When Seth MacFarlane gets knocked down by Fox, he gets up again.
Family Guy was famously canceled after only three seasons, but thanks to strong DVD sales and Adult Swim reruns, Fox revived it, and it’s currently enjoying its 14th season on the network. American Dad!, by far the best show to boast MacFarlane’s name, washed up on TBS after Fox declined to pick it up for another season. And shortly after the surprisingly not-bad The Cleveland Show was wiped off the schedule, Cosmos blew everyone’s minds. Like Peter Griffin and dated pop culture references (such as, say, paraphrasing Chumbawamba), Fox can’t quit Seth MacFarlane. Their latest collaboration: Bordertown.
Technically, the animated series isn’t a MacFarlane creation. Bordertown, about two families living on the U.S.-Mexico border, was created by Mark Hentemann, a Family Guy veteran. MacFarlane produces, and the two shows share comedic sensibilities, including a fondness for halfwit caricatures, political preachiness, scattershot plotting, doting females, and loud children. There’s even an animal, though to be fair, this one doesn’t talk (yet).
Bordertown takes place in the fictional state of Mexifornia where Bud Buckwald (Hank Azaria) works as a border agent who loves America as much as he hates immigrants, including his next-door neighbors, the Gonzalezes, led by the happy-go-lucky patriarch Ernesto (Nicholas Gonzalez). Each man has a wife and kids, but the only characters who make an impact are J.C. Gonzalez (also voiced by Nicholas Gonzalez), who’s as annoyingly liberal as Bud is obnoxiously conservative, and Sanford Buckwald (Judah Friedlander), a regular victim of alien abductions.
To recap: Dense patriotism, government job, insufferable political views, aliens. Bordertown is less Family Guy than American Dad! before it turned great. (Less Stan, more Roger’s characters and Steve’s singing.) In the early seasons, American Dad! thought it was a satire, but the jokes felt broad and toothless, the characters one-dimensional, and any point the writers tried to make got lost in a sea of cutaways. That’s all currently true of Bordertown, too, which doesn’t respect its thinly written creations, so why should we?
Take Bud, for instance. He’s depicted as a 21st century Archie Bunker. But his casual racism is unfunny and unlikable. He spews the same sort of nonsense you might hear at a Donald Trump rally. That can work, but only if the jokes sting. Instead, we get Honey Boo Boo homages and a running gag about extraterrestrial rape. Bordertown isn’t nearly as smart as it thinks it is, which is a shame with a voice cast — led by Azaria and Alex Borstein — this strong. Detractors often criticize Trey Parker and Matt Stone for not taking a stand on important issues on South Park; their beliefs are usually somewhere in the middle, allowing them to mock both the right and left. Want to see real wishy-washy political comedy? Watch Bordertown. Or maybe don’t.