Instead of the more interesting entry I had planned for today, I'll opt for the more topical. Tune in tomorrow for the interesting story.
The Simpsons achieved success because audiences connected with the characters. Especially in the early years, the writers focused on developing a small core corps. This holds true for The Family Guy and Fox's other enormous animated success King of the Hill (which, in my opinion is the best television of them all).
Many animated sitcoms, such as The Oblongs or The PJs, have tried to emulate The Simpsons of today. While that series continues to center on the family, the town of Springfield has developed dozens of distinct characters who populate and propel the stories. Milhouse, Lenny and Carl, Apu, Mr. Burns, Krusty the Clown, The Cat Lady -these characters didn't hatch fully formed in episode one. They developed as necessary to propel the stories of the main characters.
In Sit Down, Shut Up we have another show with a dozen characters and no central focus.
I'll start by saying the character problem is slightly alleviated by unhorrible design. (I just made up "unhorrible") The photographic backgrounds work very well and the characters, while not "good" or "pleasing" are not the atrocities that have come to populate the airwaves.
Whatever non-negatives the design brings are squandered by the non-unhorrible script. I understand that kids like The Golden Girls, but I've seen a couple -it's extremely non-unhorrible.
Animation is naturally self-conscious. King of the Hill, South Park, Aqua Teen Hunger Force all take advantage of this in their own ways.
Sit Down, Shut Up compounds the essential nature of the process by delivering a script which is supremely self-conscious. Characters make note of their own "catch phrases" and use of "air quotes". They call for unreceived flashbacks from the director.
This self-consciousness is in dramatic contradiction to the producer's previous show. Arrested Development took the single camera comedy developed by Malcolm in the Middle and turned the viewer into a fly on the wall creating one of the most spontaneous feeling American comedies.
But Arrested Development, featuring a strong ensemble cast, was never self-conscious -even with the running commentary from a narrator. It was self-referential in witty and unexpected ways, but never had that "Hey, ain't we funny?" grin that that the characters of Sit Down, Shut Up wear.
Many people in our business (animation production) feel that rising tides lift all boats That if a show or film does well, then it trickles down to everyone. It's not that simple. The success of The Simpsons has not effected me personally. But it has caused Fox to develop a few dozen other animated shows and put several of them into their line up.
We can only hope that abject failures don't pull us all down.