Judge Gordon Sullivan believes the Monster Raving Loonie Party needs a U.S. branch.
Support our troops…and their opponents
Mike Judge has ascended into the comedy pantheon. After two hit shows (Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill) and a cult film (Office Space) under his belt, he could just about right his own ticket when King of the Hill was cancelled in its thirteenth season. He decided that a move from suburban conservatives to a focus on their liberal counterparts was just the thing. Though the show premiered in the wake of President Obama's apparently liberal victory, viewers were not yet willing to go along with Judge on his gentle skewering of left-leaning pieties. The show lasted thirteen episodes, and now fans of Judge can get all of them on one DVD set. There are some laughs to be found on these discs, but it's more for the Judge faithful than it is for general audiences.>
Facts of the Case
The Goode Family: The Complete Series is about the Goode family, a clan of stereotypical do-good liberals who struggle with maintaining their lifestyle in the face of disinterest and hostility. They include college administrator Gerald (Mike Judge), his activist wife Helen (Nancy Carell, The Office), and their children, Bliss (Linda Cardellini, Brokeback Mountain) and the adopted Ubuntu (David Herman, Office Space) All thirteen episodes of the show's lone season are presented on two discs.
Mike Judge can count hit shows and cult films in his list of accomplishments, but his greatest achievement might be his apparent political neutrality. Other comedians (like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart) tread similar comedic territory, but audiences know exactly where their loyalties lie. In contrast, Mike Judge could make Al Gore look conservative or Mitt Romney look liberal; we just don't know. Part of the reason we don't know is because he takes great pains to make sure both sides of the aisle feel the sting of his comedy. He makes fun of liberals and conservatives with equal abandon. More importantly, his comedy comes from getting inside the lives of his characters without really judging them. Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill both worked because he was sympathetic to the characters.
The Goode Family doesn't quite get to that level, and its cancellation isn't a terrible surprise based on these thirteen episodes. Part of the failure is that The Goode Family feels hopelessly out of step. If Judge has gotten into the mindset of the liberal activist, it was the liberal activist of 1992, not the environmentally conscious crusaders of 2009. This throwback quality could add a layer of absurdity to the show, but instead makes me think that it's just a lost Beavis and Butthead spin-off from my childhood. That could be a good thing, but for a show produced in the twenty-first century it feels off-putting.
The other problem with The Goode Family is that its jokes are fine, but not in the half-hour sitcom formula. Having a character go to the grocery store and bring no bags because even reusable bags aren't environmentally sound enough is an amusing idea. It would be great on an episode of Portlandia. However, in the context of a show that's also trying to give viewers a narrative, however truncated by sitcom demands, the hit just doesn't land. That's part of the reason a show like Portlandia succeeds while The Goode Family doesn't: both shows are out there to poke fun at liberal excess by landing joke after joke about the ridiculous situations do-gooders land themselves in. The only difference is that Portlandia isn't afraid to just tell a bunch of jokes in a skit-based format. If The Goode Family appeared as interstitial animation on Saturday Night Live, the jokes would be more amusing, and chances are the more backward-looking narrative elements would also be eliminated by the smaller format.
Though the show didn't hit the ratings charts, it's still a solid, if belated, release. The thirteen episodes are spread across two discs, and they look fine in full-frame transfers. These episodes have bold colors and relatively simple animation, so there are no digital hiccups or other problems with the images. The 5.1 audio track is a bit overkill, but dialogue is clean and clear from the front. There's a bit of separation and surround activity, and the show's music is well-balanced.
Extras start with commentaries by executive producers John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky on four of the series' episodes. They talk about the show's genesis and production, as well as where they might have done things differently. Every episode also gets deleted scenes, and there are a handful of promotional pieces that introduce viewers to the world of the Goode family. If you put the set in your DVD-ROM drive, you get access to three scripts of episodes that were never animated. Though many will lament the absence of Mike Judge from the commentaries, this is a solid set of extras for a show that was cancelled after thirteen episodes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I don't want to make The Goode Family sound worse than it is. The show has some funny ideas, and laughs land pretty frequently. The main problem might be excessive expectations; Judge has hit so consistently and squarely that it's hard to believe that this show isn't perfect. If it was on I wouldn't turn it off or anything; it's not a bad show. It's just not up to Judge's usual standards, and coming off the success of King of the Hill, it obviously suffers by comparison.
The Goode Family is a short-run show that does a fine job pointing out the problems with a number of liberal pieties. Though it's not up to Mike Judge's usual standards, the show has enough laughs scattered throughout its thirteen episodes to make it worth watching for his fans, or anyone who wants to see liberal values taken to absurd degrees. For those who enjoyed the show when it was broadcast, this set offers a fine presentation of the show and some informative extras that should keep fans happy and make the set worth a purchase.
They're the Goode Family, but it's not a great show. Guilty.
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