Is Mike Judge's The Goode Family Proof that Liberal America Can't Laugh at Itself?

June 24, 2009  |  11:30am
It's no secret: Mike Judge's latest television project The Goode Family may not survive its first season. After lackluster ratings for the debut and second episode, ABC moved the show to Friday, entombing it deep in the summer lineup and making the odds of renewal slim at best.

And that's a damn shame, because it's a funny and thoughtful take on a certain slice of American life in the same vein as Judge's laudable King of the Hill. The show's premise is solid enough: a lampoon of a liberally-minded, vegan, environmentally-conscious upper-middle class suburban American family that lives by the credo WWAGD (What Would Al Gore Do?) 

There's a lot of great moments and set pieces here: the Goodes' extreme political correctness leaves them tongue tied when searching for the right hyphenated appellation to address their black neighbor. The family adopted an African baby and ended up with a white South African, but resolved to raise him to "show that the offspring of two racist, criminal Afrikaners could grow into a gentle, socially conscious young man." Their hybrid has a bumper sticker that says "Support our troops... and their opponents." And their dog's name? Che (Guevera), natch.

King of the Hill cut to the heart of Americana, giving audiences a humorous and meditative snapshot of life in the South; Hank Hill's family and friends were nuanced to the degree that it was obvious Judge was basing the characters on real people. And like King of the Hill, The Goode Family constructs characters that defy simple "liberal" stereotypes. Here's the problem: the majority of the show's detractors have totally missed the show's point, expressing either glee or revulsion at the idea of someone mocking the left's sacred cows.

The Goode Family isn't about making fun of environmentalism, multiculturalism or vegetarianism. It's about the empty-headed, materialistic and self-aggrandizing American co-option of these causes: a funhouse mirror image of someone who might adopt faux-populist conservative swagger for its cultural significance, rather than purposes of real solidarity. It's about good causes being used for competition, rather than progress.

The show's tagline says that "it's hard to be good," and there's no better summation of environmental and socially conscious causes as they relate to the rat race. So, why isn't the show doing that well? Could it be because its target audience, the liberally-minded American that the show artfully skewers, can't laugh at themselves? Quite possibly, because we're hard pressed to think of a different reason why a quality series like this isn't doing well.

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