By Aaron Broder
Fox is clearly desperate for a new animated sitcom to fill its scheduling gaps. Even Seth MacFarlane himself admitted that “Family Guy” should have ended a while ago. At least, that’s the only explanation I can come up with for the new show “Allen Gregory,” which is written by and stars “Superbad” funnyman Jonah Hill. Despite an interesting concept, the show seems to be relying on the star power behind it instead of good writing or funny jokes. Unfortunately, if it’s going to keep its coveted slot right after “The Simpsons,” it’s going to have to do a whole lot more.
The show’s about Allen Gregory DeLongpre, the world’s “most pretentious” seven-year old, who’s forced to go to public school when his dads start worrying about their financial situation. The episode is a little bit too focused on getting this story set up, to the point where I feel like I don’t know most of the characters in the universe. Julie, his adopted Cambodian sister who looks like she’ll be filling in for the role of the only sane person, particularly suffers from this focus; I can’t really figure out what part she plays in the family outside of occasionally making snide comments. There’s nothing wrong with having a character like that; she just needs to be more integrated into the cast.
It’s very apparent that “Family Guy,” one of the behemoths of Fox’s Animation Domination lineup, has heavily influenced the show. Though the creators were careful to distinguish themselves from the MacFarlane art style–which actually resulted in a pretty cool ‘60s-inspired design–you can easily see other places where they modeled themselves after the Griffin family. On a surface level, Allen Gregory isn’t that far off from Stewie (minus the British accent and the maniacal plans), and while not everyone hates Julie, her character definitely seems to be an analogue to Meg. But it’s also had a much deeper influence on the show, right down to its sense of humor.
That’s where “Allen Gregory” ends up failing, which is pretty damning for a half-hour comedy. The writers seem to be aiming for the same jokes as “Family Guy” (namely ones that go too far for too long), but they seem to have forgotten about the funny part. The long “jokes” like Allen Gregory’s minute-long fantasy about his 70 year-old principal, or the implication that his dad aggressively pursued his (formerly, and possibly currently straight) partner until he gave in, just feel uncomfortable. When the show goes on these tangents, I’m not laughing; I’m just waiting for it to move on to the next part.
Much of what I find fault in is the type of thing that often shows up in pilots. At this point in the show, the writers don’t really know what it’s going to be about, and it’s inevitable that they’ll look to other successful shows as a guide. My advice to the writers is to instead look to distinguishing “Allen Gregory” more from the other shows in Fox’s animated comedy block. There’s already so much homogeneity there that something new would be a welcome addition, and they’re more likely to succeed if they find their own groove rather than being a poor imitation of another show. Simply changing up their art style isn’t enough; they need to change up their sense of humor.