I was talking to a friend of mine a few years ago who was distraught. She had bought an expensive hybrid and had just found out that it actually got less gas mileage than a similar model that ran completely on gas. I'll never forget the deep sadness in her eyes as she looked up and said "It's so hard to be good". That struck a chord with me. We are all trying really hard to be good these days but we always seem to come up short. Like my wife, who helps run the eco-friendly, non-homophobic, Jane Goodall-founded, semi-scout group at our son's school called "Roots and Shoots" -- whatever she does is never good enough (usually pointed out by a helpful parent: "Gee, you know you really shouldn't let them have bottled water on the hike" or "Wow, you sure used a lot of plastic bags when you organized the street clean up.") When I talked to my friends I realized I was not alone. There was a lot of guilt out there and a lot of people eager to point out your shortcomings.
I took this idea to my writing partner, Dave Krinsky, and our producing partner Mike Judge and they started kicking in personal stories about their experiences. It seemed that, no matter how hard we tried, none of us were "good enough." And that was funny. And that could be a TV show -- the flip side of our current show King of the Hill -- a way for us to grapple with all the complex and awkward social issues that are bubbling up all around us.
So out came The Goode Family, an animated series about a loving family that tries so hard to be good but always feels like they are falling short. We were very gratified by the critical response from sources as diverse as major newspapers, CNN and Fox News, and most importantly to us in entertainment, Daily Variety. What surprised us was how our show became a political football before it even aired.
Some conservative commentators were grasping desperately at the show because at last someone was making fun of liberals. While other conservative bloggers thought we were making fun of flag pin wearing Christians. The left jumped in and "questioned " (translation: were appalled by) the motives and timing of a show that made fun of people who are trying to make the world a better place. One of the most disappointing was from Gina Bellafante of the New York Times, who panned our repeated jokes about power generated by windmills. This was a head scratcher because there weren't any jokes about windmills in any of our episodes. Then a journalist friend pointed out that she probably fast forwarded through the episodes and saw the main title sequence twice -- which is a colorful depiction of the Goode Family's perfect world (which includes wind generated power). I'm not saying she did that, but the other option is that the New York Times has a writer reviewing TV who doesn't know what a main title sequence is. It's like she would be upset with the creator of The Mary Tyler Moore Show" because she feels he thinks it's funny that every week she throws her hat in the air. It's that sort of knee-jerk dismissive attitude that make it very difficult to deal with any subject matter that is truly relevant.
So, blogs and forums are buzzing with declarations about whom our show was making fun of and why we should be stopped or applauded. But the question that ran through most of these debates is "whose side are we on?"
This brought me back to a conversation I had with Matt Stone of South Park fame who told me once that the most frustrating thing about dealing with society's sacred cows is that you are always being asked "what side are you on?" I feel that's a reason why so much TV is irrelevant and often unwatchable -- the creators are too worried about being on the correct side and not worried enough about taking a critical look at the world around them. I noticed a lot of people who were very comfortable with us dealing with the foibles of a Southern conservative family on King of the Hill got very uncomfortable when we turned the tables and looked at people more like ourselves.
A side? Do you know how much easier my life would be if I actually were on a side? I hope people keep watching so they can tell us what side we are on with regards to animal rights, football culture, lesbian class war, and a problem that plagues many of us in Los Angeles -- how can you socially consciously hire a gardener?