The creator of Beavis and Butt-Head really seems to hate liberals. Mike Judge has a hip reputation based on Beavis and his cult movies Office Space and Idiocracy, and he’s hardly a cultural conservative: the trailer for his upcoming movie, Extract, contains copious pot smoking. But beginning this week on ABC (and on Citytv in Canada), The Goode Family, created by Judge with John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, might disillusion some of the fans who thought he was on their side. It’s basically a 13-episode recitation of every anti-liberal stereotype in the history of comedy. Following on the heels of Judge’s King of the Hill (which is ending this year after a 13-year run), in which eastern liberals were the bad guys, it’s clear that while Judge may not be a conservative, he definitely wants you to know he’s not a liberal.
Judge has never tried to be subtle, and The Goode Family hits you over the head with anti-PC jokes, right from the opening shot of a car covered with bumper stickers like “Support our troops and their opponents.” The father, voiced by Judge (who sounds and looks similar to Mr. Van Driessen, the well-meaning hippie teacher on Beavis), is a left-wing vegan who says that it’s all right to wear flag pins now that Obama is in the White House. In the pilot, we learn that he and his wife, Helen (Nancy Carell), tried to adopt an African baby but got a white South African child; unwilling to face up to their mistake, they dress him in a kofia and call him “Ubuntu.” They’re the ultimate examples of liberals who can’t adjust to reality.
The theme of most episodes is that the family’s attempts to do the decent liberal thing lead to disaster: a pet adoption drive gets them in trouble with a militant animal-rights organization; Helen tries to be frank and open about sex, but it just drives her teenage daughter (Linda Cardellini) into the arms of an abstinence-only movement. Even their dog winds up killing and eating local animals because his owners won’t let him eat meat. No cartoon, not even the famously libertarian South Park (Judge is friends with the show’s creators and provided the voice of Kenny for the South Park movie), has ever despised liberalism quite so much.
Judge’s liberal-bashing has gotten more pronounced with time. Early episodes of King of the Hill sometimes had the conservative hero, Hank Hill, turn out to be just as wrong as his adversaries. But Judge has argued that the fun of King of the Hill “is to have the world be wrong and Hank be right,” and in the last few seasons, the show has followed that directive; Hank is now proven right about every issue, and lectures the other characters on how to ignore “the magazines and the talk shows” and follow traditional values. In recent years, Judge has even adapted classic right-of-centre arguments into his work; his dystopian comedy Idiocracy (about a dumbed-down future) began by arguing that birth rates are dangerously low among elites. Watch any Mike Judge project, and you’ll learn that real men don’t drive hybrids, have small families, wear ties or watch cable television.
Still, Judge is not a polemicist; he’s good-natured enough to allow his do-gooder liberals a few sympathetic moments. Carell’s character in particular is portrayed as genuinely well-meaning, if misguided, in her attempts to improve her relationships with her daughter and father (Brian Doyle-Murray). If American Dad, from Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, is the ultimate Bush-era show (about a right-wing CIA agent and his family), The Goode Family is a cartoon for the Obama era: it makes fun of aging hippies who say things like “What would Al Gore do?” but it’s based on the assumption that these people, and not the Hank Hill types, are running the world now.
Of course, timeliness alone can’t make a show a hit, and ABC doesn’t seem to have a great deal of faith that The Goode Family has much else going for it. The network delayed its premiere until the regular season was over, often a sign that a show isn’t considered likely to become a hit. And Extract has been delayed by its studio, Miramax, to an undesirable September release date. Judge’s influence was at its peak in the ’90s, when Bill Clinton was saying that “the era of big government is over” and conservatism was on the march; it may be, despite his nods to current events, that he has a 1990s outlook in a 21st-century world. Or it could be that he just has really bad luck with networks and studios. And there’s nothing political about that.