empty-handed. Well, actually they got their cookies back. Apparently they’re not very good.

Now there’s our proper Burger of the Day!

It’s now Christmas Eve Day, and Linda is still bummed about her tree. Bob tries to get her to focus on what they can control, like running the restaurant, but Linda wants to go back out and question all of her suspects again. Bob is forced to remind her that they haven’t even wrapped presents for the kids yet, and by “they” he means “you” because Linda lets us know that Bob wraps like a blind, drunken, bear (Bob adds that’s how he lives). She decides to give up on the tree, but as she does the kids come bursting into the restaurant claiming to know who stole the tree. This gets Linda all fired up again, much to Bob’s displeasure. When the kids tell their parents that this is the work of The Bleaken, both Bob and Linda laugh them off. Bob then encourages the family to get over it and look forward to Christmas as he unconvincingly tries to sell the kids on how good their presents are going to be. Tina (Dan Mintz), for her part, seems convinced.

Bosco is a man who really sees no benefit to performing the duties associated with his job.

The kids take it upon themselves to visit Sgt. Bosco down at the police station. When they tell him the Bleaken is responsible for the rash of Christmas thefts across town, he flicks water at them and could not be less interested. Louise then notices a map behind Bosco on the wall with a bunch of pushpins in it. She asks Bosco if that map refers to all of the thefts across town and Bosco confirms it is. Well, he confirms that it’s some of them as he got tired of keeping track and possibly ran out of pushpins. Louise then distracts him by asking about some lamps on his desk and when Bosco looks away from her to regard the lamps, Louise whips out a flip phone and snaps a pic of the map. Louise then hastily gets her siblings out of there and once outside shows the picture she took to Gene and Tina. The markers are basically in a circle and Louise theorizes that whoever took the trinkets probably resides somewhere in the middle which impresses both Gene and Tina. She wants to investigate this further and concludes it’s up to them to uncover the Bleaken!

Just a normal family dinner. Nothing to see here!

Back home, the family is seated for a quiet ham dinner. When Bob asks the kids if they like the ham, they reply in robotic fashion and Tina remarks she’ll definitely be sleeping all through the night in her own bed. Bob has learned not to ask questions since he has weird kids and changes the subject to leaving cookies out for Santa. Linda, obviously still depressed about the loss of her tree, says “Oh yeah,” when asked about the cookies and stands up to do so. We then head into a montage of the family getting things in order before bed set to “Carol of the Bells.” Linda unplugs the tree and sighs beside it when she looks at the missing top. The kids put the cookies and milk out then head to bed. We even check in with Teddy who appears to be performing some sort of surgery on his inflatable Santa. Bob and Linda check to see if the kids are asleep, then get the wrapping paper out. Once they leave though, Louise pops out of bed in her clothes and wakes her siblings who are also dressed for adventure. When their parents go into their bedroom, the kids sneak past the stockings and down the stairs. Tina gives one, lingering, look up the stairs before closing the door indicating she’s feeling unsure about this adventure. We then see a shot of the kids walking down the snowy street from the window of their living room as the message “To be continued” is displayed.

Now this is ambitious!

What?! To be continued?! Bob’s Burgers rarely does two-parters, and a Christmas two-parter is especially rare for any show! It is what it is though, so come back tomorrow to find out who stole Linda’s tree. Was it the Bleaken? Maybe Teddy? Could it actually have been Mort? And what about the precious ornaments? All this and more, same Christmas blog address, same Christmas blog…ahh you get the idea.

Come back tomorrow to find out if these stockings get filled!

Dec. 8 – American Dad! – “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls”

Original air date December 12, 2010.

It was just last year that we finally broke the seal on American Dad!. It surprised me how long I was able to avoid American Dad! year in and year out since it has a wealth of Christmas episodes at its disposal. Last year, the featured Christmas episode was the very first one the show did, “The Best Christmas Story Never Told.” This year, I’m skipping ahead to Season 7 (or 6, it’s confusing) and the fourth Christmas episode the show has done, “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls.” This episode had the distinction of being the only numbered entry in my Top 25 Christmas Specials from last year that had not been covered in some capacity on this blog. This year, I am rectifying that even if it means skipping over a couple of others, but that’s not a big deal because like most sitcoms there is no continuity from one episode to the next.

Except for this one! Actually, this episode is the beginning of a continuity in American Dad! that really only matters at Christmas. And that continuity concerns the Smith’s relationship with the big man in charge of the holiday. No, not Jesus, but Santa. This episode will show why Santa has a hatred for the Smith family and it’s a subject that will be revisited in subsequent Christmas episodes covering the old man’s death and even his resurrection. I think the last Christmas episode the show featured Santa in, “Santa Schmanta,” had him back to his old self at the end. The show doesn’t always do a Christmas special every year since it’s a TBS property that doesn’t always have anything airing around the holiday. Last year, the show was able to return to Christmas with “Yule. Tide. Repeat.,” and that was because they simply delayed airing the season finale three months so it would air in December.

I can’t believe this episode is more than 10 years old.

This Christmas episode happens to be my favorite from the show because it’s just over-the-top and ridiculous in a way that only American Dad! can get away with. Writer Erik Durbin wanted to make it bloody and referenced the movie 300, and he’s pretty much going to realize that dream. We’ve seen plenty of violent Christmas specials from places like Robot Chicken, but the violence is often used for just sheer shock value. Sure, there is definitely an element of that present in this episode as well, but it’s setup and earned over the duration of the show and most of the violence is reserved for the end. Plus, this show dares to imagine Santa as kind of a bad guy. He’s mostly just vengeful here (and with good reason), but the bad guy persona will be explored in greater detail and reinforced in the Christmas specials to come.

It cannot be overstated how much Stan hates Jeff.

The episode opens with the usual intro, only the title of the show is displayed in a candy cane font at the close and dissolved into a snowy sky. Stan (Seth MacFarlane) is in his living room and Jeff (Jeff Fischer) comes running downstairs to express his joy at the imminent arrival of Christmas. He expresses hope that Santa will bring him a polar bear helmet from the movie The Golden Compass and races outside to mail his letter to Santa. Stan is intensely annoyed with Jeff’s presence and thinks he’s an idiot for still believing in Santa Claus. Haley (Rachael MacFarlane) stands up for her husband and says his childlike innocence is one of the things that charms her, but she’s not winning Stan over who insists he will never accept Jeff as part of their family.

Nice clog, Francine.

When they leave they’re replaced by Francine (Wendy Schaal) who comes in carrying clogs. She is in search of a new family tradition and she thought the custom of filling clogs with presents was a good idea since Barbara Walters recommended it and she slept with a married, black, senator (“She doesn’t drive in the slow lane”). Stan doesn’t care as he’s excited about giving Steve his Christmas present this year: a gun. Francine is strongly against the idea of Steve having a gun, despite Stan’s protests that they’ve been unable to bond over anything else, and makes Stan promise not to give Steve a gun for Christmas.

Merry Wednesday!

We hard cut to Stan shouting “Merry Wednesday!” and presenting Steve (Scott Grimes) with a machinegun. Steve is a bit unsure if he’s ready for such an item, but his father’s insistence seems to be working. Jeff then pops into Steve’s room to enthusiastically declare that he’ll go shooting with Stan and Steve, much to Stan’s annoyance. He tells Jeff he can’t come since this is a father-son bonding thing and punctuates it by telling Jeff he’s not a part of their family. He closes his eyes and tells Jeff he wants him gone when he opens them. The camera shifts to Stan’s point-of-view as he opens his eyes and we see Jeff still standing there smiling like a dope.

Roger must go to great lengths to get drunk this Christmas.

The family alien Roger (MacFarlane) is out shopping for booze. He expresses to the clerk at a liquor store (Clancy Brown) that he needs something strong for his eggnog. When the clerk tells him most people use bourbon, Roger snaps at him with desperation in his voice that he can’t get drunk and needs something stronger. The clerk says he merely was checking to make sure and then leads Roger to the side of the counter and the two huddle down. He begins to tell Roger a tale about a legendary four-armed, nine foot tall, blind man who lives at the top of a nearby mountain, but has to stop his story when another patron interrupts them inquiring about seasonal beers. Roger tells him he’s ruining the story, and the guy goes away allowing the clerk to finish the story and present Roger with a special map leading to this man’s location. The customer then interrupts again to ask if the store sells watch batteries causing Roger to leap in the air, in slow motion, and slap the guy telling him to “Get out.”

Time to be a man, Steve.

Stan and Steve head off to try out Steve’s new gun. Stan gives him a lesson in handling a firearm describing it like making love to a woman, “First you inspect it to make sure she’s clean. Then, you grab her by the butt and jam the magazine in. If it doesn’t fit, make it!” Steve sets up to fire his new “toy” at some tin cans. When he fires the gun, he has little control over it and hits a nearby road sign causing a bullet to ricochet and strike Steve’s glasses, just like in A Christmas Story. He pleads with his dad that this isn’t safe, and Stan surprisingly agrees with him as he picks up the shot glasses.

Whoops…

We hard cut to a store parking lot, and Stan has just bought Steve safety goggles. Now they’re safe! He instructs Steve to take aim at a nearby snowman and Steve riddles the snow being with bullets. The snowman then starts to gush blood before falling apart to reveal a Santa had been standing behind it smoking a cigar and drinking a coffee. He’s filled with bullet holes and falls over face first into the bloody snow at his feet. Stan and Steve rush over with Steve freaking out about shooting a mall Santa. He then asks his dad, “Is he…?” and Stan interrupts him by finishing the question, “Is he dead?” by deadpanning that, yes, this guy is very dead. Stan casually loads the corpse into his car, while Steve continues to freak out. He assures him everything will be fine, they’ll just take him home and use Stan’s CIA resources to check his prints.

That won’t be necessary, Roger.

Roger reaches the top of the mountain the clerk instructed him to climb and finds an old, downed, airplane and a stereotypical redneck sitting on a porch outside the plane. Roger introduces himself and explains he’s looking for a nine foot tall, blind, moonshiner with four arms. When the man says he is the one he’s seeking, Roger is confused as he’s definitely not any of those things he expected him to be. The man has Roger take a sip of his shine and then Roger hallucinates the man into the creature he expected. He then introduces himself as Bob Todd (Erik Durbin) and goes into a long explanation of what people refer to him as. Roger politely endures this explanation from Robert Toddford Williams, then humbly requests to purchase some of his shine. When Bob Todd tells him he has no use for his money, Roger gets down on all fours preparing to pay for his booze in another fashion. When Bob Todd explains that he’ll teach Roger how to make it, he cheerfully hops back to his feet remarking “You had me in the palm of your hand there. In another second, it would have been the other way around!”

She’s right to be mad, Stan really should have put down some trash bags first or something.

At the Smith residence, Stan and Steve are preparing to head inside to check the fingerprints of the corpse when Francine arrives home. Stan instructs his son to act casual and compliments his wife on her appearance and Steve awkwardly follows suit. She’s flattered though, and the two head inside to check the CIA database. Stan can’t find anything on the guy, which puzzles him, and then gives an “Uh oh” as they look outside to see Francine has found the bloody mess of a Santa in the back of the family SUV.

Francine acts like someone who has done this before.

The family convenes in the living room and Francine expresses her displeasure with Stan. Steve starts crying about a boy shooting a man and his hysterics get Haley’s attention. She’s shocked to find out what happened and asks if anyone has called the police. It’s then Francine who says this isn’t going to ruin their Christmas and they’re all heading out to the woods to bury the corpse. We then cut to the family doing just that, and Francine is angry with the family for not letting her smash the guy’s teeth and cut off his hands. When they look at her with shock, she asks “Well you want to get away with murder or not?!”

Donkey Todd.

On top of the Chimdale mountains, Roger is ready to make some shine. He’s dressed like a hick in overalls and a crooked, bowl cut, wig and even has some janky teeth to go along with it. Bob Todd gives him a hit of the shine, and he morphs back into the mythical nine foot tall creature. The sequence of preparing moonshine is done-up like a game of Donkey Kong. Bob Todd chucks barrels and amusingly provides all of the sound effects, while Roger has to leap over them and get to the woman at the top of the still. He does, and gives her a big kiss only for the effects of the hallucination to ware off and reveal he’s smooching a raccoon. Bob Todd proclaims his training complete, for he has smooched the raccoon, and hands over some jugs and tells Roger to get to it.

Maybe that wasn’t your garden variety mall Santa.

Back at the Smith home, Stan is wrapping gifts in his study when he finds an elegant looking scroll with a message written on it, “I noel what you did in the woods.” We then see Francine preparing a turkey and she finds a scroll too, this one reads “Your goose is cooked.” Steve finds one by the fireplace that says “Your nuts will roast on an open fire,” while Haley has one stuffed in her bong that says, “THC you in Hell.” The family race to convene in the living room to show off what they found. As they wonder if they have a snitch in their midst, the television interrupts the family to provide some important plot details. A calendar salesman, who makes calendars featuring cats for lesbians, is asked what month it feels like and he says October as the Christmas cheer appears to have been sapped from the population. The reporter, Terry (Mike Barker), even punctuates it by suggesting it feels like someone killed Santa Claus.

They’re cute when they’re armed.

The family, now in a bit of a panic, decide they need to dig up the corpse and confirm if it’s Santa or not. They exhume it, only to find it’s empty except for the bloody remains of Santa’s suit. A note, not unlike the ones the Smiths already received, is left behind letting them know that Santa is pissed. As they stare in shock, an arrow whizzes past Stan’s head to lodge in a nearby tree. As they look up, they see an elf riding a reindeer armed with a bow and arrow. He laughs (Dee Bradley Baker) in a comical voice and tells them Santa can’t be killed. He’s home in the north pole recuperating, but he’ll have his revenge before dawn of Christmas morning. He then beckons to his reindeer, Mimsy, and the two fly off leaving the Smiths to comprehend what they just saw. We then see a quick scene from The North Pole of Mrs. Claus casually knitting while Santa is shown recuperating in a rejuvenation chamber of sorts.

Hick Roger is here to save the day!

Stan tries to dismiss the elf as the antics of a “midge,” but then the family uses the correct term of “little people” which is nice since they used the hurtful term in the prior special. The arrow dissolves into light though confirming once and for all that Steve did indeed fire upon the real Santa. As they wonder what to do, Roger appears still in his hick attire. He carries on the persona for a bit, then drops it as everyone seems confused. He tells them they can hide out in the mountains with him, then cracks a Deliverance joke at Ned Beatty’s (R.I.P.) expense.

Who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas Eve here?!

Atop the mountain, the family is introduced to Bob Todd who is happy to have guests for Christmas. As the sun goes down, the family heads inside to sing carols. The group looks setup to play carols jug-band style, and even seem excited about it, but the sound of sleigh bells startles them before they can begin. They open the door to see it’s just Jeff, driving up in his van. Stan is pissed at the sight of his hated son-in-law and Haley says she told him where they would be so they could spend Christmas together. Jeff enters the house and Stan angrily tells him to shut off the sleigh bell sounds coming from his van. When Jeff says his van isn’t making that noise, the family looks to the sky and sees Santa and his army descending upon them! As they fly towards the mountain summit, a metal version of “Carol of the Bells” by August Burns Red serves as the herald for Santa’s army.

He’s here!

Stan is now even more pissed at Jeff because it was he who wrote a letter to Santa telling him where they’d be so he knew where to deliver his present. Stan tells him to leave in hurtful terms insisting that Jeff is not, and will never be, a part of this family. The family doesn’t have time to get angry with Stan though as Bob Todd opens up a weapon’s locker and arms everyone. Steve is handed a gun and is unsure if he can ever touch one again, but it’s Francine who slaps him around and orders him to go outside and commit murder. He does as he’s told and takes the weapon, jamming the magazine into it as his father showed him earlier while referring to it as Linda. Stan, Steve, and Bob Todd then go out to defend the homestead while Haley and Francine are left to fire from the windows.

The Smith men finally found a way to bond.

Outside, the battle commences and Bob Todd apparently hates Santa. He calls him a butt licker, which is a strange insult coming from him because Bob Todd looks like the kind of guy plenty willing to go ass-to-mouth (probably with a raccoon), and starts blasting elves from the sky. Stan and Steve fire from behind a bunker and Steve questions his dad if it’s weird that he has a boner? Stan replies “It would be weird if you didn’t,” as the two, pretty cheerfully, lay waste to the reindeer and elves in a perverted bonding experience.

The perfect setting for some mother-daughter time.

Inside the hull of the downed plane that Bob Todd calls a home, Francine and Haley have a similar heart-to-heart about Jeff in between machinegun fire. Francine assures her daughter that her father will come around, eventually, it will just take some time. She references how long it took for him to adapt to Roger and adds “And the other one.” We hard cut to Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker), the fish, in his fish bowl at home to basically acknowledge his lack of a part in this episode.

He told you that he’d be back again some day!

Outside, Bob Todd is chucking molotov cocktails and Santa’s minions unleash a behemoth snowman. Bob Todd blows it up with a full barrel of flaming moonshine, only for presents to burst from the corpse each one containing a miniature snowman ready to attack. Inside, the girls are out of ammo and Roger suggests they use these oversized candy canes he has as weapons, they just need to sharpen them with their mouth first. All three suck the end of the candy cane, and Haley is the first to produce a pointy tip. Roger compliments her on her ability to do so while Francine struggles, but insists she can do it!

Nice to see Rudy make an appearance.

Jeff shows up behind Stan and Steve and asks if he can help. Stan tells him he can shield him from the arrows and die. Santa (Matt Mckenna) emerges from his sleigh and lights a cigar on Rudolph’s nose as he surveys the battlefield. He then calls out to Jeff telling him that he’s been a good boy and that he doesn’t need to die with the Smiths. Everything stops as everyone turns their attention to Jeff. Santa tells him he has the present he requested, the polar bear helmet from The Golden Compass, and urges Jeff to come stand by his side. Jeff quietly leaves Stan and Steve and walks towards Santa as Haley calls out to him urging him not to side with Santa. Stan tells her to let him go, using this act as a way to illustrate how Jeff was never a part of their family.

Merry Christmas, Santa!

Jeff receives his gift and happily puts it on his head as an elf smashes Stan in the back of the head with a club knocking him unconscious. Santa then grabs an ornate looking rifle and sets his sights on the unconscious Stan. Jeff, wearing the spiked helmet he just received as a gift, apologizes to Santa for what he’s about to do and then rams his head into Santa’s kidney area. The fat man howls in pain and doubles over as Jeff races over to Stan and drags him into the house. Santa calls to his elves who immediately bandage his wounds with wrapping paper.

Now he’s bonding with his son-in-law, Stan is on a roll!

Inside the plane, Jeff takes Stan into the cockpit to tend to his wound. When Stan comes to with his head bandaged, he expresses his surprise at Jeff’s actions. He’s shocked that Jeff would do something like that for him, but Jeff corrects him that he didn’t do it for him, but Haley. He then tells Stan that he actually thinks he’s an ass, and Stan is impressed with him for the first time ever. He then tells Jeff that they should go out there and die as a family. They open the door to the cockpit and survey the carnage as their family tries to fight off a horde of tiny elves with a wholesome score behind them to celebrate this moment as a magical Christmas one. The two then join the fray as it appears the family will soon be overcome by Santa’s minions.

Now there’s a festive image!

Outside, Santa is puffing on his cigar when he notices the sun rising. He curses, then calls off the troops. They all retreat and fade away into Christmas dust as they apparently only had until dawn of Christmas Day to do the deed (I wonder who filled in for Santa all night with his regular job?). The family emerges, battered and bloody, from the home. Jeff remarks that this means he probably won’t be getting any more Christmas presents, and we hear the voice of Santa chime in, “You’re damn right you jerk!” Francine catches a note from Santa which contains a threat for next year. She’s actually delighted since it looks like her family has found a new Christmas tradition! We then hear from Bob Todd who survived the massacre. He drags over the corpse of a reindeer explaining how it tried to turn into dust, but he was having none of that. When Stan remarks he’ll get some nice venison out of that deer, Bob Todd tells the family he’s going to prepare a Christmas feast for them, but first he’s going to make sweet love to this reindeer corpse. He and the family wish us a “Merry Christmas!” as the camera zooms out to show the bloody aftermath.

The aftermath.

“For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls” lives up to its promise of being a bloody, violent, Christmas special to the point that I’m surprised they didn’t opt for a pun with the title and use “slay” instead of “sleigh.” It’s almost an anti-special, since the family kills Santa and all, but it’s conclusion is pretty standard holiday fare as the Smiths learn the meaning of family. Family isn’t just blood, it can also be who you choose, and Stan finally accepts the fact that Jeff is married to his daughter and is indeed part of his family. And it does put an end to some of the venom from Stan that he reserved for Jeff previously, though he’s still allowed to think of him as an idiot. I like the natural setup of the episode with Stan attempting a last ditch effort to bond with his son over guns, and that leading to the tragedy of Steve accidentally murdering Santa (though I described it as an accident, I can’t overlook that he did willingly fire a machinegun in a crowded parking lot and chances are he was going to kill or wound someone in the process). There’s some great misdirection, from the reveal of Santa being shot, to Francine’s insistence on covering up the crime, and Jeff’s turn that are all quite funny. Another joke is rarely far away with this show as it’s often line after line of funny.

A new family tradition is born.

The violence is the star though as the last several minutes of the episode are devoted to a bloody battle of man and elf. There are numerous shots of reindeer getting shot out of the sky intercut with the expected Saving Private Ryan moments of limbless elves wandering among the fallen in a daze. Their search for their limb ended by another relentless volley of machinegun fire. The violence is juxtaposed with casual conversation from the family as they sort out their business adding to the humor, while Bob Todd is mostly allowed to just be a homicidal maniac. The portrayal of Santa as a vengeful blowhard is entertaining, but as I mentioned in the lead-in, we won’t really see a full-on villainous turn for years to come. Here he’s justified in hating Stan, and the whole family played a role in covering up their crime. You just wouldn’t expect the classic interpretation of Santa to be so bloodthirsty.

Merry Christmas from the Smiths!

The violence contained in this one obviously means it’s not a Christmas special for everyone. It’s not something I’d show my young kids at this juncture, but it is one that I get a laugh out of! Even though I’ve seen this one probably more times than any other American Dad! Christmas episode, it’s still the one I look forward to returning to each year the most. These days there are a lot of anti-Christmas specials, but this one might be the best.

If you’re looking forward to spending Christmas with the Smiths this year then you should have a few options at your disposal. The show is shown daily on Cartoon Network during its Adult Swim block and it will certainly air this, and a bunch of other Christmas episodes, this month. The show is also available to stream on Hulu and available to rent or own in various places. My advice is if you have a cable subscription just load-up the DVR with American Dad! Christmas episodes and have yourself a nice, festive, binge. It’s what I’ll be doing all month!


Dark Phoenix (2019)

What is it with the X-Men film franchise and its aversion to simple titles? We couldn’t just have X-Men 2, we had to have X2. The third film was billed as X-Men: The Last Stand in some places, but the theatrical poster seemed to imply it was X3: The Last Stand. At least the reboot films seemed to rectify this with X-Men: First Class followed by X-Men: Days of Future Past, but now we have just Dark Phoenix. Not X-Men: Dark Phoenix, but Dark Phoenix. Just in case you were confused though, at least the theatrical poster circled the “X” in Phoenix, but why not just keep things nice and simple?

Dark Phoenix is the 2019 film that marks the end of the X-Men film franchise as we know it. It’s been an interesting, confusing, frustrating, and sometimes thrilling ride. The franchise took off in 2000 with X-Men, and arguably peaked with the sequel. The third film was a let down, and then we had some solo Wolverine outings with one being terrible and the other acceptable, plus a sort of prequel, reboot, in 2011. X-Men: First Class turned me off initially, but once I finally gave it a chance I was forced to concede it was at least a fun film. I just didn’t really like how it tried to be both a reboot and a prequel to the original film and felt it would have been better to just commit to one. Apparently, the studio saw this as an issue too so Days of Future Past in 2014 basically served as the sequel to First Class and as the true reboot for the franchise as the time-traveling original heroes changed history and likely inadvertently erased basically everything that happened in the original trilogy. Confused? I suppose you should be, but at the end of the day, it just meant we were truly were dealing with two distinct sets of films that just both happened to be about the X-Men.

The sequels/reboots ended up being a lot of fun, but things took a turn in the third film, X-Men: Apocalypse. That one was a mess and was a textbook example of what not to do when telling an X-Men story. The villain was just an all-powerful being with no subtext. I likened Apocalypse to a natural disaster in my review of that film and I stand by that. He was a foe that just was; there was no getting away from him or around him or reasoning with him, he just had to be endured. The cast basically exploded which meant we had a bunch of new faces and not enough time to get to know any of them. It was almost as if the film depended on people knowing who these characters were and establishing a connection based off of that and not by what was presented onscreen. Given that, the obvious next step was to tell a story entirely dependent upon the audience caring about these new characters – what could go wrong?

The original story of Phoenix unfolded over several years and was anchored by characters introduced 20 years prior, this film is counting on viewers caring about characters introduced just a film ago and given minimal screen time at that with only 2 hours to tell the story.

Apocalypse made enough money that a fourth film was commissioned: Dark Phoenix. The Dark Phoenix Saga is perhaps the most famous X-Men story ever told. Crafted by writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne, The Dark Phoenix Saga unfolded in the pages of Uncanny X-Men spanning 8 issues in 1980. Some would argue the story began earlier with Uncanny X-Men #101 which began the story of Phoenix way back in 1976. In essence, this was a story that unfolded over parts of 5 years, so is it any wonder that other versions of the X-Men have struggled to match the original story?

Probably the best adaptation of The Phoenix Saga and Dark Phoenix Saga is in the animated series X-Men. That show devoted basically 10 episodes to the event and had given us multiple seasons before that to develop a connection to the characters in the show. When the X-Men originally went to film, we had at least had two films to connect with characters Jean Grey and Cyclops, only Cyclops was basically written out of the sequel and quickly killed off at the beginning of the third. Oops! At least The Last Stand had the Wolverine/Jean dynamic and the Xavier/Jean relationship to fall back on, but it was sloppy with the Phoenix character taking a backseat to Magneto for large stretches of the film.

This film is not good, but that’s not because of the performance of actress Sophie Turner.

In the waning moments of Apocalypse, the film started dropping hints that Phoenix was next so I was not surprised to find out that Dark Phoenix was in development, but I immediately expected failure. Once again, a film was jumping over The Phoenix Saga and going straight to Dark Phoenix, only this time, the title character was one no on cared about. The film had a lengthy development cycle due in the part to director/screenwriter Bryan Singer getting fired for being a sexual predator and the studio having enough issues with first-time director Simon Kinberg’s final act that they sent the whole crew back for reshoots. The release date got kicked around as the film would basically become akin to a lame duck president since rumors were flying, and would later come to fruition, that Disney was purchasing 20th Century Fox which would bring an end to the X-Men film franchise. The film was finally released in June 2019 and it bombed. If Wikipedia can be believed, it would eventually make more than its budget, but that probably doesn’t factor in marketing costs so it’s possible the studio lost money, though it’s certainly likely that it did not realize a substantial profit.

The poor reception to the film is why my review has taken more than two years to arrive. I’ve simply been unwilling to spend money to watch it, so I waited for it to finally show up on a streaming platform I was already subscribed to. I will come right out and say it: this movie is not good. I was hoping that maybe for a longtime fan of the X-Men, it would work on a basic level for me and I could have some fun with it despite its flaws. Instead, I found little to enjoy.

For starters, the script and screenplay are poor. Characters are given lines riddled with clichés. One can practically predict every word about to come out of a character’s mouth in a given situation and it just feels like amateur hour. Despite the poor script, some actors are able to rise to the occasion. Sophie Turner, who plays the title character, received poor marks for her performance in Apocalypse, but here she redeems herself. Yes, the movie does her few favors, but she performs as well as could be expected. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender continue to be pleasant as Professor Xavier and Magneto, respectively, though the latter’s appearance felt especially shoe-horned this time around. Just like with Apocalypse, Magneto is basically just to hear to clearly demonstrate that another being is more powerful than him. Nicholas Hoult is fine as Beast/Hank McCoy, but that’s basically it. Jennifer Lawrence continues to underwhelm as Raven/Mystique which is partly due to the character being underserved by the role while Kodi Smit-McPhee (Nightcrawler) and Alexandra Shipp (Storm) are treated more like tools than characters. Jessica Chastain, who reportedly turned down numerous offers to appear in a “superhero” film before, plays the villain Vuk and it’s truly puzzling that this is the role she finally accepted. She must have owed someone a favor or just really likes Kinberg because the role is terrible.

A space rescue leads to an encounter with the Phoenix Force, setting the wheels of the plot in motion.

The plot of the film basically tries to adapt portions of both The Phoenix Saga and Dark Phoenix Saga. When the film begins, Xavier is basically a celebrity with direct access to the President of the United States and things are going well for mutants. It’s supposed to be set in the early 90s, but the period is not utilized in the least. When the X-Men are called upon to save a stranded space shuttle in the outer rim of Earth’s orbit, Jean Grey is exposed to a supernatural force and is forever changed. This causes a rift between Raven and Xavier, with Beast caught in the middle, over Xavier’s willingness to place his student’s in harm’s way to further his agenda while Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) is left to worry about his girlfriend, Jean, who is acting different. Things take a turn as Jean essentially becomes the Dark Phoenix character as we know her leading to tragedy and her fleeing the team. In the process, it’s discovered that Charles had used his own powers to hide traumatic memories of Jean’s when he took her in, and now those barriers are failing causing others on the team to question Xavier’s judgement and Jean to basically go out of control.

Vuk (left) basically plays the role of Mastermind this time around as she attempts to forge a bond with Jean to gain control of the Phoenix.

Complicating things further are the D’Bari, a race of shape-shifting beings made extinct by The Phoenix Force before it ever encountered Jean. Their leader, Vuk, wants to take control of the Phoenix which now rests in Jean, and in order to do so needs to become her ally. Along the way Magneto will be pulled in and Xavier will be forced to reassess what the X-Men stand for. It’s a mess of a plot that both asks us to care about characters we barely know and is also afraid to actually put a lot on the shoulders of these characters. A lot of what happens, particularly with Magneto, feels like the film just padding out its length. Once again, Magneto is presented as being in a state of peace, but then immediately goes back to being a tool of vengeance. It’s ridiculous what the past two films have tried to do with the character and the only silver lining is that Michael Fassbender continues to be terrific in the role. The presence of the D’Bari is essentially taking the place of the Hellfire Club from the comic, and not the Shi’ar, as Vuk tries to coerce Jean into being an ally in order to take control of the Phoenix Force. The film isn’t really interested in explaining this cosmic entity; does it just function like a power amplifier or is it in control? It’s basically just there to give Vuk a motivation and a reason to exist, albeit a flimsy one. The film would have functioned in the same fashion if Vuk just wanted to use Jean like a weapon, as Magneto had done in The Last Stand, and the Phoenix entity was just something that existed inside her character.

I love Fassbender’s Magneto, but he did not need to be in this picture.

Dragging the film further down into the mire are the special effects and action pieces. The effects are not bad, just not interesting. It’s a lot of characters just putting their hands up and CG taking over to add in some flames or lightning. The only interesting moment involves a subway car crashing up through a street, but it’s also a head-scratching moment as the character responsible didn’t really need to do that and it just looks like the film trying to show off. There’s no moment that made me say “Wow” and there’s no signature fight scene either. The final battle is one of the film’s most underwhelming moments. The costumes at least look okay. Beast still looks kind of dumb, but a lot of that has to do with the character’s design and not the makeup effects being utilized. This one, like the previous film, does draw attention to how the franchise loves blue characters as we have the blue Beast, Nightcrawler, and Mystique making up half of the X-Men. The franchise is finally confident to give the team a comic-inspired uniform, but still not willing to give other characters a cool, fun, look. Jean, as Dark Phoenix, just wears street clothes throughout this one and Magneto apparently lost his threads between films.

Dark Phoenix is not a good film and a whimper for the franchise. Technically, the final X-Men adjacent film is last year’s The New Mutants, another film fraught with delays and reshoots that ultimately did not pan out. It’s a shame that a cartoon in the early 90s is still the best depiction of a classic comic story like The Dark Phoenix Saga and I wonder if the repeated failures will cause Disney to bypass it when X-Men finally enters the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a shame, because it’s really not a hard story to adapt, it’s just one that needs time. It’s not a one-movie deal, it has to be cultivated across films and, most importantly, they need to be films that actually respect the characters. Marvel has proven it can create a team and have the audience care about it, and I don’t mean The Avengers. That was obviously a different animal where most of the characters got stand-alone films first, but Guardians of the Galaxy did not go that route and found a way to make us love the characters on that team. I do suspect that when it comes time to onboard the X-Men that we’ll meet someone like Xavier in a different film before being properly introduced to the full team. And it’s possible we’ll meet other characters prior to that as well. It wouldn’t be hard to slip Storm into whatever comes next for the Black Panther and Wolverine can fit in almost anywhere. That’s a whole other subject though. For now, the X-Men film franchise that began in 2000 is over. It had its ups and downs, but it’s also a big reason why we have the superhero genre today. It was immensely important and I’m glad it exists even if it has many flaws. It’s unfortunate it didn’t get a better send-off, but I think of Days of Future Past as the true bookend and that film is great. And if not, well Logan is possibly the best superhero movie ever and also would be a fine end. Dark Phoenix just happened to be the movie that came last.


Dec. 7 – Bob’s Burgers – “Father of the Bob”

 

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“Father of the Bob” originally aired on December 7, 2014. And as always, there was a delightful Christmas pun in the title sequence.

Bob’s Burgers has somewhat quietly become the best animated show on the Fox Network. Better than the modern version of The Simpsons, and better than Family Guy. It might be the ugliest of the three, but it more than makes up for that with its characters and plots. Bob’s Burgers looks like just another animated sitcom about a family of five on the surface:  the Belchers are short on money, but not on problems. Where the show really separates itself is that it’s never really operated like a conventional sitcom. The members of the family all get along and seem to like each other. There are very few plots centered on conflicts within the family. Rarely do parents Bob and Linda need to discipline the kids or worry about their performance at school. And all three kids are quite weird, and yet no one in the family pokes fun at each other. Well, the kids do point out Bob’s flaws at times, but it’s often in an observational manner as opposed to trying to make him feel bad about himself. This is a family that is incredibly tolerant of each other, almost to a fault as Bob can be a push-over. They rarely say “I love you,” to each other, but it’s obvious that they do in a very natural way that just doesn’t need stating.

 

And, of course, the show is incredibly funny. It’s also incredibly dedicated to holiday themed episodes in a way that few shows are. Every season you can almost guarantee there will be a Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas episode. Sometimes the holiday is just sort of happening in the background, which it kind of is in today’s episode, and other times it’s very much the focus of the episode. It’s certainly great for a website like this one so don’t be surprised if Bob’s Burgers ends up showing up here on an annual basis as well.

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This episode is going to take us back in time more than once.

“Father of the Bob” is actually one of the more melodramatic episodes in the show’s history. It contains a plot revolving around Bob and his father, Big Bob, and how the two struggle to get along with each other. It’s one of the more conventional plots the show has done when compared with its contemporaries, but it still finds ways to impart its unique brand of humor to the story and it largely utilizes the kids to do so.

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A young Bob crafts his first gimmick burger.

The episode opens with a flashback to thirty years prior. On a snowy Christmas, a young Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) is handling grill duties while his dad is at a doctor’s appointment. He’s talking to the burger as he personifies it with a high-pitched voice, something he will carry with him to adulthood. He then presents his burger to patron Henry (Carl Reiner). He dubs it the Baby You Can Chive My Car Burger as it has chives and little fried pickles for wheels, making it simulate a car. Fellow patrons Max (Jordan Peele) and Pete (Nick Offerman) look on as Henry decides if he wants to eat this thing as he had ordered his usual:  a tuna melt. As he looks it over, Big Bob (Bill Hader) returns from his appointment and we find out it was for a prostate exam. His remark, “So that’s what a prostate exam is,” is met with a “I think it’s fun if it’s a surprise!” from Max reminding me that there’s almost no way I can capture all of the good lines that are going to be featured here.

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Little Bob presents his masterpiece to Henry, the Baby You Can Chive My Car Burger.

Big Bob takes notice of the unusual burger being presented to Henry. As Bob enthusiastically describes it to his dad, Big Bob just looks disgusted. He seems even more irritated when he finds out Henry ordered his usual, but Bob tries to tell Henry he’ll like this. Big Bob reminds him you don’t tell the customer what he wants, but Henry suggests he’s willing to try this and thinks it looks okay. Big Bob then immediately makes a hypocrite of himself by telling Henry he doesn’t want that burger and tells him he wants a tuna melt. He dumps the burger into the trash and remarks that’s the last time he leaves Little Bob in charge.

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Turns out, this isn’t a happy Christmas memory.

In the present, it’s Christmas Eve and the family has been invited to Bob’s father’s annual Christmas party taking place at his restaurant, Big Bob’s Diner. Bob is reluctant to attend, but the family hasn’t been in seven years so he feels obligated to do so. The problem is he and his dad can only seem to co-exist for 15 minutes before things inevitably take a turn for the worse. As he explains this phenomena to Teddy (Larry Murphy), while the kids pray to Santa, we see a montage of times when 15 minutes elapsed and Big Bob said something condescending to his son. Linda (John Roberts) poo-poos him and is ever the optimist insisting that the magic of Christmas will bring them together, but Bob insists they only stay for 15 minutes and then get out of there.

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In the present, Bob has upped his game and worked Christmas puns into his gimmick burgers.

As the family drives over, the kids Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal) all find out via discussion that none of them have secured a Christmas present for their father. They’re obviously running out of time and need to think of something fast. Their hope is that their grandfather might be able to bail them out in some way.

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Santa Pete is the first to welcome the Belchers to Big Bob’s holiday party.

As the family enters Big Bob’s Diner we’re introduced to Big Bob himself. He looks like an older, heavier, version of Bob and seems to be a rather low key kind of guy. He gives the kids their expected five dollars each, and Louise whispers in his ear they have an arts and crafts emergency brewing and Big Bob tells her they’re welcomed to nose around in the basement for stuff and the three head down there. Bob and his dad struggle to make small talk and it soon becomes apparent that Big Bob is understaffed, what with it being Christmas Eve and all. Linda thinks this is an excellent opportunity for the two Bobs to have a heart to heart and she insists that Bob help his dad out in the kitchen. Bob is extremely reluctant to do so, but he’s too good a person not to help his dad out or he just can’t say “No” to his wife.

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Christmas seems to have a lot of baggage for the Bobs.

We’re then a shown a Christmas from 20 years ago. A bunch of patrons are in the diner and Big Bob is preparing to give his son his Christmas present. He has something under a sheet, and he calls for Little Bob to come into the dining room. As he does, he looks really on edge as his dad goes into a little speech. He tells him from now on the diner will be Bob & Son’s diner and he shows him a piece of the new sign, which is still unfinished. As he shows him menus and goes on and on Little Bob says “No” to the offer. Big Bob can hardly believe it, and Little Bob unloads about how he could never work for his dad and that he won’t ever let him change the menu. The restaurant patrons are all really uncomfortable, and Big Bob eventually tells him to get out. As Bob storms out, he tries to come up with a new gimmick burger to mark the occasion, but isn’t satisfied with any of the stuff he’s thinking of on the spot.

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Bob awkwardly discussing the items in the kitchen with his pops.

As the Bobs settle in, Linda helps with waitressing though she clearly has no idea what the layout of the restaurant is and is forced to just call out orders to see who claims them. In the basement, the kids are rummaging through their grandfather’s stuff and trying to figure out a present for their dad. Tina seems to think she can turn her grandfather’s desk chair into something neat, while Gene decides to make drums out of some cans of beans. Louise proposes they have a competition to see who can make their dad the best present. It’s to be called the Missile-Tonies.

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A bean bath – why not?

Upstairs, the clock is ticking as Bob struggles to make small talk with his dad stumbling into an awkward discussion about range hoods. Downstairs, Tina finishes her chair present which just has a bunch of stuff taped to it. She’s rather proud of herself and dishes on her siblings. Louise seems to be unnerved by Tina’s bragging as she constructs a pyramid out of mouse traps. Meanwhile, Gene has lost focus. He emptied the bean cans into a cardboard box initially to make his drum kit sound better, but now he’s decided he just wants to bathe in the beans. He strips down to his underwear and climbs in requesting some sliced ham for his eyes.

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Things are not going well.

In the kitchen, the clock ticks 15, and Bob begins to panic and is trying to make his escape. Right on cue, his dad takes a look at the order slip Bob just finished and asks if it’s supposed to be grilled cheese, because it looks like his son prepared burnt toast. His passive aggressive approach would drive any son mad over time. As Bob tries to leave, Linda sticks her head into the window to see how things are going and Big Bob sarcastically responds they’re learning how to make grilled cheese forcing Little Bob to laugh awkwardly. Linda tells them Henry has ordered the usual, which sets Little Bob off. He declares he’s going to make Henry the burger his dad tossed out when he was 14. Big Bob declares he won’t allow any gimmick burgers in his restaurant, and then he critiques his son’s pantomime of driving a car.

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And they’re only getting worse.

As the Bobs each prepare their meal for Henry, the kids hit a snag in the basement. Tina’s chair has too much stuff taped to it and falls over, knocking over Louise’s structure of mousetraps. Gene’s box breaks open and out come the beans (and according to Gene, a small amount of pee) all over the place. Out of options, Louise instructs Tina to find a gift fast and she settles on a snowglobe. Louise pulls some newspaper out of her grandpa’s desk to use as wrapping paper and this will have to do.

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Linda tries to conjure up some Christmas magic through song, but it isn’t working.

Upstairs, Linda refuses to serve Henry either Bob invention. She instead implores the restaurant customers to sing, but no one is having it. Both Bobs decide to present their food personally as they elbow each other out of the kitchen and place their plates before Henry. The poor old man is obviously confused and conflicted. He doesn’t want to get dragged into this fight between father and son, nor does he want to upset either of them. He’s struggling to find a solution that will placate both, but it becomes obvious that won’t happen. Ultimately, he’s lured in by Little Bob’s creation and takes a bite. He loves it, and as Bob gloats before his dad. A sullen and defeated Big Bob removes his apron and plays the guilt card. He unenthusiastically thanks Bob and Linda for coming to his party as he quietly leaves the restaurant.

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Poor Henry is caught in the middle and he can’t resist the call of Bob’s burger.

Bob isn’t quite ready to stop savoring his victory, but the patrons of the restaurant aren’t too happy with him. Bob realizes he needs to do something as his kids emerge from the basement and Gene is still covered in beans. Linda urges Bob to go after his father, who has ducked into the gay bar across the street. She insists she can handle the orders and the kids will help out, and Bob is forced to relent when the kids give him his present. The newspaper they chose as wrapping paper ended up being a review of Bob’s Burgers his dad kept downstairs. It was the first ever review for the young restaurant (it was a rather neutral review) and Bob is touched and surprised his dad had kept it. Pete, who owns the bar next door, then comes in his Santa suit with a cowboy hat. He instructs Bob to put it on and come with him.

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When a Santa presents you a cowboy hat and commands you to come, you come.

Bob finds his dad alone at the bar in a cowboy hat. He sits down beside him and tries to apologize, but his dad isn’t particularly interested in conversation. He flees his son to the dance floor and Bob gets a lesson in boot-scooting from Pete and joins his father. He then starts to ask his dad what he’s doing here, and he explains he always comes here for line dancing. Before Bob can finish his next question, Big Bob assures his son he’s not gay, he just likes dancing and hanging out with his friends. Big Bob relentlessly points out how badly his son is dancing, and Bob uses that to segue into an explanation for why he blew up earlier. He’s sick of his dad always criticizing him. He apologizes though for blowing up at him, in the past and tonight. He shouldn’t have embarrassed his dad like that in front of his customers, and he sounds genuinely sorry. He thought his dad never supported him, until his kids found the review he had kept. Big Bob admits he’s a tough person to get along with, and the two more or less reconcile before heading back over to the diner.

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A defeated Big Bob wants no part of a conversation with his son.

As they stand outside they watch Linda and the kids taking charge of the situation. Big Bob tells his son he has good kids; weird, happy, kids. He also tells his son that he’s a good father, and Bob seems genuinely touched. They then go to enter the restaurant, but Gene and Louise have locked the door and taunt the two. Tina, being the elder daughter, unlocks the door and lets them in. Linda is happy to see the two have reconciled declaring it Christmas magic and the other patrons are happy to see the two. Big Bob wishes everyone a merry Christmas and the episode ends with Linda’s “Christmas Magic” song she’s been going into and out of all episode.

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Those Belcher kids and their schemes.

“Father of the Bob” is a simple, effective, Christmas episode. It doesn’t necessarily have a special message, but it tells a tale of how a son can feel unappreciated by his father and shows how that can come to a head. Bob was basically in the right to reject his father’s offer of partnership, and right to be angry with him over the gimmick burger, but blowing up and publicly embarrassing him was probably the wrong way to go about it. It’s certainly not the way to do things if you want to continue to have a positive relationship with your pops, but these things can happen when a father is tone deaf to his kid’s emotional needs.

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Gene and his beans are possibly the most memorable part of this one.

Bill Hader is pretty great as Big Bob. He brings a gravelly, grumpy, grumble to the role and I almost didn’t recognize his voice. We see how Big Bob is towards Linda and the kids, which is somewhat warm, and that he’s capable of love. He’s just not great at showing it to his son. It helps keep the audience on Little Bob’s side without full-out hating Big Bob. Nick Offerman, Jordan Peele, and Carl Reiner are also great in their roles. Henry’s conflict over which entrée to eat is probably the best scene, while Peele’s Max has some great lines sprinkled throughout. And the kids tend to steal their scenes when involved. Their B plot is simple yet outlandish given the direction they take it with Gene’s bean bath being a funny, yet cringey, moment since someone is going to have to clean that up. The two plots are tied together neatly, and the climax between the Bobs feels authentic as opposed to manufactured.

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Seeing Bob try to figure things out with his pops around the holidays proved compelling, which is something this show doesn’t often try to do.

“Father of the Bob” may be a touch sentimental and melancholy, but it’s quietly become one of my favorite Christmas specials. I think I still prefer the prior season’s Christmas special, “Christmas in the Car” (which I covered 2 years ago), a little better, but this one is right there. It helps that there’s plenty of Christmas imagery in the episode, so even if it never gets to the actual holiday it still feels like a true Christmas special.

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A hopeful image accompanies the credits.

“Father of the Bob” will likely be shown on Adult Swim more than once this season along with most of the other Christmas specials from Bob’s Burgers. You can also stream the series on Hulu, or purchase the episode as part of season five on physical media or by itself digitally. In short, this is a rather easy one to catch and it’s definitely worth your time to do so this year.

 


Disney+ Revealed

Disney+It was only a matter of time until big companies got into streaming. Netflix was allowed to practically monopolize the market for years before facing any sort of real challenge. Now we have Hulu, Prime Video, as well as numerous niche offerings like WWE Network and Crunchyroll which cater to a specific type of fan. Premium channels like HBO can now be subscribed to without a cable subscription as more consumers look to change how they watch television. With Warner Media announcing in November of 2018 that it intended to offer a streaming service, it only made sense that Disney would follow suit. Not only did Disney possess its own vast library of works, it had recently entered into an agreement to acquire 20th Century Fox adding even more volume. And given how much money Disney had paid to acquire Fox’s portfolio, it only makes sense that the media giant would want to find a way to monetize that investment sooner rather than later.

We’ve known for months that Disney+ was coming. We’ve also known it was going to feature the entirety of Disney’s film library. This was notable when announced because it likely means the long-vaulted film Song of the South will be readily available for the first time in decades. Song of the South is a live-action animated hybrid first released in 1946. At best, it’s content was deemed racially insensitive and at worst flat-out racist as it sought to portray a setting of happy plantation workers in a post Civil War setting. Most historians seem to agree that Walt Disney’s heart was in the right place when the movie was made, but also acknowledge it’s very problematic. Today, most fans will just recognize the animated characters from the popular Disney World and Disneyland attraction Splash Mountain. Disney has long sought to distance itself from this film and never released it on VHS or DVD in the west. It has been released in some parts of the world where the issue of American slavery is less thorny. It’s likely appearance on Disney+ will be the first time many Americans are exposed to the film outside of a bootleg.

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Disney+ will likely be how a lot of folks will first experience the controversial Song of the South.

A 70-year-old film that’s not very good wasn’t going to drive the success of Disney+ though. Song of the South will probably have high stream counts when the service launches and gradually fade away. The rest of the Disney film library will do a lot of the heavy-lifting, but how much was that going to be worth to consumers? Disney, more so than any other studio, has a pretty loyal following of fans that still buy its movies on physical media. While it’s certainly convenient to have films readily available on a streaming platform, what’s the value to Disney fans that already have most of these movies?

UPDATE:  Apparently “entire film library” does not apply to the controversial ones as it is now being reported that Song of the South will indeed be excluded from Disney+ when it launches this fall. In addition to that, Dumbo will see the infamous Jim Crow scene annexed from its film. Song of the South is not a good film so it’s not much of a loss to not have it on the streaming service. In the spirit of not hiding from one’s past, I would have liked to have seen it included with a disclaimer or even an introduction added on, but I’m also not surprised. Removing an entire scene, a rather pivotal one at that, from Dumbo is more concerning. If they’re going to start chopping up their films to remove questionable content (and there’s more than just Dumbo) then I’d prefer they just not include them on the platform.

Disney was going to have to make Disney+ special, and on April 11th the company at long last laid out what it envisioned for the service. The most important detail, as always, is cost. The service will launch in November 2019 at a cost of $6.99 per month in the US, or $70 per year. Other regions will follow as the company likely looks to stagger the release to get a read on how much their servers will have to work. Presumably, the cost will be the same or roughly the same in other parts of the world. It’s an aggressive price point, not in that it’s too high, but in that Disney clearly looks like it’s trying to undercut Netflix, which just raised its prices. Disney owns a 60% stake in Hulu so it likely doesn’t want to undercut that too much. And with the confirmation that it will be ad-free, Disney+ already looks like one of the better bargains in the streaming world.

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A concept of what fans can expect to see when they login to the service.

Disney+ will also include not just Disney films, but Star Wars and Marvel as well. This isn’t much of a surprise, but there probably were some wondering if one, or both, of those big brands would be sent to Hulu instead. It was also touted that the launch of the service will feature the newly released Captain Marvel, currently airing in theaters at the time of this writing. It’s interesting that Captain Marvel was highlighted, but not Toy Story 4 which is set for release this June. At the time Disney+ launches, Toy Story 4 will likely be heading to home media and digital for the holidays. That film might be the first litmus test for what fans can expect between home video and streaming release. It would be understandable if Disney wants a gap between the two so as not to harm home media sales, but it also needs to make its streaming service attractive in regards to new releases.

Disney knows it will need some original content to compete with the likes of Netflix, and it announced a few new shows destined for its streaming service. The Mandalorian is a Star Wars themed show about a bounty hunter that looks like Boba Fett because that character is inexplicably popular. There will also be an animated show based on Marvel’s What If? line of comics and a live-action show called WandaVision focusing on Scarlet Witch and Vision. Some what of a surprise was the announcement that the “live-action” Lady and the Tramp is going to be a direct-to-streaming film on the service as opposed to a theatrically released film. I suppose Lady and the Tramp isn’t as popular as the likes of Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, but given how much money these live-action remakes have been making it’s still a bit of a surprise to see it bypass the theater.

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The Simpsons “welcome” their new corporate overlords.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though was reserved for a non-Disney property:  The Simpsons. America’s favorite animated family is coming to Disney+ and all thirty seasons will be available on day one. I think most assumed that The Simpsons was destined for Hulu, but apparently Disney feels the brand is too valuable for that platform. It’s probably right, though this likely spells the end for The Simpsons World, the streaming portion of the FX Now app which currently is home to the entire series for anyone with a cable subscription. That app was limited, though it was still useful to have every episode on demand, with optional commentary no less. I assume the show will still air on FXX, assuming Disney keeps the channel around, but the on demand options to cable subscribers are probably about to decrease substantially.

What wasn’t touched on in as much detail as I would have liked is what is to come of the television properties Disney owns? Specifically, can we expect to see the entire Disney Afternoon collection of shows on this service? The announcement did make mention of Disney Channel programming so it’s expected all or most of the current programs will be there, but it wasn’t elaborated on. I also want to know if the classic theatrical shorts will show up, and if so, will they be remastered in HD? Some packages of shorts are currently available on Netflix, so it wouldn’t surprise me if those make it to Disney+ early on, but I’m really hoping all of the classic animation is included.

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Disney+ could be a place where television shows like The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, one that has been ignored by Disney since it ceased airing, could finally find a new home.

Given the amount of content and the low introductory price, I think it’s safe to say that Disney+ will have a pretty successful launch. My household will likely be a day one subscriber as my kids probably average one Disney movie per day and this will save ware and tear on my Blu Ray collection. I suspect the price-point to change much faster than Netflix changed its pricing. The most popular Netflix subscription just increased to $13 per month, nearly twice what Disney+ will cost in November. There’s no way Disney, a company that really loves money, will stay at the low-end for long. It’ll be interesting to see how aggressively the company raises that number, with it likely staying put for a year or so. Disney will probably try to incentivize consumers to subscribe to the service in a package with Hulu and ESPN.

What we’re also likely to discover in the coming years as well is just how large an appetite the consumer has for streaming content. Cutting the chord used to be a radical concept, but now is starting to become pretty normal. It was once a way to drastically reduce the cost of television in the average household, but with more streaming options showing up spreading things around it’s no longer the value it once was. My guess is that consumers will become less loyal to any one brand and will be constantly switching between services on a monthly basis. That is, until the content providers start forcing or aggressively incentivizing consumers to subscribe to deals that last for months, or even years. It’s even possible they’ll be forced to turn to contracts, and then we’ll basically be right back to where we were with cable companies. The cycle will repeat.


Dec. 2 – The Simpsons – “Grift of the Magi”

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“Grift of the Magi” originally aired December 19, 1999

Talk to any fans of The Simpsons and they’ll likely have an opinion on when the show ceased to be great. For most, that occurs sometime after Season 8 of the now 30 season show. Some will argue that, while it may have been past its prime, it was still watchable, reliable, programming for a few seasons following that. Almost no one would consider Season 11, which today’s episode is from, as part of the show’s prime. Season 11 is when the show had moved on from being a character-driven show with occasional wacky antics to a more absurd show with frequent wacky or illogical actions. Such a recipe is fine for humor, but thin on substance. Nonetheless, there are a few gems or moments from Season 11 worth remembering, is “Grift of the Magi” one of them though?

Last year we covered the Season 7 episode “Marge Be Not Proud” for our Christmas countdown, and like that episode, “Grift of the Magi” is not really an obvious Christmas episode from the start. It begins rather innocuously when Bart and Milhouse, trapped in the house thanks to a hole in the ozone layer, decide to raid the closet of Homer and Marge to find something fun to do. They settle on dressing up in Marge’s clothes, complete with wigs that must have been remnants of old Halloween costumes or something, and bouncing up and down on her and Homer’s bed. Homer comes barging in demanding a non-gay explanation for what is going on having seemingly learned nothing from the events of “Homer’s Phobia” and receives a satisfactory explanation from Milhouse that the boys are drunk. In the commotion, Bart fell of the bed and landed on a bowling ball doing enough damage that he needed to be taken to the hospital.

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Am embarrassing injury, to be sure.

Once there, Dr. Hibbert informs Bart that he’s fractured his coccyx and we all have a good laugh at the silly word. Unfortunately for Bart though this means he has to spend the next several weeks confined to a wheelchair while his butt-bone heals. Upon arriving at Springfield Elementary the next morning, he finds the school is not equipped to handle a wheelchair. Lisa confronts Principal Skinner about this federally mandated requirement and Skinner is forced to find a cheap solution to his problem so he does what any rational person would do – he goes to the mob!

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That’s some ramp.

Fat Tony is happy to provide the services of his construction company in order to construct a ramp to make the school handicap accessible. The company doesn’t stop at one ramp though, and rather turns the school into something pulled from the board game Shoots and Ladders. Nonetheless, Skinner is proud to unveil the new ramps several weeks later, but is dismayed to see Bart’s coccyx has healed at this point and he no longer needs the use of a wheelchair (how he attended school in the interim is not explained, the type of detail this era of the show could not care less about). Still, Skinner is at least upbeat about the fact that the school is now up to code, until the ramps all crack and crumble into dust. The mob and Fat Tony aren’t exactly known for honoring their work, and Skinner is forced to pay 200 grand for the construction anyways, bankrupting the school. It would seem the school would have had to pay that no matter what had come of the ramps, but again, it’s a detail the show cares little for.

The PTA assembles for an emergency meeting on how to fund the school in what looks like the home of the Flanders’. Moe is there for some reason and proposes funding the school via alcohol sales, but Skinner takes note of his Wonderbread bags for shoes and decides that’s probably not a good idea. Other ideas are proposed, and Marge declares them all terrible. It’s suggested to seek the aid of Springfield’s wealthiest resident, Mr. Burns, but Homer of all people rightly points out that Burns will release the hounds on anyone, especially charity. Skinner decides Burns is their only shot and devizes a scheme to present their proposal via a school play in hopes of warming the billionaire’s frozen heart.

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Yeah, good luck with that.

Skinner and a handful of Springfield Elementary’s most recognizable faces show up at Burns’ mansion to perform their play. A very game and naive Burns seems to enjoy the play even though it’s rather obvious and direct about its intentions. A bunch of moronic kids with no schooling cause the death of a Burns dummy, with Ralph ripping off Stimpy to show up as Dr. Stupid to decapitate the Burns dummy while trying to save him following a car wreck. Burns is depicted as rather dim throughout and reacts surprised when Skinner confesses this was all a ruse to get Burns to save their school. A humorous trap door gag closes out the scene with Burns refusing to help.

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Bart with his new teacher, Jim Hope.

Bart and Lisa, with school still closed, are at home watching the dregs of daytime television when a news report breaks in to declare Springfield Elementary has been saved. A company called Kid First has taken over the school and their president, Jim Hope (Tim Robbins), is interviewed by Kent Brockman as part of the report. He’s a happy and enthusiastic person who fires all of the old teachers and replaces them with Kid First employees. The kids return to school and find Hope and the new direction of the school encouraging, but they seem only interested in finding out what the children like and Hope even assigns Bart’s class to bring in their favorite toy. Lisa’s class is tasked with coming up with fun names for toys and Lisa proposes Funzo when forced to come up with something. She’s also reprimanded for doing math equations and forced to stay after school.

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Run, Lisa! Run!

Bart drops in on his sister who’s being punished with Bart’s usual – the chalkboard gag. He enjoys the “ironing” of him getting A’s while Lisa fails and makes further demonstrations of his lack of proficiency with grammar. When he leaves he turns off the light on Lisa causing her to notice another source of light coming from behind the chalkboard. She creeps into the hall and finds a janitor’s closet next to the classroom. Inside she finds what looks like a viewing area for a focus group who have been spying on Lisa’s class via one-way glass. A weird, little robot emerges from some clutter and causes Lisa to flee in terror. That night, she returns with her parents and Chief Wiggum to show them her discovery, but when Wiggum opens the same closet he just finds janitor supplies.

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The writers of the show don’t seem to think much of Gary Coleman’s talents as a security guard.

Back at home, Bart and Lisa are once again watching television (this feels like an older episode for the show, where the TV would often advance the plot) and see an ad for a Furby-like toy called Funzo. Lisa had proposed that same name in class prompting her and Bart to head over to Kid First’s headquarters to complain to Hope. There they encounter security guard Gary Coleman, played by himself. He’s a few prawns short of a galaxy, and as he complains on the phone to no one (Lisa points out it isn’t plugged in) Bart and Lisa are able to sneak by and into Hope’s office. There they encounter Hope and resident sycophant Lindsey Nagle and register their complaints about the company’s practices. Hope attempts to bribe away their concerns by offering them a free Funzo, and Bart is happy to accept while Lisa is left frustrated. Nagle confronts the ineffective Coleman to tell him he’s fired, but when he responds with a variation of his signature catchphrase from Diff’rent Strokes (“What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Lindsey Nagle?”) she laughs and re-hires him. Coleman is then seen very proud of himself as he confesses he knew exactly what she was talking about.

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Funzo’s true nature revealed. Notice the lack of snow out the window? This seems to happen a lot on this show.

Once again back at home, Bart is happily adding numerous Funzo accessories to his Christmas list while the doll makes suggestions along the way. Lisa confesses the furry little doll is rather cute, but remarks it could never take the place of her beloved Malibu Stacy. At the sight of the doll, Funzo grabs it and rips the head off tossing Stacy’s body into the nearby fireplace. It then targets Bart’s Krusty doll and the Simpson kids deduce the toy is programmed to destroy other toys and eliminate all competition. They decide it needs to be stopped and to do so they enlist the help of Homer.

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Homer doing his best Grinch impersonation with surprising success.

The kids and their dad set out on Christmas Eve to steal all of the Funzo dolls, which Springfield has been sent into a frenzy over, from under the many Christmas trees in town. Homer dresses up as Santa and sneaks into the houses while Bart and Lisa distract the residents with Christmas carols. As Homer causes a commotion at the residence of the Hibbert family, Lisa and Bart are forced to sing ever louder to cover-up the noise. Even though Homer doesn’t seem like a particularly good Grinch, the trio are able to round-up a writhing sack of Funzos and head over to the Springield Tire Fire to dispose of them. As the toys are consumed by the flames, Coleman arrives in a Hummer to put a stop to this toy destruction. Lisa is forced to engage him in a philosophical discussion about the commercialism of Christmas, and even Bart and Homer are surprisingly equipped to do the same. Narrator Clarence Clemons pops in to let us know they talked all through the night and arrived at a compromise the following morning that seemed to satisfy all parties. When the remnants of a Funzo doll emerges from the flames like a Terminator, Coleman springs in with a karate kick to dispatch it, a callback to Coleman practicing his martial arts at Kid First earlier in the episode.

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And they talked long into the night.

With the Funzo crisis apparently solved, Lisa takes note of a sullen Coleman as she and her family prepare to head home for Christmas. This prompts Homer to clumsily and sweetly invite Gary to dinner, only for him to shoot back he’s having dinner with George Clooney. Lisa says his name in an accusing tone, implying she doesn’t believe him, and he relents. Clemons returns as narrator to let us know Gary and The Simpsons had a wonderful Christmas dinner. Mr. Burns was also visited by three ghosts the night before which convinced him to fund the school with some money he found in his tuxedo. Moe is shown pulling his head out his oven after seeing what the world would be like without him and finds the will to live. He shows up at the Simpsons’ residence with a Christmas goose, and also to tell them he banged up Gary’s car in the driveway. This gives Coleman one last chance to use his catchphrase, before turning to the camera and repeating it happily to conclude the episode.

“Grift of the Magi” is a fast-paced episode of The Simpsons that really zips through its story with no time for a B plot. It doesn’t even become a Christmas episode until midway through, the only sign of the coming holiday being a throw-away line from Skinner during their presentation to Burns and a Christmas tree decoration in Bart’s classroom. The Try-N-Save also has a brief cameo which is notable because the store seems to only show up during Christmas episodes. The use of guest stars is done well and doesn’t really overshadow the episode, though Coleman’s presence is kind of sad in retrospect. During this time of the actor’s life, he ran into some legal trouble while working as an actual security guard. He had a lot of financial trouble and I wonder if he only agreed to make fun of himself here because he really needed the money.

coleman gifThe third act is where the Christmas stuff really comes in and it’s not exactly an original take. The episode focuses on the frequent toy crazes that come about every year placing the focus on the ugly side of Christmas commercialism, without resorting to being preachy. The episode doesn’t even really have much to say about it aside from acknowledging it happens since it glosses over whatever lesson the Simpsons learned. It works as a source of humor, though I wouldn’t call it clever. I did enjoy how the episode sneaks in quick parodies of the most frequently adapted Christmas stories at the end in Burns’ Scrooge-like turn and Moe’s It’s a Wonderful Life realization. It closes the only lasting plot-point of getting Springfield Elementary back up and running. The closing minutes are also intentionally corny for comedic sake, but the use of Coleman’s catchphrase still feels lame and lands with a dud. As a result, “Grift of the Magi” is not my favorite of The Simpsons Christmas episodes, but it’s not without its moments. It’s good enough.

The whole tone of this one is very of the era it’s from. It’s quite absurd, and even when you think it’s taking itself seriously it’s really not. Characters are constantly wavering between intelligent and dumb depending on what the scene is asking of them. It’s almost like they know they’re in a Christmas episode and are just going through the motions. It’s mostly funny, but also shallow, giving it a (dare I say?) Family Guy vibe.

If you’re looking to watch “Grift of the Magi” this holiday season then you have several options. It’s available on DVD with the rest of Season 11 and can probably be found for under 20 dollars. It was also released on the DVD Christmas With the Simpsons which is now long out of print, but not hard to come by. There’s also digital purchases available. If you prefer to pay as little as possible, you can watch the episode at any time with a cable package that includes the FX channel lineup. The app FXNow includes Simpsons World which is an on-demand streaming option for every episode of the show. If you don’t have cable, you can even get a free trial that’s plenty long enough to watch one episode. And lastly, the channel FXX is likely to air this episode more than once this month, so check their listings and setup your DVR to record it if you wish. I’ll try and return to this if I come across any air dates.


Dec. 12 – The Futurama Holiday Spectacular

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Presented by Gundersons!

Back before the advent of home video, when a show aired you either saw it or you didn’t. Miss something all of your friends were talking about the next day and you were at the whim of re-runs until your favorite show hit syndication – if it hit syndication. When VCRs were popularized you had the option of recording television shows for later use, but re-watching a show was a great deal more difficult than it is now. When children’s shows were sold on VHS they were usually obnoxiously expensive costing upwards of twenty dollars for an episode or two. The home video market for television just wasn’t something studios paid much attention to, at least not until DVD made it a whole lot easier, and cheaper, to sell television shows to fans.

Futurama owes a great deal to home video and syndication. When the show originally debuted on the Fox Network it struggled to find consistent air time. Often banished to that time-slot before The Simpsons on Sunday nights, it was the first thing bumped if an NFL game ran too long. Many blame the poor time-slots of the show on its lack of success, because once the show was cancelled and appearing in syndication on Cartoon Network’s adult swim block, it suddenly found an audience. DVDs of the first few seasons sold well enough that Fox brought the series back, as it did with Family Guy before it. The only change was that Fox declined to broadcast the new shows and instead optioned the series to Comedy Central, who would eventually gain control of the first four seasons from Cartoon Network. After four direct-to-video Futurama movies were released, the show returned with “Re-birth” in 2010 and would run for two more seasons totaling 52 episodes.

During its original run, Futurama gave birth to two Christmas specials – “Xmas Story” and “A Tale of Two Santas.” For the return season we were gifted with “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular.” The general opinion by most fans is that the post-cancellation episodes are inferior when compared with the pre-cancellation ones. There are of course those who feel the show came back better than ever, or at least as good as it always was, but I tend to agree with those who feel the post-cancellation episodes were lacking when compared with the others. In that sense, “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular” is similar because it’s not as good as the previous two Christmas specials (I guess I should say Xmas Specials), but it’s still an enjoyable episode with some good holiday jokes and puns.

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The crew preparing for Xmas, with an obvious Gundersons tie-in to keep that joke running.

Unlike the first two Xmas specials, this one is a non-canon anthology episode like the Anthology of Interest episodes and the anthology ones that followed. It’s broken up into three segments that focus on three holidays. Only the first one is an Xmas story and the homicidal Robot Santa makes a return in this segment. The second segment concerns Bender’s made up holiday, Robanukah, which he came up with as an excuse to avoid work in the season one episode “Fear of a Bot Planet.” And the third segment is about Kwanzaa with Hermes being a celebrator of that holiday. It also features the return of Kwanzaa-bot, voiced by Coolio, who first appeared in “A Tale of Two Santas.”

Our first segment opens with an ad for Gunderson’s Nuts – they’re “nut” so good, as we pan around the Planet Express headquarters. Inside the crew is decorating for Xmas and Fry is feeling blue, much like he was back in “Xmas Story.” He’s just down because the future version of Xmas is more about survival than good cheer, and we’re soon visited by Robot Santa after Fry asks for everyone to, once again, explain this crazy holiday and do it preferably through song. A little song is sung and we get some visual gags of fruit cake bombs and egg nog molotov cocktails. Robot Santa enters and departs just as quickly, letting them know that to properly celebrate Xmas they need a “tree that’s coniferous.” Also, Scruffy dies.

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The White House Xmas tree isn’t very impressive in the year 3010.

Fry wants to get a real Xmas tree, but Professor Farnsworth explains that the pine tree has been extinct for generations and that they’ll need to head to a seed vault in Norway. Gaining access to the vault is surprisingly easy as the guard, surrounded by barking snakes in a callback to the first segment, is willing to let them in to rummage about. Next door to the vault is the germ warfare vault and Leela expresses concerns about cross-contamination with the seeds. Inside, the guard happily gives them some pine tree seeds and reveals the tree is extinct due to an emergency toilet paper need during the Fifty Year Squirts. Amy notices the seeds have traces of green crud, but no  one is overly concerned.

Back home, Fry plants his seeds and a year later we see he has a sickly looking pine tree for his efforts. Passer-by’s think it looks great, including President Nixon who is immediately advised by Vice President Dick Cheney that he needs to steal it to improve his poll numbers. He apparently does, because soon after The White House is hosting a tree lighting ceremony, and very much like A Charlie Brown Christmas, the sickly little tree suddenly appears a lot more full once decorated. Fry and the gang are there too, so apparently they weren’t too sore about their tree being stolen, but soon the tree grows massive. It was apparently mutated by being stored near the germ warfare containment vault (duh!), and at first Leela thinks it might be a good thing it mutated since it suddenly looks a lot more healthy than it did before. Soon it starts shooting off pine cones, pine cones that in addition to exploding also lead to massive reforestation.

Soon the entire planet is covered in pine trees. Leela, ever the optimist, still believes this could be a good thing and the Professor remarks that global warming has all but been eradicated as a result, and we get our required Al Gore cameo here. The Professor quickly realizes that oxygen levels are climbing dangerously high, and Bender remarks that he hasn’t done anything for awhile and lights a cigar. The air starts to sparkle before it catches fire and we get a view from space of the whole word being destroyed. Robot Santa flies into view laughing about how everyone is dead and tells us to stay tuned for more hilarity!

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Robanukah features six and a half weeks of fembot oil wrestling, let the good times roll!

The second segment centers on Bender’s made-up holiday Robanukah. It’s just after Xmas and Professor Farnsworth remarks they need to destroy all of the Xmas gifts they failed to deliver. Bender immediately gets salty about how they have to celebrate every dumb human holiday but not the robot ones. Everyone is well aware that Bender’s holiday was made up by him to avoid work, but that doesn’t stop Bender from singing a song about Robanukah in a bid to legitimize it. During that song we get a taste of the holiday and it basically takes all of the Chanukah customs and perverts them, most notably by including six and a half weeks of fembot oil wrestling. When Bender finds out they only have enough petroleum oil for four and a half weeks of wrestling, he makes the crew set out to acquire more.

At Mombil, they learn that petroleum oil is all gone, and Al Gore pops in again to reprimand the viewers that he warned this would happen. Bender isn’t satisfied and is determined to find more petroleum oil and he makes the crew head for the center of the earth. There they drill for oil, but the intense pressure kills everyone except Bender. Five-hundred million years pass and Bender, after apparently occupying his time by singing about how great he is, notices his friends have become petroleum oil. He heads back to HQ with his oil friends to find the two fembots still wrestling in oil – a Robanukah miracle!

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It wouldn’t be Kwanzaa without Kwanzaa-bot and beeswax candles.

Our third segment opens with the Planet Express crew arriving at the home of the Konrads and Leela is concerned her chocolate cake may be offensive in some way. They are there for Kwanzaa, and even Barbados Slim shows up shirtless and covered in snow, much to the dismay of Hermes. When everyone is gathered for dinner, it’s decided we need our third song of the episode to explain the holiday featured in the segment, so Kwanzaa-bot bursts in Kool-Aid style to rap about the holiday. The joke of the song is that even he isn’t completely sure about anything concerning the holiday, but he does know they need authentic beeswax candles to celebrate or else they might as well be white. It’s noticed that the Konrads do not have authentic candles, so Hermes takes the crew out to acquire some on the last night of Kwanzaa.

Like the trees and oil, beeswax proves hard to come by and the crew is forced to return to the hive from “The Sting” to get the necessary wax to create their candles. There they find the space bees have been infected by some kind of mite and they’re in some distress. The mites are causing the drones to crash and explode, and the workers are at odds with each other. The queen bee is the only one who appears unaffected, despite the presence of mites on her, and she explains the situation to Hermes. During this, Leela is able to acquire plenty of beeswax but Hermes can’t leave the bees like this, not on Kwanzaa! He explains the meaning of Kwanzaa to the bees, and his message of unity together with the spirit of Kwanzaa causes the bees to embrace each other and the mites to fall off and die. With their minds fully functioning once more, the bees turn their attention to the Planet Express crew. Kwanzaa-bot returns offscreen to save them, and is quickly killed, also offscreen. The bees attack and we fade to black and re-emerge to be wished a Happy Kwanzaa by Hermes who is encased in wax. The camera pans back to reveal the entire crew as wax candles and a curtain falls on the special.

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Al Gore is a reoccurring presence throughout the episode, and even gets to close the show.

Al Gore emerges, still as a floating head, to assure us, the viewers, that the crew will return next year in all new episodes. We get one final send-off from Gunderson’s, and the holiday special is ended. In re-watching it for this post I will say this episode is funnier than I remember. It still suffers from too much fan-service as many jokes exist just as a call-back to an older season (“My ice cream man-which!”) which just feels kind of lazy. There’s still plenty of witty dialogue and exchanges between characters, but the anthology format sacrifices pay-off as the stories are forced to be quick and concise with less room for everything, including jokes.

As a Christmas special, “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular” is mostly underwhelming because only a third of it is devoted to Christmas, and a bastardized version of the holiday at that. And with most of the Xmas parody handled by the past episodes, there’s little left for the show to tackle here. The inclusion of songs is the easiest form of parody, but they sometimes feel too much like padding as not a lot happens in these short segments. The best Futurama episodes are able to be funny while telling a meaningful story containing characters we genuinely care about. I suppose killing off these characters in three separate segments is kind of a play on holiday specials itself, but it’s not really as funny as it could be. It’s cool that they found room for more holiday lampooning, and not just Christmas, even if the Kwanzaa jokes felt a bit too easy. There’s always room for more holidays, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s the most obvious aspect of this special that makes it stand out. Criticisms aside, this one may do little to evoke the Christmas spirit, but it’s still a worthwhile inclusion in your annual holiday viewing.

If you want to watch this one this year, Futurama is shown on Comedy Central and they will play the crap out of the Christmas episodes (as of this update, the episode is scheduled to air Thursday December 21 at 5:20 PM EST). The show is also now syndicated on the Syfy channel and that channel is also set to air the Christmas specials this year. Syfy is showing a Christmas Eve marathon of Futurama including all of the movies and ending with the three Christmas specials. This one will be last to air at midnight, right when Santa is arriving!


#14 – A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas

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Family Guy: “A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas” (2001)

Family Guy might be the first show to be cancelled and then brought back to television a few years later. Shows have gone off the air and come back in different forms or as a sequel series but I don’t know many that were outright cancelled and then brought back really without any changes. The story of Family Guy’s unwillingness to die is probably more interesting than the show itself. When people complain to me about how bad The Simpsons have become I like to point out just how long that show was good and how quickly a show like Family Guy went down the toilet.

The post cancellation seasons for Family Guy seem to get worse each year. Outside of the Simpsons cross-over I really haven’t watched it much over the past few years because it’s just not funny. The first three seasons, however, were pretty damn good. They sustained themselves mostly because the show’s gags had not become overdone just yet and the cut-away bits just felt like a random piece of humor. One of the standout episodes of season 3 is “A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas” in which the show is able to tell a Christmas tale without betraying the show’s tone of voice.

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Merry Christmas Stewie!

The episode has a few different plots intertwining with each other. There’s Lois, who’s just trying to make sure her family has a great Christmas (this was before her character was changed to an unlikable, terrible, mother) by doing all of the heavy lifting mothers so often get stuck with. Stewie is trying to wrap his head around the concept of Santa Claus and seems to regard him as a foe, though one who could potentially provide him plutonium. And Peter, who’s just trying to catch his favorite Christmas specials on television (in particular, “Kiss Saves Santa”) but keeps getting roped into doing things he doesn’t want to do. Peter, and the kids, are basically blind to Lois’s plight and take her for granted. When Brian nearly burns the house down (in part due to Peter’s negligence) she snaps and has a nervous breakdown that makes her act like some kind of cross between an ape and The Incredible Hulk. This leads to the climactic scene at the Christmas pageant where Stewie’s Linus moment thaws Lois’s heart, and the police fill her with a bunch of tranquilizers.

Stewie is, of course, acting in his own self interest to get on Santa’s good side and is rewarded in the end. The Griffen family ends up having a merry Christmas in a very Family Guy sort of way. “A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas” has enough heart but not at the expense of the laughs. This is a comedy special first and foremost. It’s a bit surprising the show didn’t go into full-on cynic mode with its special, but it’s also probably for the better considering how mean-spirited the show has become in recent years. This special is Family Guy at its best. Peter is a boob but not overly so, Stewie still has some edge, Lois is a good person, and Brian provides some dry humor.

“A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas” will probably be shown multiple times on television this year, either on TBS or Cartoon Network. Fox will probably show a more recent, and inferior, Christmas special from the show. The episode is also readily available on DVD as part of Season 3 and as a stand-alone release.


#21 – Married… with Children: You Better Watch Out

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“You Better Watch Out” (1987)

When the Fox network initially launched it was pretty lackluster. Two shows would rise up and help give it a chance; The Tracey Ulman Show and Married… with Children. It may be forgotten by some, but if there was a first family for Fox it’s not The Simpsons, but rather the Bundys. The Bundys are the original dysfunctional sitcom family. While shows like All In The Family certainly showcased a flawed family none were as remorseless as The Bundys.

The Bundys consist of Al (Ed O’Neil), wife Peg (Katey Sagal), Kelly (Christina Applegate), and Bud (David Faustino) and basically everyone of them is a pretty bad person. Not only do they seem to not love each other they do not even seem to care about one another. They’re all selfish, stupid, lazy bores. Peg is a sex-starved housewife who would never lift a finger for anyone, least of all her husband, but will happily spend what little money they have. Bud is actually book smart, but too consumed with getting laid to apply himself at much of anything. Kelly is a typical dumb blond with her mom’s selfish tendencies. Meanwhile the patriarch, Al, is a women’s shoe salesman who basically hates his life. If any of the four have a redeeming quality about them, it’s Al who at least has some feeling of responsibility for his family’s well-being, though he treats it more like an inconvenience than a sense of duty.

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The Bundys and their neighbors gather around the TV to watch the Santa landing.

In the show’s first Christmas special, “You Better Watch Out,” Al finds his usually empty pockets more empty than usual when a new mall moves into town to syphon away business from the store he works at. It’s so bad that he has no money for Christmas presents for the family. Al adopts an “oh well” attitude about it while the rest of the family is more than a little irritated. When the new mall hosts Santa as part of some big Christmas Eve display, he is to parachute into the mall but his chute fails causing the Santa to plummet to his death right into the backyard of The Bundys.

Naturally, a crime scene is established by the local police and while everyone around the house is distraught over the death of Santa, The Bundys are delighted to get some free pizza out of the whole thing. Al does eventually step up and put on the deceased Claus’s costume to assure the children amassed outside that Santa is okay, but in typical Bundy fashion, this ends up biting him in the ass when the mall no longer needs to compensate the family to keep the death of Santa a secret.

In atypical Bundy fashion, the family actually does get something in the end but this is certainly not the way anyone watching would want to spend their holiday. Married… with Children was a pretty unique show at the time. While most sitcoms went the family friendly route this show decidedly did not and ended up lasting a long time as a result. The show still holds up really well, even if a lot of the humor is sophomoric at best, and “You Better Watch Out” is the show’s clear best Christmas episode.


#3 Best in TV Animation: Futurama

FuturamaWhen Futurama was first announced I didn’t think much of it. It felt like an unofficial spin-off of The Simpsons with a stupid title. The premise, a 20th century slacker getting cryogenically frozen to awake in the 30th century, probably should have interested me more than it did. As a result, I, along with most of America, mostly ignored the show during its initial run. Only when re-runs started surfacing on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block of programming did I truly give the show a chance. And what do you know? – I loved it!

Futurama follows the exploits of Fry, Bender, Leela, and the rest of the Planet Express package delivery crew as they parade around the universe getting into more trouble than a normal package delivery company would expect to. Like The Simpsons, Futurama relies on satire and a diverse cast of characters for its humor, and setting the series a thousand years in the future actually makes the satire come rather easy. It’s almost as if show runners Matt Groening and David X. Cohen watched Back to the Future Part II and decided a show that centers entirely on the future portion of that film would be a great idea. The future is a lot like our present, only America essentially rules the entire globe with President Nixon, now a head preserved in a jar, coming into power early in the show’s life. There’s also the Democratic Order Of Planets, or DOOP, which attempts to police the entire known universe with the incompetent Zapp Brannigan as its leading general. Robots handle a lot of the menial labor on earth with relations between humans and robots tenuous at best.

This picture essentially tells you all you need to know about Bender.

This picture essentially tells you all you need to know about Bender.

The principal cast revolves around the Planet Express crew itself. Fry (Billy West) is the main protagonist who is time-displaced due to a mishap in 1999 and doesn’t seem to mind it all that match. He’s a well-meaning but plainly stupid sort of character. His best friend is the robot Bender (John DiMaggio), who would rather chain smoke and steal than actually do any work around the office. Leela (Katie Sagal) is the pilot of the Planet Express ship and nominal love interest of Fry, a subplot that actually takes quite a while to fully develop. She also happens to be a one-eyed mutant. Professor Farnsworth (also voiced by West) runs the company (mostly incompetently) with the help of Hermes Conrad (Phil LaMarr), Amy Wong (Tress MacNeil)e, and Dr. Zoidberg (West). As you may have noticed, the voice cast is pretty well stocked with talented individuals, some who made a name for themselves with Groening’s Simpsons. West is the obvious star and one of the very best at his craft, but everyone is pretty top-notch making Futurama arguably the most well-voiced program in the history of animation.

Visually, the show is excellent and for most of its run was superior to its predecessor, The Simpsons. Fox clearly was pretty generous with the budget for the show’s first four seasons as traditional hand-drawn animation was blended well with computer-aided visuals where appropriate. The show is bright and vibrant and the setting helps to give it a unique look. As expected, there are some pretty standard tropes of the future setting like transportation tubes and laser weapons to go along the obvious hover cars. The show doesn’t make too many attempts at actually predicting the future, and given the setting is a thousand years away there’s little need to. The various aliens and robots are usually pretty fun to take-in and is where most of the show’s visual creativity ends up being on display.

Billy West lends his voice to many characters on the show.

Billy West lends his voice to many characters on the show.

Most importantly, the show is just plain funny. The characters tend to work well with each other. Fry and Bender are often the ones getting into mischief, and early in the show’s run, Leela was often left to play the straight man (woman). Bender is the unofficial star of the show as his general selfishness and law-breaking ways make him both hilarious and popular in the same way Bart Simpson did ten years prior, only with the debauchery and lewdness magnified considerably. Dr. Zoidberg, likely the universe’s worst doctor, is often a source of humor at the character’s expense considering he is both poor and foul-smelling. Professor Farnsworth is probably my pick for the most unsung hero of the cast. Whenever the show turns to him for a one-liner or a visual gag he seems to always deliver. The simple delivery of his “Tell them I hate them,” from “Fry and The Slurm Factory” gets me every time.

Where the show really found a way to separate itself from others is with its heart. It sounds sappy, but the show is surprisingly effective when it wants to make the viewer experience something other than laughter. The first episode where the show really successfully delivered on such was the Fry-centric “The Luck of the Fryish.” In that episode, Fry finds out his brother essentially stole his identity after he was frozen and basically lived out all of Fry’s dreams while becoming a national treasure. He owed it all to Fry’s lucky seven-leaf clover. Fry, in anger, wants his clover back and will go to great lengths to get it back, even if it means digging up his brother’s corpse. There’s a twist in the end and good luck keeping your eyes dry when it comes about. Of course, the show’s most infamous episode in this style is “Jurassic Bark,” in which we find out what happened to Fry’s dog, Seymour, after he was frozen and left him behind. I still remember the first time I caught the episode on television and the ending really snuck up on me and obviously made an impact. In general, the show does a really strong job of finding the humor in almost any situation. And even when the characters have to do something mean for laughs, the show is able to keep them from straying too far from a moral baseline so that the audience never turns against them. Even Bender has his moments where he does something nice.

Like The Simpsons, Futurama's cast became exceptionally large.

Like The Simpsons, Futurama’s cast became exceptionally large.

Futurama was originally unsuccessful during its initial run on Fox, though it did manage to last for the better part of four seasons. After the reruns performed well for Cartoon Network and DVD sales excelled, the show went the direct-to-video route with four feature-length films. They would eventually be chopped up into episodes that aired on Comedy Central, who picked up the show for an additional three seasons. Having the show come back from the dead was pretty awesome, but you would have a hard time finding a Futurama fan that felt the post-cancellation episodes were up to the same standards of quality as the first four seasons. Still, there were episodes here and there that stood out and subpar Futurama is better than most shows. The show ended with its 140th episode, a healthy run by any standard. In those 140 episodes the show made a bigger impact than all but two others, according to this list, and really stand among all television shows, animated or otherwise, as being among the very best.


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