Let’s get this out of the way right now–FOX’s new animated series “Allen Gregory” is not “The Simpsons” or “Family Guy.”
But, to its credit, it’s also not as dreadfully unfunny as “Bob’s Burgers” and the failed “Sit Down and Shut Up.” In fact, from a pilot perspective, it easily gets as many–if not more–laughs as the respective premieres for “American Dad” (which eventually grew into FOX’s funniest comedy) and “The Cleveland Show.”
Comparisons to FOX’s fixtures “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” are inevitable–after all, the only new shows that have truly clicked in the “Animation Domination” lineup have been those that were either literally or essentially “Family Guy” spin-offs. But “Allen Gregory” co-creator Jonah Hill, who also executive produces and provides the lead voice, designed the show to bring something fresh and wants it to stand on its own feet, rather than the shoulders of FOX’s veterans.
“We want to do our own thing and being unique and different than those was really important as opposed to trying to fit in with them,” Jonah Hill told Headline Planet in a media call to promote the new series. “That being said, I think people will connect it…if you like The Simpsons and Family Guy, you would like our show because it’s irreverent and different and [is as] original as those two shows were and are.”
He believes the differences are not only what explicitly want from a new FOX animated series but also what it will take to establish the show as the next great animated series.
Explained Hill, “I think you want something different, [and] that’s why those shows are so successful, because when they came out, they were so different.”
The “Allen Gregory” pilot, which was screened for critics, indeed presents something different. Yes, there are undoubtedly shades of precocious Stewie Griffin in the Allen Gregory character, a seven-year-old, pampered and protected to the point of obnoxiousness, who faces the struggle of adapting to a public school environment for the first time, but the show’s creative tone and animation style limit any significant connections to FOX’s veterans. This, for better or worse, it is own show.
It is also very much a one-character and one-dimensional show, albeit one that works very well in its first episode. Though French Stewart gives an enthusiastic voice performance as Richard, Allen’s catty, controlling, obnoxious gay father, the humor and emphasis all belongs to young Allen Gregory. Though it is Richard and his partner’s economic woes that trigger the entire plot of thrusting Allen into public school, virtually all of the story-telling and action in the pilot centers around Allen.
The other characters, essentially, serve as a springboard for Allen’s humor–they either hate him, love him or empathize with him, but they’re all primarily there to serve his comedic interests.
And so that means this show will live or die by the reaction to Allen Gregory, who takes the idea of being a school “outsider” to a whole new level. There are those for whom people feel sympathetic about the bullying struggle. And then there is Allen Gregory, who tries to bring a glass of pinot to the school lunch room, refuses to call his teacher by anything but her first name, acts dismissive and/or condescending towards his adopted sister and his one friend at school and aggressively lusts after his old, overweight principal. When things don’t go his way, it’s hard to feel bad.
Asked if any of the characters, notably Allen, will become more likable, Hill seemed confused by the proposition. To him, Allen is already likable.
“I think the thing that they’ll love about him is he has all this false bravado and condescension and arrogance and everything that’s all covering up the fact that he’s just insecure and wants to be accepted by these people,” explained Hill. “I think that’s my favorite kind of character to watch is someone who acts like they don’t care about anything, but really cares more than anybody else.”
It’s hard to fault Hill for that viewpoint–after all, Seth, his successful character in “Superbad,” adhered to the same philosophy–in protecting his own insecurities, he behaved like an unappreciative, asshole for the public. That is the character Hill relishes, and if viewers cannot get behind it, it’s an indictment of far more than “Allen Gregory.”
What about realism? “Family Guy” has notoriously played coy with the reality of what Stewie says and does, but that makes more sense with a one-year-old. Allen Gregory is seven, so he can clearly communicate, but is he really acting as portrayed?
According to Hill, and evidenced by the pilot (when it becomes clear Allen’s parents are enabling some of his fantasies, such as his quest for a Tony), there will be some ambiguity about whether Allen Gregory is really as accomplished and cultured as he claims.
“What’s great about [“Allen Gregory”] is we tried to make it really questionable whether the things he’s said he’s done have actually happened or not,” confirmed Hill.
At the same time, in its most basic sense, everything that happens on the show is meant to lie within the realm of reality. Yes, that even means his odd infatuation with his principal.
“Even though it’s animated, [it’s not] like a spaceship could land there,” noted Hill. “It’s all reality based. Like if it couldn’t happen in real life, then it wouldn’t [happen on our show].
“That being said, I’ve never heard of a seven year old boy having a relationship with a 70 something year old disgusting woman.”
Along with “Napoleon Dynamite” and a second season of “Bob’s Burgers,” “Allen Gregory” is working to become a solid utility player for FOX, which is always trying to expand upon the success of its animated flagships “Simpsons” and “Family Guy.”
It’s undoubtedly funny, but it could also be polarizing. Insofar as the Allen Gregory character is beyond central to the show’s humor, if the snobby, technically-unlikable seven-year-old does not click with fans, neither will the show.
“Allen Gregory” premieres Sunday night on FOX.