The Goode Family Sends Up Liberal Sacred Cows
Beavis and Butt-head creator Mike Judge oversaw one of the most conservative-friendly shows on TV for more than a decade -- Fox's King of the Hill. Judge mocked the main characters' penchant for guns, drinking beer, and other flyover state stereotypes, but never in a mean-spirited way. And, at the end of each episode, the resolution showed respect for family patriarch Hank Hill and his point of view.
So now Judge is veering in the other direction by poking fun at a do-gooder clan named -- what else? -- the Goodes.
The Goode Family, a new animated series debuting tonight on ABC, lets Judge tweak the polar opposites of the Hills. The Goodes care so very, very much about everything. The environment. Recycling. Veganism. Al Gore.
They drive a hybrid car, own a vegan dog named Che, and approve of bumper stickers which say, "Support our troops and their opponents."
Naturally, that collective caring opens the door to plenty of comedic possibilities.
What a shame so few humorists are bold enough to follow suit. But Judge isn't a coward like his comic peers. He plunges headfirst into uncharted terrain with occasionally hilarious results.
The show's first installment begins with Helen Goode trying to find out what black people prefer to be called these days. Black? African-American? People of color? She doesn't want to say the wrong thing, so she tries to trick the answer out of a black neighbor without revealing her true intentions. It's a smart and funny moment, but it's one which could benefit from live actors and the subtle inflections they can bring to the material.
But the first show's script more than makes amends. Check out these howlers:
"With greater emissions come greater responsibility," Gerald Goode tells his son.
"We can't shop there. They don't even have a mission statement," wife Helen Goode says about a Wal-Mart type superstore.
"I'm sorry I used so much gas, Dad," son Ubunto says. "What's important is that you feel guilty about it," the father answers.
"Attention One Earth shoppers. The driver of the SUV is in aisle four. He's wearing a baseball cap," the supermarket loudspeaker blares, presumably to let socially conscious shoppers give the guy the stink eye -- or worse -- should their carts cross paths.
But the best gag of all comes when the supermarket's LED display shows a list of items which are good -- and bad -- for Mother Earth. Naturally, several items bounce from one side of the ledger to the other.
The first episode also involves Helen (Nancy Carell) and her need to bond with daughter Bliss (E.R.'s Linda Cardellini). It's a moment swiped from a half dozen other sitcoms, but Helen's willingness to embrace her daughter's sexual needs rather than act as a sober-minded parent sets the plot far apart from anything else on television.
How bold is The Goode Family? The wife character, not the husband, is the neurotic one, the person who bears the full brunt of the jokes. She also may be a drunk.
Father Gerald, on the other hand, may look clueless at times but he's the one who actually lives up to the liberal label, opening his mind to new experiences.
Oh, if only more live-action liberals could walk in this animated fellow's footsteps.
But a subsequent episode may spell trouble for the young series. The show's second installment isn't nearly as funny or as razor sharp as the first 30 minutes.
Judge isn't listed as a writer on episode two, and his presence might be mandatory to keep Goode at the high level it needs to survive.
Adopted son Ubunto -- he's a white South African, much to his parents' initial dismay -- decides to join his school's football team.
"You mean tackle football, like in the movies?" Gerald asks.
The episode does draw some ideological blood. Daughter Bliss wants to change her last name when she learns being white gives her almost no chance to win a college scholarship. And poor Ubunto can't throw a pot to save his soul, a peaceful pastime endorsed by his family. But he learns his immense size makes him a natural for gridiron glory.
"Everyone in there looks like me," Ubunto says while pointing to a football magazine found by his father, a neat tweak to identity politics.
The Goode Family still need to grow its characters if it hopes to succeed, since tweaking liberal stereotypes will only provide so much material and structure.
One way to do just that is to use Grandpa (Brian Doyle Murray) more in the future. He's the voice of anti-PC reason in the show, and he could provide just the right culture clash material to give the program a stronger impression.
The series may not get that chance. Networks are all too eager to pull the plug on a new series, and Judge has a track record of creating cutting edge content only to see it given little respect by its backers.
Think Office Space and Idiocracy, the latter getting so little support from its studio that a movie poster wasn't made for its brief theatrical release. So enjoy the subversive beauty of The Goode Family while you can.