It's a good time to be Seth MacFarlane, with a hit movie (Ted) under his belt, a gig as Oscar host in his future, and a mini-empire on the Fox network, whose Sunday "Animation Domination" lineup is overrun with his shows, most notably and memorably Family Guy. Not many shows that got canceled early in its run (after several seasons of incredibly incompetent scheduling), only to be resurrected on the strength of DVD sales and a cult cable following, manage to live on to mark a 200th-episode milestone.
The Griffins may never achieve the longevity of The Simpsons or enjoy that level of mass pop-culture worship, but time hasn't dulled their show's bawdily irreverent sting. In fact, time is a major player in Sunday's hour-long big event (9/8c), when everything begins moving backwards after Brian tinkers with Stewie's time machine, threatening the diabolical talking baby's very existence. Family Guy often aims for the gut, or below, in its zeal for a cheap, nasty laugh — the targets this week range from Lincoln's assassination (witnessed by some memorable critics) to one of the most cataclysmic chicken fights ever staged. So when you hear someone declare, "Oh God, this is so disgusting I think I'm going to puke," prepare for the joke to become even grosser when the barfing begins happening in reverse. One self-reflective gag involving the voice cast nearly caused an embarrassing spit-take in my own living room. Speaking of the cast, stay tuned after the episode for a half-hour celebration of the show's colorful history, with backstage insights and interviews.
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BAND OF BROMANCERS: Given TBS' mostly painful track record with original sitcoms, we can be excused for feeling like an eternal bridesmaid heading to yet another fitting when presented with a new show, especially one that has been designated to the graveyard slot of Saturday at 10/9c. But Wedding Band deserves a chance, and certainly a more hospitable time slot. This agreeable, though hardly groundbreaking, hour-long buddy comedy-with-music is almost as catchy as the cover tunes these wedding (and occasional Bar Mitzvah) singer/musicians specialize in.
Fancying themselves "weekend rock gods" as they work the crowds in Seattle, the four members of Mother of the Bride are genuinely nice screw-ups. They actually seem to like or at least appreciate their clients, and go out of their way to make sure that even the misfits and losers have a good time. They yearn for better bookings in fancier venues, and in the enjoyable pilot episode, they get their break, though not without a series of rom-com complications that could sour their relationship with the posh event-planning firm they're trying to impress. Wedding Band's greatest selling point is its unusually strong and appealing cast: Brian Austin Green as the resident horndog commitment-phobe, whose ex gets married in the pilot; Peter Cambor (NCIS: LA) as the token family man, torn between domestic duty and letting it all hang out with the band; Harold Perrineau as the cool and musically experienced newbie, who sees more potential in these guys than they do in themselves; and Derek Miller as a schlubby Jack Black clone, Cambor's younger brother and the band's irrepressible drummer. Having the best time of all: The Office's delicious Melora Hardin as the sexy event planner who unexpectedly takes a shine to these boys.
Can't really blame her. They're good company, an evolutionary step up from those horrible sitcoms of a year ago (ABC's Man Up an especially egregious example) in which whiny guys were always questioning their manhood. The members of this wedding band may have their issues — there would be no show if they didn't — but when they get down to making music, even if it's a country version of "I Will Survive," their enthusiasm and goodwill toward each other is contagious. Wedding Band has a good beat and you can laugh to it.
Some more thoughts about a busy sweeps weekend:
FRIDAY: If you're a Fringe fan, how could you not want to watch an episode titled "Through the Looking Glass and What Walter Found There" (Fox, 9/8c)? While Walter is busy seeking new ways to take on the Observers, Peter will no doubt be adjusting to the Baldie Tech he injected himself with next week. I'm not expecting it to go well. ... Some familiar faces pop up on The CW's Nikita (9/8c) this week: one good (Owen, emerging from a Russian prison) and one bad (Amanda, still up to her old tricks).
SATURDAY: Nerd humor rules as Comedy Central presents Chris Hardwick: Mandroid (11/10c), the Nerdist's first stand-up special, filmed in New York City. It's a tribute to the geek in all of us. ... On NBC's Saturday Night Live (11:30/10:30c), Anne Hathaway hosts for the third time. (Have you seen the trailers for the Les Miserables movie? We're talking serious Oscar bait.) Rihanna is the musical guest, but we'll be tuning in to see how many ways SNL can parody such election-night TV highlights as Diane Sawyer's loopy demeanor, Karl Rove's meltdown of denial on Fox News and Brian Williams' smackdown of Donald Trump.
SUNDAY: Always the busiest night, and let's start with last week's shocker: AMC's The Walking Dead (9/8c), where we're still reeling from the tragic losses of the most recent episode. There's not much of a respite at the prison, where Rick channels his grief into a terrifying explosion of bloodlust, while over in Woodbury, Andrea and the super-fierce Michonne dance to another stanza of "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" The decision might be less difficult if they knew how the Governor likes to party. Think: Zombie Spartacus. ... On Showtime's Dexter (9/8c), is it love, lust or something stranger and deeper to explain Dexter's attraction for fellow killer Hannah? With Deb and true-crime writer Sal Price snooping into Hannah's past, something's bound to snap. But who'll take action first, Dex or Hannah? ... Another dangerous opposites-attract connection deepens, between double agent Brody and his unstable handler Carrie, on a taut episode of Showtime's Homeland (10/9c), which bogs down whenever mopey daughter Dana takes center stage to angst out over the hit-and-run accident she's desperate to atone for. No matter the political cost, or what it might mean for her dad's ultimate mission. Added bonus: great material for Mandy Patinkin's Saul, as he revisits jailed terrorist Aileen (Marin Ireland, from last season's road trip episode) to follow leads after last week's Gettysburg massacre.
More Sunday highlights: The late Marvin Hamlisch is a guest voice on Fox's The Simpsons (8/7c), playing himself from an episode in the back story of Grampa, who's gone missing from his retirement home. ... PBS presents a National Salute to Veterans (check tvguide.com listings) in honor of Veterans Day, co-hosted by Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise and featuring selected highlights from past National Memorial Day concerts. ... One of the best surprises from the first season of ABC's Once Upon a Time (8/7c) was the revelation that Red Riding Hood/Ruby was also the Big Bad Wolf of her story. She's the focus of this week's episode, when Ruby (Meghan Ory) becomes the prime suspect after a full-moon murder. ... On CBS' The Good Wife (9/8c), Alicia and Cary head to Washington, D.C., to defend a comedian (Christina Ricci) being sued by a TV network for her indecent material. Anyone else thinking: What Would Kathy Griffin Do? While in the capitol city, Cary reunites with his dad (John Shea). ... Discovery's Curiosity series (9/8c) takes a peep into "Sex in America," with the results of what's being billed as the largest survey ever into sexual behavior and attitudes, conducted by Indiana University's Kinsey Institute. ... Cult alert: A daylong marathon of Joss Whedon's beloved space Western Firefly, starting at 7 am/6c, will be capped by the hour-long 10th anniversary special Firefly: Browncoats Unite (10/9c), with Whedon and the show's cast (including Nathan Fillion) and writing crew remembering the show's all-too-brief run.