[ADVANCE REVIEW] Fox’s Animation Domination Season Premieres Tonight

After a few dalliances with big name flops, Animation Domination returns tonight by bringing back the Core Four (sorry, Cleveland, but you should have stayed on Spooner Street). Sure, these cartoon comedies are going to lose out both critically and commercially to the glitzier shows on cable and network, but Fox knows these shows have a core audience who will show up to watch them ever week.

In a television world where it’s important to be able to bank nights, not hours, Fox has Sunday nights locked away in a safe deposit box until Matt Groening dies. Even then, Seth MacFarlane will just create another show to insert into The Simpsons 8 PM slot. It’s a Programming Coordinator’s ultimate dream: a branded night made on the cheap with a core group of fans who will never leave. While plenty of people have had their fill of Seth MacFarlane and haven’t thought of The Simpsons as relevant in years, the fact remains that Fox can count of these shows to deliver good quality and good ratings from September to May.

The leader of the pack entering its 24th season, The Simpsons is still capable of some quality zingers. Granted, they may not be as topical or as cutting edge as they used to be (A McBain Capital gag aside), but everyone can appreciate some fun puns about New Yorkers. In addition, they couldn’t resist firing some shots at poor, downtrodden NBC. I guess Fox needs The Simpsons to go after other networks since MacFarlane so relentlessly goes after Fox on his shows. No one really knows how much longer The Simpsons has left, but it’s good to see it not wheezing to the finish line.

While The Simpsons still enjoy some amount of commercial success, it’s partner in the 8 PM hour, Bob’s Burgers, continues to struggle to reach viewers despite critical acclaim. In the premiere episode, it’s clear that the show will not be making a strong attempt to gain an audience. It is what it is at this point. The show’s manic nature will reach a loyal segment of viewers, but it will never be a widely watched show.

Speaking of loyal segments of viewers, the ever divisive Family Guy returns to anchor the 9 PM slot tonight. At this point, your enjoyment of Family Guy largely depends on how close you are to the MacFarlane saturation point. The show is always at its most clever when MacFarlane is able to resist the urge to indulge in the deepest recesses of his wildly eccentric sense of humor. Fortunately this week, MacFarlane is able to resist. The premiere is what you have come to expect from a solid Family Guy episode: Humorous sight gags, ridiculous hijinks, fun pot shots at celebrities and some excellent jabs at themselves. If you are Family Guy fan, you will be pleased with the results.

And then there’s American Dad. It remains the most disjointed of the bunch. Whenever the show decides to give us a lot of Roger, the show tends to suffer. Unfortunately, the premiere gives us a large chunk of the extra terrestrial. Stan has some amusing moments in an attempt to sell his SUV in order to get an even larger SUV with an unfortunate name, but the plot hardly gets any screen time by comparison. Seth MacFarlane is never afraid to go off the reservation, but this episode went to an even weirder place than usual. By the end of the episode, I was cringing at all scenes involving Roger. It’s one thing to have an obnoxious, grating character on a show, it’s quite another to submit your audience to about 20 minutes of it.

Despite American Dad‘s continued creative struggles, Animation Domination just keeps putting it in the bank for Fox on Sundays. You may like it. You may hate it. But you better learn to deal with it. This safety deposit box isn’t going to be opened for awhile.