Thanks to TDK, I finally got to see Mike Judge’s new animated series, The Goode Family, which follows an environmentally obsessive PC household and their ostentatious concerns. Here are the first three episodes.
Given Judge’s previous creation, King of the Hill, there are inevitably some good moments. There’s an amusing scene involving carrier bag anxiety, and the local overpriced whole food store has an electronic display informing customers of the latest ethical shopping practices, which change in real time. And there are odd flashes of demented ingenuity, as when a visiting Freegan uses his own tears as seasoning. Unfortunately, these moments are spaced much too far apart. What we get instead are misfires like this scene, in which the Goodes fret about the correct way to refer to their black neighbour. There’s a joke lurking in there somewhere, but nobody managed to find it. And that’s pretty much the default setting for the first few episodes.
King of the Hill quickly grew beyond Texan small town caricature and, however grotesque its protagonists could be, they felt both plausible and deserving of some empathy. Comedy emerged from character and didn’t depend entirely on stereotypes, knowing references or the weekly plot contrivance. Viewers soon came to share the producers’ obvious affection for the Hills, despite – or because of - Hank’s unwavering squareness and preoccupation with propane. And while Hank was often stuffy, unadventurous and emotionally repressed, he remained above all an honourable man – something of an oddity in modern animation. The rooting of comedy in character and culture – as opposed to politics - also made possible a collision of surrealism and genuine poignancy. Peggy’s need for oversized shoes and her subsequent, unwitting friendship with a transvestite springs to mind or Khan’s off-meds mania and all too brief grill-building genius. Likewise, Bill’s near-constant teetering on the brink of despair – a gag that could only be sustained over 13 years because his innumerable failures were offset with moments of real pathos and humanity.
In contrast, The Goode Family is laboured and affected, as if built by committee from the outside in, with unlikeable characters and a premise that’s somehow both obvious and thin. There’s no evidence yet that Judge or his writers have any sympathy for the Goodes and their self-inflicted predicament, and it’s not clear whether we’re supposed to see them as victims of their own politics or just unrelenting grotesques. The daughter, Bliss, is presented supposedly as a foil for her dysfunctionally PC mother, but the tension on offer is between preening political concern and preening teenage ennui. Perhaps these are teething troubles and The Goode Family will find its footing and become much funnier and less self-conscious. But if so, it needs to improve a hell of a lot, very quickly. Right now, the protagonists seem more suited as secondary characters in a show about someone else, and the air of contrivance leaves the series feeling almost as fake and unappealing as the pretensions it mocks.