I love the crude animated series South Park and The Simpsons. So why do I hate the crude animated series Family Guy (Sunday, 8 p.m., Fox)? I watched the special 100th episode to compare and contrast. Yes, all three series satirize American family values. But South Park and The Simpsons do so with wit. Here's the best punchline Family Guy can come up with: "This is a bigger waste of time than Ringo's songwriting!"
Unable to deliver humor, the creators go for shock value. The family's baby boy makes gay fellatio jokes. The teenage daughter has sex with a package of hot dogs. The dog has an S&M fantasy about the mother. The baby boy chimes in with a fantasy about torturing her: "I'm going to put bamboo splinters under all her fingernails. I'm going to strip her down and tie her to the bed. Then I'm going to make her crawl on her hands and knees while I drip hot candle wax all over her back. Then I'm going to gag her with her own brassiere!"
Is this a parody of misogyny or the real deal? The definitive answer comes when the baby boy shoots his mother dead, the animators gleefully detailing her bloody wounds.
Family Guy comes to bury American family values, but it makes them look good by comparison. That's the worst thing you can say about a satire.
Way of the Warrior
Monday, 8 pm (WHA)
Wisconsin Public Television's informative documentary tells the stories of Native Americans who fought enthusiastically in U.S. wars. The big question, of course, is why? Native Americans spent the 17th through 19th centuries fighting the settlers, so why would they want to fight for them in the 20th?
Producer-narrator Patty Loew has an answer, dating back to World War I (in which her own Indian grandfather fought). A generation of Native American males had been raised in U.S.-run boarding schools, with no chance to partake of traditional warrior culture. "Volunteering for World War I was an opportunity not to show how American they had become," Loew says, "but how tribal they still really were."
Murder by the Book
Monday, 9 pm (Court TV)
The series explores the real murders that inspired best-selling crime authors. This week's episode is structured like a pulpy thriller, with information doled out one piece at a time. In 1970s Texas, Betty Gore is murdered in her home with 41 ax blows. It seems like a crime of passion, but who'd be so passionate about a church-going suburban mom? "Is it the work of a homicidal maniac?" asks featured author Sandra Brown. "Or is it something even more unfathomable?"
Thus begin the teasers. Whenever you're about to hear a shocking revelation, the narrator says something like this just before cutting to commercial:
CHIEF ABBOTT GETS A SHOCKING PHONE CALL THAT WILL CHANGE THE ENTIRE COURSE OF THE INVESTIGATION!
Just when Betty's best friend is fingered, and makes a bizarre case in court for using (and using and using) the ax in self-defense:
INCREDIBLY, IT TAKES THE JURY LESS THAN TWO HOURS TO DELIVER A VERDICT THAT STUNS EVERYONE INVOLVED!
By this point, Murder by the Book had me jumping out of my skin. I'd love to tell you how the trial turned out, but all I'll say is:
THE MIND-BOGGLING CONCLUSION WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER!
The Real Housewives of Orange County
Tuesday, 9 pm (Bravo)
The reality series returns for another glimpse of the tanned, toned and tummy-tucked housewives from the wealthy Southern California suburbs. In the season premiere, their children hog much of the screen time. And here's where the series turns from stupid-fun to stupid-depressing. I mean, all of us are going to pay the price for a generation raised to be this greedy, vapid and self-obsessed. They plan lavish parties and plot out their plastic-surgery strategies, whining all the way. One pampered daughter even bitches when her mother buys her a Mercedes-Benz.
Tamra's son has an enormous tattoo that says "FOREVER GRATEFUL" on his chest, a tribute to his mother. You're tempted to laugh at him, but by the end of the episode you respect him for at least paying lip service to a positive emotion like gratitude. The other brats are more likely to get tattoos reading "GIVE ME ANOTHER $100."
Tuesday, 9 pm (FX)
This season's Nip/Tuck is a savage satire of Hollywood. Plastic surgeons Christian (Julian McMahon) and Sean (Dylan Walsh) have moved their practice from Miami to Los Angeles, and the series' ecstatic writers don't know what to parody first.
In this week's episode, a Marilyn Monroe impersonator on Hollywood Boulevard seeks breast augmentation to trump a rival impersonator who's stealing all her tips. Then the rival herself shows up, seeking even bigger breasts. Meanwhile, Sean finds stardom on Hearts 'n' Scalpels, an earnest TV series about plastic surgeons.
In one scene, Hearts 'n' Scalpels finds an excuse to bare a hunky surgeon's body in the operating room. The hospital, it seems, has run out of tourniquets.
"How can a hospital run out of tourniquets?" the hunk demands indignantly.
"Nine construction workers were hit by a falling sawblade!" a nurse barks back.
The doctor asks around for a necktie to use as a tourniquet, but discovers to his horror that it's casual Friday. So he has no choice but to rip apart his scrubs, thereby saving the patient...and wowing the TV audience with his fabulous abs.
Yes, the satire is over the top. But to be fair, so is Hollywood itself.