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Mike Judge is not a dumb guy. He'd be worthy of acclaim if all he ever did was write and direct "Office Space," but he also created "Beavis and Butt-head" and "King of the Hill," and it's through those animated series that he really sharpened his satirical skills. Judge showed over "Hill's" 250-plus episodes that he knows how to skewer stereotypes while rooting his humor in realistic characters and clever insights about modern culture, but sadly his latest animated series — ABC's "The Goode Family" — doesn't hit the bar Judge has set for himself.

The Goode family is a broadly stereotypical group of hard-core environmentalists: father Gerald (Judge), mother Helen (Nancy Carell), son Ubuntu (David Herman) and daughter Bliss (Linda Cardellini). Judge, who created the series with John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, is working on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Hank Hill and the modest conservatives of Arlen, Texas, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. The problem comes when, instead of allowing the jokes and plots to flow from the characters, Judge shoehorns them into clumsy situations just to make another awkward pun about recycling. When Ubuntu tells his parents he wants to learn to drive, a shocked Helen asks: "WWAGD? What would Al Gore do?" It's groaners like that that keep the show from feeling real. Judge makes function follow form, and it renders the stories inauthentic.

What's worse, though, is how too many current pop culture references are scattered throughout the script, turning what could have been another gentle lampoon of wacky characters into something with a two-week shelf life. It's one thing for Helen and Bliss to awkwardly come to terms with the teen's sexuality; it's another for Bliss to make a jaw-dropping reference to Octomom, as if the episode needed to be time-stamped "spring 2009." Judge's other works have striven for the timelessness of great comedy, but "Goode" feels too often like it's pandering to people who TiVo "Best Week Ever."

There are worthwhile moments, though. The 16-year-old Ubuntu is an overgrown Bobby Hill, a sweet-natured, excitable kid who loves driving the family's hybrid like a stock car. And Gerald and Helen are neurotically perfect for each other. But the best bits of the series are those that let the characters deliver the punch lines, not become them, and there aren't quite enough to go around.(partialdiff)
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