Yesterday you could have turned your TV on at 1pm and happily left it on broadcast TV until the 10pm news, with Fox being the big winner. CBS had the early NFL playoff game yesterday between the Browns and the Steelers, Fox the late game between the 49ers and Giants; and for sheer drama and action, they were two of the best ever (I being a middling Browns fan was not pleased with the result of the first game, a last-minute Steelers victory, but the game felt more like a tremendous Steelers comeback than a Browns collapse. It was pretty great for the Browns to be back in the playoffs again in only their fourth season – their overall strategy seems to be working well).
The Steelers comeback from 14 points down was exciting and/or heartbreaking enough, but then the 49ers came from even farther back – 24 points – to shock the Giants 39-38, taking a little of the sting away from the Browns’ defeat. Apart from rooting interest, the games were explosive nail-biters, swollen with drama, and all a sports fan could hope for.
And then there was comedy: Fox has the funniest, most consistent night in broadcast TV with The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Malcolm in the Middle, and the newest entry, the alternately bizarre, twisted, cynical, and sweet Andy Richter Controls the Universe, which seems to exist in some post-ironic world of its own creation.
The Simpsons has been around so long and is so confident of its status in TV history that it now works in shorthand, putting more effort into its dark little asides than into any given plot. Last night actually featured a happy ending of sorts with elementary school principal Seymour finally crawling out from under his mother’s skirt to propose to beleaguered teacher Edna, whom Bart uncharacteristically nominated for Teacher of the Year: incisive, cutting, and funny as ever.
While The Simpsons explores what animation can get away with, King of the Hill is much more tethered to reality, concentrating more on relationships than antics, more likely to elicit a knowing chuckle than deep guffaw, its deceptive sophistication is a universe away from creator Mike Judge’s first endeavor, Beavis and Butthead. About the only connection between the two shows is how deeply unattractive the lead characters are: no idealized human forms here.
Last night, the ever frustrated intellectual Peggy had to suffer the indignity of sharing her new book shop with deranged Dale’s gun selling in order to draw customers through the door. The shop’s inevitable failure seemed a realistic ending, which was leavened by a final scene with Peggy sharing bookish thoughts with gun-traders inadvertently drawn into literature: a fine episode.
Malcolm alternately followed father Hal’s latest doomed obsession, with race walking, Malcolm’s attempt to stifle his intemperate verbal impulses, brother Reese’s “date” with his equally dim girlfriend and necessary chauffeur Craig, and brother Francis’ insistence on wetting and wearing his expensive new boots until man and boot bond. Hal – for once – is rewarded, Malcolm verbal prudence succeeds beyond reasonable expectation outwardly but eats him alive internally, things veer off into the surreal for Reese and Craig, and Francis proves, once again, his mother’s equal in stubbornness. Super episode.
Lastly, Andy has created a hilarious ensemble-office comedy that stands sitcom cliches of their heads, zigging when we expect zagging and the reverse. Last night Richter’s mentor Conan O’Brien proved himself an actor, playing the company’s new “bossy boss” (boss supreme), having inherited the company from his mother, and upsetting the corporate sociology with inscrutably odd behavior and Machiavellian manipulation. The rich really are different.
Keep it on Fox for the post-holiday return of 24 tomorrow night – can’t wait.