With its sleek animation and meticulously well-spoken central kid character, Allen Gregory was a quirky addition to Fox’s “Animation Domination” programming bloc on Sunday night. This new creation headed up by actor-producer Jonah Hill, who voices what other characters consider a “pretentious” little seven year-old, was eccentric in a way that belied its glossy surface. Gregory joined a line-up that included the 22nd “Treehouse of Horror” edition of The Simpsons, plus new episodes of Family Guy and The Cleveland Show.
Allen Gregory De Longpre is a sniffy priss who wears a carnation in his lapel, condescends to his elementary-school teacher, and is attracted to his angry, white-haired, corpulent principal (voiced by the marvelous Renee Taylor) – “the most ravishing gal I’ve ever seen,” gushes Allen. Allen Gregory deals with sex in a new way for cartoons. Gregory presents its preadolescent hero as a fully sexualized being, fantasizing about seducing his senior-citizen crush. At home, he’s overseen by his gay father, Richard (Third Rock from the Sun’s French Stewart) and the latter’s partner, Jeremy (voiced by Nat Faxon), who both want the persnickety Allen to be happy.
Allen himself, while aggressively straight, is portrayed as a fussy little boy whose demeanor most closely recalls earlier, human comics who got their laughs from a gay archness, such as Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde. The result is a character who uncorks a bottle of wine with his lunch in the school cafeteria and asks his befuddled classmates whether they watched Charlie Rose the previous evening.
I doubt that Allen Gregory is going to be much of a hit, simply because the character is so aggressively cold and odd. The show is more a mood-piece than a would-be laff-a-second riot like Family Guy. I also doubt I’ll watch Allen Gregory much — in fact, I’m giving it one more week to see whether it develops into something beyond articulately-off-beat-vulgar.
Fox keeps trying to find a good fit to wedge into a night held aloft by The Simpsons and Family Guy. Bob’s Burgers has its cult (the series will return to the Sunday line-up), but it doesn’t do much for me. The Simpsons, recently renewed for two more seasons, continues to create ripe parodies that now sometimes feel a bit behind-the-curve – the show’s “Treehouse of Horror” anthology spoofed Avatar lackadaisically, but was in fine form retrofitting Ned Flanders as a serial killer in a Dexter parody.
As for Family Guy, well, I’ve never been a fan of its relentless cutaway gags, non sequiturs and the belief that any gag gets funnier if it’s repeated five times. Another of creator Seth MacFarlane’s series, The Cleveland Show, is often more engaging, if not funnier, than Guy these days. Its episode this week, featuring a fine guest voicing by David Lynch returning as Gus the bartender, continued to impress with its portrait of a family that’s something more than a bunch of wiseacres.
Family Guy was both typical (an “Iraq Lobster” joke) and unusual this week. Suddenly growing a conscience, the show centered around the abusive boyfriend of Quagmire’s sister, Brenda. Even in cartoon form, the beatings heaped upon Brenda by Jeff were scarier than most Halloween programming, and seeing Jeff splattered in the final moments left me with a feeling I’ve never had with Family Guy before: ambivalence. The episode made me root for the death even as I was startled that MacFarlane and company actually wanted to say something semi-serious about men abusing women. What would be next, I thought, kind remarks about Jay Leno? Nope: The half-hour had the cleverness to make the hateful Jeff a Leno fan. Ha! Possibly my first belly-laugh at/with Family Guy.
What did you think of Allen Gregory and the rest of the “Animation Domination” line-up?