TV Review: ‘The Goode Family’

05.27.09 9 years ago


For more than 12 years and 250-plus episodes, FOX’s “King of the Hill” has been perhaps TV’s most most politically pragmatic show, a Red State comedy with the ability to simultaneously mock and admire conservative values, while also mocking and admiring those who mock those values. I’ve always thought the show leans left, but I’ve read articles claiming it leans right, which probably means that its politics can be described as “sensible.”

ABC’s “The Goode Family,” which premieres on Wednesday (May 27) night, finds “King of the Hill” veterans Mike Judge, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, approaching the family dynamic from the other side. “The Goode Family” finds a way to revere and yet mercilessly taunt ultra-well-meaning liberals in another pragmatic satire that doesn’t make assumptions about the audience’s ideology. It just assumes that you come equipped with any ideology at all.

[Review of “The Goode Family” after the break…]

The Goodes are a suburban family who live by an environmentally and socially righteous (and self-righteous) code, doing everything possible to just to the right thing. Of course, being good isn’t easy, whether you’re shopping for organic groceries, training your dog to be a vegan or just figuring out the politically correct thing to call your minority neighbors.  

The family consists of community college administrator Gerald (Judge), disorganized political organizer Helen (Nancy Carell), their daughter Bliss (Linda Cardellini), their adopted African son Ubuntu (David Herman) and Che, the aforementioned vegan dog.

The humor in “King of the Hill” has always come from a different place than its Animation Domination colleagues, resisting pop culture references and clear-cut punchlines for the trappings of a more realistic, character-driven sitcom. As you can probably gather just from the description, “The Goode Family” is broader stuff, never portraying its central clan as anything other than an extreme, albeit a loving a well-meaning extreme.

The animation and color palette are vintage Judge, far less rudimentary than the earliest days of “King of the Hill” or “Beavis and Butthead,” but very close on the cartoon-y evolutionary ladder. The structure, though, is most similar to something like FOX’s short-lived “The Pitts,” which focused on the unluckiest family in the world and the misadventures that came naturally from being cursed. 

The sense watching early clips from “The Goode Family,” was that these people might be good characters for a few flash-animation shorts, or maybe supporting comic relief in a more expansive series. I wondered if there was a show in all of it.

After watching three full episodes, I can assert that Judge, Altschuler and Krinsky aren’t doing a bad job of sustaining the premise. The Goodes aren’t a single-issue family and their insularity doesn’t necessarily need a cause to be funny. And although the Goodes are at the center of all of the jokes, usually as at least one of the brunts, they find adversaries on both sides of the political spectrum. In the first episode, for example, Bliss joins an abstinence group and the practice of promise rings comes under more subtle fire than on, say, “South Park.” Several episodes later, when Helen turns her attentions to animal adoptions, the adversaries are an even more militant rescue organization. In another episode, which finds Ubuntu uncovering an unexpected gift for football, fanatical pigskin fans are tweaked and admired in equal measure. Neither the premise nor the satirical  focus are as limited as one might fear. The warmth and reliability never come close to a “King of the Hill” level, but some shows aim to be recognizably human and other shows just like to have a larf.

And “The Goode Family” gets progressively funnier as new layers are revealed for the characters, especially Helen. The premiere relies on lazy jokes like the Goodes’ “What Would Al Gore Do?” mantra, but the other episodes ABC made available (not the second and third episodes chronologically) had better focus and more laugh-out-loud moments, particularly “Goodes Gone Wild,” which features a spectacularly disgusting pet named Gutterball. Do I wish that maybe “The Goode Family” pushed a few more boundaries or took a more defiant stand on things? Yes, but there’s a place for a less strident, more consistent “South Park.”

Nobody’s going to praise ABC’s handling of “The Goode Family,” pretty clearly dumping the show in the summer, though probably a “Wipeout” lead-in will be good for more wandering eyeballs than any place ABC would have aired it in-season. It doesn’t speak well for the future of “The Goode Family,” but it isn’t bad at all for viewers. A scripted comedy on a network in the summer? “The Goode Family” isn’t great, but at least it’s pretty goode. Yes. I went there. And now I feel uncleanly glib.

“The Goode Family” premieres on Wednesday, May 27 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

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