Sunday night television. A time for strong-jawed ad men, Medieval politics, and yellow people with four fingers. Fox's Sunday lineup brands itself with the title "Animation Domination," due to its makeup consisting of The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show, and Bob's Burgers. Animation, there is no denying. But Domination? That's the question. With The Simpsons a full generation past its heyday and the Seth MacFarlane formula growing tired, do any of Fox's Sunday night cartoons really have any steam left?
Saying that The Simpsons isn’t what it used to be would have been old news 10 years ago. But as sundried as the once-insuperable animated sitcom has become, it’s nonetheless kind of comforting to know that it’s still on the air. Although contemporary episodes can’t compare to those of the 1990s, who is really pushing for The Simpsons to call it quits anytime soon? The show is a staple — a family member. A washed up family member that many are happy to still have around, just in case you’re having a particularly bleak, colorless Sunday.
I truly believe that as seldom as many old fans may watch new episodes of The Simpsons today, the show will be missed when it finally goes off the air. However, I’m not sure the same can be said for anything in the Seth MacFarlane vault. Family Guy is currently in its 10th season, and hasn’t really done much to wow since shortly after its post-hiatus return to Fox in 2005. Family Guy followers American Dad and The Cleveland Show have maintained an even less substantial thrill factor. The entertainment that does come from new episodes of Family Guy exists mostly in the familiarity of once-beloved characters, and the occasion pop culture parody (see: Star Wars parody "Blue Harvest" and their follow-ups). American Dad and The Cleveland Show never really forged those connections with fans in the first place.
But MacFarlane isn’t a creative force devoid of talent. He has just succumbed to churning out the same old formula, threefold, for the past several years. The writer/producer is making an encouraging move to film, using the upcoming Mark Wahlberg picture Ted as a vehicle. Whether or not this particular project ingratiates MacFarlane’s talents appropriately into the big-screen world, it’s an indicator that he’s willing and capable of trying new things, beyond the formula that makes up the Griffin/Smith/Brown family unit formula.
The curse of the pedestal on which the early seasons of The Simpsons and Family Guy placed their respective programs is that with even a moderate decline in quality will come massive criticism on the part of the fans. The Simpsons was near-perfect in its prime years, and was, as such, one of the most popular and culturally relevant shows on television. Family Guy was a bit more of a cult phenomenon, really gaining popularity in its hiatus between the first incarnation's cancellation and the second's resurgence via DVD sales and Adult Swim reruns. The strength of The Simpson's pop culture satire, and the power of Family Guy's shock value comedy fizzled, and the show's suffered.
Considering this, it doesn't necessarily seem to be such a bad thing to get off to a slower, albeit respectable start on TV. Fox's comedy lineup includes the critically appreciated, but seldom discussed, Bob's Burgers, which stars voice artist H. Jon Benjamin (who also plays the title character on FX's animated comedy Archer) as a hapless dysfunctional family man and proprietor of a failing hamburger restaurant. The show hasn't come out of the gate with much oomph, but it has earned mostly positive reviews by those who have seen and do discuss it.
And this might be the key to its success. It takes a backseat to its peers, thanks alone to their names and history, but Bob's Burgers might be the power player of comedy on Sunday nights. Plus, with The Simpsons' possible end on the horizon, and MacFarlane's career move towards the big screen (and maybe, eventually, The Flintstones), the small meat-based series from creator Loren Bouchard (Dr. Katz, Home Movies) looks to have the brightest future. Although it's a definite underdog, Bob's Burgers might be the show to bet on to carry Fox's Sunday for the long haul.
[Image Credit: FOX]