by Linda Holmes
At my recent college reunion, my friends and I were confronted by water-conserving toilets that invited you to either pull the handle up or push the handle down, which resulted in a stronger or weaker flush in accordance with what the posted signs termed "your needs." I'm no stranger to the fact that there is much amusement to be had at the expense of the most self-consciously noble ideas.
Still, The Goode Family, the new animated comedy from Mike Judge that premieres tonight on ABC, mines surprisingly few laughs from its subject: the environmentally fanatical, hypersensitive vegans of the title. (The marketing makes heavy use of the term "politically correct," which has pretty much lost all meaning at this point due to overuse, but that's the idea.)
Where a good satirist goes wrong, after the jump...
Parents Gerald and Helen Goode (voiced by Judge and Nancy Carell) are trying to save the planet and stop war and raise their daughter Bliss (Linda Cardellini) and son Ubuntu (David Herman). (They adopted the blond Ubuntu after trying to adopt an African baby and winding up with a boy who was born a white South African. These are the jokes, folks.)
Judge is best known to television viewers for King Of The Hill and to movie viewers for Office Space. While both those projects poked fun at their characters' weaknesses, they have much of their tone in common. There's basic affection and an odd kind of heart in the depictions of those people.
Here, though, the Goodes aren't really drawn with any warmth at all; they're just dumb. It's not particularly funny, for instance, that their dog (named Che, har har) is a vegan; it's just shtick. Jokes that have been done to death before go on far, far too long: witness the agony of a minutes-long bit about whether you're supposed to use the word "African-American."
The same is true of a bit about how it costs more to buy food that's organic or local or what-have-you, which should contain an actual punch line, but merely shows a row of more and more expensive apples. That's a potentially funny basis on which to make a joke, but on its own, it's not a joke, and I kept waiting for it to become one.
The biggest structural problem, though, is that The Goode Family moves very, very slowly. As in: literally slowly. You will notice, if you enjoy shows stuffed with one-liners that can therefore afford to have some of them fail (consider The Simpsons), the way The Goode Family contains long, unnecessary pauses, as if there genuinely just wasn't enough script.
What Judge is trying to get at here is a richly mockable comedic target; satire about the tensions between environmental responsibility and convenience, the tendency to proselytize about hybrid cars, whatever -- there's plenty of raw material. And there are probably two or three decent jokes that demonstrate the direction they could have gone.
But the execution just isn't funny enough to justify watching an entire half-hour show to get to those moments -- even in the summer.