[Originally published July 3, 2013.]
How to begin this review? Few countries that debuted in the 1700s have been as controversial or long running (it’s into its 237th season now) as America. It may not have the staying power of perennial favorites such as China or the credibility of indie darlings such as Finland, but America has proven that it can at least make some cultural impact. It’s not the best, but hey, they can’t all be Louie.
America was originally a spinoff of the long-running England. Airing from the 1776-77 season through today, America focuses on a small ensemble of white people using things in the ground to become rich or kill brown people. A sprawling dramedy, it combines all of the loose plot points of a Tyler Perry sitcom with all the fun of being white.
It has widely focused on the themes of war, freedom, sitting, Fenway Park, maps, the one true Christian god, rugs, pregnancy tits, Vice magazine, butterfaces, coal, butterdicks, “Where’s the Beef?,” Chicago, Larry Flynt, colonialism, Terri Schiavo, NBC single-camera sitcoms, toddlers, suicide pacts, Atari, penny farthing bicycles, SpaghettiO’s (Cool Ranch flavor), tiny dolls, the TLC show Sister Wives, H1N1, television, and genocide. It has some unique perspective every once in awhile, but honestly, America can be super derivative. Most of the stories have already been on The Simpsons.
A lot of episodes in America don’t really hold up. Slavery? Parachute pants? White slavery? It just feels really overdone now. Among the most memorable episodes are “The Civil War,” “Texas,” “World War” (a two-parter), and “Black President.”
Some of the storylines are also a bit of a stretch. Are they really expecting us to believe that they killed all the Indians and that all those Indians did to deserve it was invent diabetes?! And come on—that stuff in the 9/11 episode could not have happened without someone working on the inside. That makes no sense. “9/11” jumped the shark. Hard.
It’s been on so long that no one wants to comment on the OBVIOUS PLOT HOLES. Such awful continuity. Like, how could it be explained that in season 170, George H.W. Bush fathered a mentally disabled son, but then in season 225, that son became president?! Really terrible continuity. I would like to point out that I do appreciate a recent callback to earlier plots. Around seasons 174-184, some of the anti-feminist and sexist storylines were put on the backburner, but it’s nice that we’ve seen a resurgence in this last season.
America has time and time again proved itself as a launching ground for young starlets. It’s fun seeing people before they became huge stars, like John Ritter, Stella McCartney, Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, and Ted “Ted” Bundy. But the ensemble works best when we see the regulars yearn for a raise or promotion, struggle with Mary Tyler Moore’s foibles and be there for Mary Tyler Moore when the going gets rough. I stole this from a review for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but I think it completely and entirely makes sense to literally lift from that review and drop it into this context as well.
As someone with more quirky and alt tastes, I can’t say that America is my favorite thing to watch. I’m more into Breaking Bad. Have you seen season 4?! Season 4 of Breaking Bad is flawless. Season 4 of America is VERY uneven. It had no main black characters. Girls, much?! I love The Wire!
I just hope to God (the American/right one) that they don’t pull some deus ex machina shit at the end of this series. Like, there’s nuclear war with North Korea, or they’ve been dead the whole time or something.
Anyway, it may have veered off wildly from the pilot, but America is definitely worth a look. It’s an interesting experiment in the world of primetime sovereign nations. What the characters lack in consistency, they make up for in body weight, lingering racism, and inconsistency. But it makes for a quick and easy viewing, and can often surprise you with heartfelt turns. It’s like eating Cool Ranch SpaghettiO’s on a warm summer’s eve. And hey, sometimes things get really good right before they’re cancelled.
MY RATING: 50 stars (out of 100).
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