Sometimes a purposeful mirror image of a previous work can be a good thing. Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors are largely the same film, only one has an ultimately positive view of humanity, the other negative, and both are good. Susan Vega’s 99.9 Degrees and 9 Objects of Desire are bookends, the first warm, the second cool, both fine pieces of work. Creating a good second work by flipping your previous one sounds likea good idea.
And thus we get to The Goode Family, Mike Judge’s follow-up to his long-running and overall-quite-good King of the Hill. KotH is based around an essentially conservative family in a conservative town, trying to figure how their values respond to times that are changing against them; The Goode Family is about a family that is trying to stay ahead of the curve in liberal values, embracing vegetarianism, recycling, composting, whatever.
And based on the first episode, he (with his talented cohorts) doesn’t quite pull it off. The problem is that he doesn’t make the characters seem human. The parents seems like some stereotyped redneck in a bar’s mockery of what a lib’rul couple of neo-hippies is like. Their adopted Afrikaaner-American son is the sort of stiff teen parody that KotH would use to fill out its background — there’s less to him in the pilot than there is to Joseph Gribble in most of his episodes. Only the daughter Bliss, whose calm pleasantness and willingness to choose for herself makes her basically the Marilyn of the Goode Family’s Munsterdom, comes across as a character of depth rather than someone from a Saturday Night Live skit that you’ll hate to see recurring.
But despite that, the episode is not without its moments, its charms. Once the first episode gets down to its storyline, in which Bliss gets caught up with an abstinence crusade, it actually comes to a very KotH type conclusion, a realistic look at what’s out of kilter in this world — which is precisely what the ealier material was not.
We shall see. There may be something shiny underneath, but there’s a lot of mud that wold need scraping off first. And part of the difficulty with animated shows is that the entire season is generally written and voiced before the first episode is completed in the animation process, making it much harder to adjust an imperfect work as the reality of what’s been accomplished becomes apparent. (I can’t help but recall the late-1980s sitcom Second Chance, which is memory serves had, by its third episode, dropped its original title, original star, and central conceit.) But perhaps there was a pilot, then a pause, then some other episodes produced. Or maybe the scripts just get smarter. Or maybe not.