Episode grade: A
Steve and Francine have one of the more complex relationships in this show, and it’s quite often a gold mine for plot ideas. Sometimes Francine is an overprotective mother who can’t let go of her little boy, other times she’s a no-nonsense dispenser of tough love, and then other times she’s merely disgusted by Steve’s weaknesses and wants him out of her sight if he can’t shape up. For Steve, Francine can be anything from a loving mother who enables his most childish tendencies, to a harsh dispenser of justice, to an object of confusing Oedipal emotions. More than once it’s been implied (or outright stated) that if Francine wasn’t his momma… well, we get the idea.
So to have Francine participating in Steve’s make-believe is rather unconventional. Sure, we’ve seen Stan get mixed up with Steve and his friends’ childish nerdy fantasy lives many times, but it’s usually a territory that Francine steers clear of. That makes this episode yet another in a season of breaking fresh ground: Francine sees Steve and his friends’ LARPing* as puerile and obnoxious, until she realizes that she doesn’t get what she wants in her own life, and the escapism suddenly becomes enchanting. Steve and his friends are escaping their own mundane lives of being bullied by jocks by pretending to be colonists of a moisture farm à la Star Wars Tattooine, of which Steve is the mayor. So Francine decides she will become their princess, and true to their nature the LARPers accept her with open arms. Well, other than Steve, who sees his mom’s intrusion as both a threat to his own make-believe power, but also into his own personal social life.
Soon, though, Steve sees his mom in her own real world: as a put-upon housewife who’s constantly cleaning up her family’s messes and who never gets to do what she wants to do. Intersecting neatly with Stan and Roger’s “OceanWorld” B-plot, Steve pretends that the chum-soaked laundry Francine’s being forced to do is because they’re slaves to a mean ogre, and break free to return to their LARP colony. Despite it being destroyed by the local Junior Varsity football team, Francine uses her diplomatic powers as the “princess” to make the JV coach and players realize that they’re all basically doing the same thing: participating in a fantasy of being something greater than they are.
Meanwhile, Stan decides to keep a shark rescued from a drug kingpin and builds an aquarium in the kitchen. He soon realizes that the cost of maintaining the shark is beyond his means, though, and so Roger steps in with the brilliant idea to create their own aquatic theme park in their house. Hayley and Klaus join in on the scheme, and soon they’re training Dolphins (I.e., actual Miami Dolphin football alumni who, of course, act and swim just like real dolphins). Roger realizes they need a bigger draw to start making real money, though, and winds up buying an orca with a violent past — complete with Hannibal Lecter face mask and body scars. This B-plot is probably one of the most effective and hilarious in a long time, producing some really outstanding visual gags and character moments.
So, here we are, fourteen episodes into the thirteenth season of a cartoon sitcom, and we’re getting episodes like this that are absolutely the highest caliber. Not only are the visuals absolutely stunning (the repeated switching between the gorgeously-realized fantasy world, quite reminiscent of season nine’s outstanding episode “Lost in Space”, and the hilariously pathetic cardboard real world is a sight to behold), not only are the jokes still landing far more often than not, and not only is the voice acting still as sharp and delightful as it’s ever been… but the show still can really bring out the touching moments. Steve realizing his mom really is a princess, then a queen, is a genuinely sweet moment, and Hayley tearfully releasing the Dolphins into the ocean is the kind of intersection of hilarious absurdity and bittersweet loss that only a show like this could actually make work.
* LARP = “Live Action Role-Playing”, just in case any of you nerds didn’t already know that.
“Dammit, I shoulda said ‘your mom’s moisture crop is in’! Next time!”
I don’t recognize several of Steve’s friends there. Though I think the kid in the cardboard tie-fighter is “Nathan”, the kid who keeps getting himself molested.
“I forgot bags, so I’m gonna let this go… but do not touch my dog’s asshole.”
“Floor spaghetti.” “Floor spaghetti?” …. “Floor spaghetti.”
“Sorry Steve, I guess I was too busy scoring mad pole.” [Elbows Chelsea]
“You serve real booze?” “Yep! It’s everything left over from my dad’s wake that my uncle didn’t steal!” “Dark…!”
“Like Charlotte, North Carolina, we are both fast-growing, and completely devoid of culture.” “Did Charlotte, North Carolina just get ‘Dadded’?”