Three episodes into Allen Gregory, I am not sold, but I still hold out hope. Reviews of the show have ranged from lukewarm to hostile. Take, for example this, from AfterElton.com:
Ugh. What a terrible show. Allen Gregory is described by the show’s creators as “precocious”. A more appropriate word would be “obnoxious”.
They also said he was being raised by two gay fathers. He’s not; he’s being raised by one gay sexual predator and his victim. Every female character is belittled. The only decent parent, Jeremy, is belittled. Bullying and sexual predation are played as good clean fun. And if you’re going to make an AIDS joke, then by God it had better be a funny AIDS joke. I’m being paid to watch Allen Gregory. What’s your excuse?
All of this is true. The main characters are reprehensible and cruel. The father, in particular, is an amalgam of the worst cultural cliches of the urban upper class. In the second episode, he hires actors to play his adopted daughter’s friends because he does not approve of her real friends. Does this sound incredibly unrealistic? Well, it is, and so is Allen Gregory’s crush on his 60+ principal is entirely ridiculous, or his unbelievable maturity for his age. It is this level of exaggeration, of complete out-of-touchness with reality, that dulls critiques like the above and gives me some hope for the show. It is like condemning The Simpsons because Homer is a lazy, alcoholic, abusive, neglectful father. After all, he chokes his child!
True, this show is no Simpsons, which I chuckle at every weekend out of a sense of decades-long habit and a bit of nostalgia for when it was cutting-edge. It is not as quick or sophisticated as Futurama (but nothing is as quick or sophisticated as Futurama) , not as raunchy as Family Guy or South Park, not as full-throttle as Robot Chicken. The visual style is subdued, stylish and realistic. The pace is slower than any animated series I’ve seen recently, perhaps since King of the Hill. It tries the same trick Family Guy does with Brian and Stewie: make a child (or dog, in the case of Brian) unrealistically intelligent and articulate without remarking on it. It’s hard not to respond when Allen Gregory arrives at school with sushi and white wine, acting as if it were totally normal.
I agree with critics that the main characters lack all empathy, and are, in fact, quite creepy. The hope I have for the show is in the conflict that could arise between AG and his elementary school peers. If the writers decide to further contrast what are essentially class differences, and find a way to lambaste AG’s father by setting him in relief with the pathetically sincere kids at school, the show might find teeth. It has the potential to tap into the growing class consciousness of the occupy movements and the rising awareness of the disparity between what are now being called the one-percenters and everyone else. I don’t expect — or even want — the show to do explicit political commentary, but the upper class make good villains these days, if handled properly. Rather than comparing this to other animated series, we might think about it in terms of All in the Family, where it is clear that the racist dad is the butt of the joke.
Ultimately, I don’t think Allen Gregory will succeed. If it stays as it is, I will stop watching it. I really liked the first two episodes, but by the third, I started wondering if I could watch the same jokes week after week. I forgive The Simpsons for it out of the intertia of my affection for the show, but Allen Gregory doesn’t get the same benefit. I’ll give it a few more episodes to see if it can make use of the bizarre building blocks it has set up and make something grander. I’m holding my breath.