[05/27/09 - 12:40 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Goode Family, The" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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The network's description: ""The Goode Family" is a new animated series from Mike Judge ("King of the Hill," "Beavis and Butt-head," "Office Space"), John Altschuler & Dave Krinsky ("King of the Hill," "Blades of Glory"). With standards always changing, no matter how hard you try to be good, it's virtually impossible these days . . . especially for the Goode family. Meet Gerald and Helen Goode, a couple who live by the motto WWAGD ("What Would Al Gore Do?"). Gerald, a college administrator, and Helen, a community activist, are determined to obliterate their carbon footprint on the planet: They're zealous vegans, they drive a hybrid, and they recycle everything possible. Even the family dog, Che, is vegan. In the words of Helen, all the Goodes want to do is buy organic apples and call minorities by their right names. But despite their best efforts, something always goes haywire with their politically correct plans. Like adopted son Ubuntu - Gerald and Helen thought they were doing the right thing by adopting a baby from Africa, only to learn that Ubuntu was South African . . . and white. Now a teenager, he eagerly tries to embrace the Goodes' love of things like crafts and organic gardening, even though deep in his gene pool is a drive towards more blue collar pursuits like driving fast, using tools and violent sports. Teenage daughter Bliss is constantly mortified by her parents (especially her mom's efforts to talk openly, girlfriend-to-girlfriend, about sex). Even Che is rebelling against his owners - he's secretly depopulating the neighborhood of every stray squirrel, cat, rabbit and bird in search of a square meal. Their kids and dog aren't the only ones who find the Goodes hard to understand. Helen's SUV-driving, meat eating dad, Charlie, thinks her efforts to save the planet are just a waste of time. Neighbor Ray Johnson is bemused at the Goodes' attempts to refer to him by the right ethnic catch phrase ("African American"? "Person of Color"?) and the constant drama unfolding right next door."

What did they leave out? It's ABC's first animated comedy in nearly a decade. The last one - "Clerks" - was axed after just two episodes in 2000.

The plot in a nutshell: The Goode family wants to be, well... good. Whether it be through recycling, veganism or just making sure to use the right term for each minority group, the Goodes have found doing so is a full time job. It's a lifestyle that parents Gerald (Mike Judge), a college administrator, and Helen (Nancy Carell), a community activist, hope to pass onto their teenage children - daughter Bliss (Linda Cardellini) and adopted son Ubuntu (Dave Herman) - not to mention their dog Che (Dee Bradley Baker). But parenthood in a green family is proving to be just as complicated as anywhere else, even after asking WWAGD - "What would Al Gore do?" The pilot then concerns itself with Helen's attempts to bond with Bliss by being open about sex, only to inadvertently send her into the arms of the local abstinence club. Gerald likewise has his hands full with 16-year-old Ubuntu, who wants to learn how to drive for his birthday. The two subsequent episodes provided for review ("Pleatherheads" airing June 3 and "Goodes Gone Wild" airing June 10) feature everything from Ubuntu trying out for the football team, much to his parents' chagrin; to Bliss being horrified to learn she may not have her pick of colleges; to Helen getting jealous after her insensitive dad Charlie (Brian Doyle Murray) bonds with a rescue "dog" she was trying to place more than he does with her. At the end of the day though, the Goodes discover that being good - no matter how trying and/or confusing it can be - is just about loving each other.

What works: More funny adjacent than actually funny, "Goode" simply takes your typical animated family - exasperated dad, worried mom, dim bulb son, overachieving daughter - and places it in the 21st century world of going green. For the Goodes, keeping up with the Joneses isn't about having the biggest house or the nicest car on the block, it's about having the most efficient car and the house with the smallest carbon footprint. The show gets a fair amount of mileage out of said dichotomy, from the local busybody (Julia Sweeney) taunting Helen over her lack of a canvass bag at the grocery store to Gerald wondering if it's really worth it to "marry" his daughter as part of a purity club to keep her from having sex. Like I said, these are all things that are funny in theory...

What doesn't: ...but in practice feel limp and warmed over. Sure the show has some fun with the mixed messages those who try to go green experience (a scoreboard at the Whole Foods-esque grocery store constantly flips between whether doing X, Y and Z is good or bad) and life in a politically correct world ("This is one of the few times in history where it's not a plus to be white," remarks Bliss's guidance counselor. "If you're not in the top 5% of your class, your best hope is the mall opens a university.") but the overwhelming majority is devoted to recycling (for the lack of a better word) the same tired gags (the Goodes' only feed their dog vegan food, leading it to be a secretly crazed carnivore; the Goodes wanted to adopt an African baby, but were sent a South African white baby instead) and predictable plots (Helen's objection to Ubuntu joining the team is quickly replaced by overzealousness for it; Gerald joins the boosters and inadvertently becomes the most popular dad, until he's asked to kill and roast a pig before the big game). In other words for every pointed jab ("It's okay," Gerald tells Ubuntu after he uses too much gas. "What's important is that you feel guilty about it.") there's dozens of eye-rolling "jokes" about what to call African-Americans nowadays or various shrug worthy observations like Helen commenting, "We can't shop there, they don't even have a mission statement," or Gerald noting, "'The View' is on. The pretty one is saying crazy stuff again." All in all, I can kind of appreciate the point of view and the baseline of the type of humor the show is going for...

The bottom line: ...boy if the end product isn't dull and forgettable.

  [may 2009]  


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