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Kill Your Television: Bordertown 

Wednesday, Jan 6 2016

Surely Seth MacFarlane must have stock in marijuana futures. It's hard to tell if adult primetime cartoons are created solely with the very stoned in mind, but his Family Guy and Ted franchises are chockablock with gags and cut-tos rigged to ignite the neurons of any THC-infused brain matter. Even his racial humor — for which MacFarlane has taken much flak — is so ridiculously un-P.C. that probably only 12-year-old boys, frat bros, and potheads find themselves giggling. (Oh, and me, of course.)

I'm not the best judge of primetime cartoons though, so my review of the latest MacFarlane venture, Bordertown, might be a bit skewed. The first time I watched BoJack Horseman, a 'toon about a washed-up celebrity equine, it was so bizarre, slow, and (at times) offensive that I didn't give it much hope of catching on. Other critics agreed. But then, when the second half of Season 1 began to go deeper, darker, and wackier, suddenly BoJack's audience emerged. Like that demon strain of cannabis known as The Creeper, the show slowly crescendoed into a freaky, full-frontal, backwards bildungsroman. I'm still not interested in watching it, and it's my worst nightmare to be seated among Adult Swim nerds at a party, unable to find the perfect opening to extricate myself from the sofa and avoid in-depth discussions of Rick And Morty (another blah show) or Robot Chicken.

I do love Family Guy, though, so that will have to be the metric I use to analyze Bordertown. The story follows two families who live next to one another in Mexifornia, an American hamlet that might as well have its own Marty Robbins soundtrack. Hank Azaria, freshly resigned from The Simpsons, plays Bud Buckwald, a bigoted border agent who lives with his wife and three kids and dreams of a Southwest full of real Americans — namely, white retirees and meth manufacturers. Bud's neighbors are the plucky Ernesto Gonzalez and his clan — immigrants busy enjoying the elusive American dream, who are frankly doing better than Bud.

As with Family Guy, it's hard not to make Simpsons comparisons. Bud is as bumbling a border agent as Homer is a nuclear safety inspector (which is to say, a fork-and-spoon operator from Sector 7-G), forever living in the shadow of his perfect neighbor (Ned Flanders) whom he denigrates in order to puff himself up. Bud constantly puts down Ernesto, who is unfailingly sweet, generous, and painfully clueless. In this way, Bordertown reminds me of The Munsters, a happy family unaware that everyone sees them as cretins and ghouls. It's also, cloyingly, a cliché reminiscent of the smiling dimwit-in-a-sombrero stereotype, vapidly repeating, "Sí, sí señor!".

At the same time, because of a clearly blatant characterization ripoff, Bordertown draws comparisons to All In The Family. Ernesto's liberal-anarchist son J.C. has a romance with Bud's daughter, making him 2016's answer to Meathead ("La cabeza de carne"?). If Bud is going to make "go back to Mexico" jokes over and over, he's going to need a foil, and J.C. not only rejoins him à la Rob Reiner with Archie Bunker, but also gives real liberals an even more annoying liberal to laugh at. For instance, after hugging his fiancée, J.C. remarks how he's "never been so happy to be heteronormative."

The first few episodes revolve around immigration and race issues, like deportation laws, building border walls, and human smuggling. Frankly, with Donald Trump doing so well, any jokes about this stuff that come out of Bud's mouth don't go far enough to be satire. His character is going to have to evolve in some way to take things up a notch. The rest of the family is pretty boilerplate as well, with a doofus son and a pageant princess daughter in the mold of Honey Boo Boo. As of now, Ernesto's family isn't fleshed out very well, either. There's a little boy who slips hot pepper into gringos' food, a grandfather who wears a huge belt buckle and a Stetson, and a running gag about how Ernesto is a gardener.

All these jokes and characters have plenty of room to expand, however. Bordertown has promise, even if I'd like to see its too-obvious Area 51 jokes get completely abducted. Just because it's the Southwest doesn't mean it's time to dust off the worn-out anal-probe gags. Talk about a comedy cliché!

Then again, I wasn't stoned.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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