Thursday, May 21, 2009 | midnight
Mike Judge is a little hard to pin down politically. The filmmaker and TV creator has satirized corporate life (Office Space) and the dumbing down of American culture (Idiocracy), but he’s also spent more than a decade overseeing an animated show that celebrates simple small-town values and old-fashioned Southern virtues (King of the Hill). Now comes Judge’s latest animated series, The Goode Family (ABC, Wednesdays, 9 p.m.), co-created with Hill writers John Altschuler and David Krinsky, which is a heavy-handed satire of political correctness that makes Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head look like a paragon of subtlety.
It’s rare to see such outright contempt for liberal values in a seemingly innocuous network comedy; only South Park regularly takes down left-wing targets with such biting humor without coming off as a shrill right-wing mouthpiece. And to be fair, Goode isn’t right-wing; if anything, it seems like the kind of show that King of the Hill’s salt-of-the-earth patriarch Hank Hill would want to make, one that simply questions what all the fuss is about concerning a whole range of political issues. The problem is that the objects of Goode’s jabs are so broad and obvious as to be meaningless. South Park may go overboard attacking certain public figures, ideas and institutions, but at least its political episodes always have a clear point of view and plan of attack. The social commentary in Goode manages to be both belabored and insignificant; the pilot takes aim at such tired targets as overpriced organic grocery stores, dogmatic academia and purity balls (thus achieving the requisite ideological balance).
The family of the title is a group of nervous liberals who are constantly worried about acting in accordance with current political correctness (mom Helen actually says, “WWAGD? What would Al Gore do?” at a key moment of indecision), and their desire to act properly often has unintended negative consequences. Judge himself voices father Gerald in the same tone and cadence he used for neo-hippie teacher Mr. Van Driessen on Beavis and Butt-Head years ago. The characterization hasn’t evolved much since then; Gerald works at the local community college, and his pleas for progressive causes (in that whiny voice of his) generally go unheeded. He even looks a lot like Mr. Van Driessen, with the same ungainly glasses and skinny frame, although he has an academic’s unkempt curly mop of hair instead of a long hippie ’do. The show’s animation maintains the same quasi-realistic look as Judge’s other series, making the clumsy characterizations all the more incongruous.
Hill works even after all these years because it’s squarely focused on its characters, and treats them with respect and compassion. It takes their conservative values as given, and doesn’t spend too much time exploring them. By contrast, Goode’s characters are barely people at all; they’re just collections of stereotypes as gross as the ones the show is theoretically trying to combat. As occasional side characters on another show, the Goodes might provide intermittent potential for social commentary, and their lack of nuance could be excused. But as the central subjects of their own ongoing story, they’ve already exhausted all of their comedic potential by the time the opening credits of the first episode roll.