Karl Puschmann: Can Amy Poehler’s animated sitcom Duncanville steal The Simpsons’ crown?

OPINION:

During the first episode of Amy Poehler’s new animated sitcom Duncanville, my partner turned to me and said, “It’s awful how relatable this is”.

Earlier in the episode we’d seen Poehler’s character, Annie, drunkenly sloshing a half-full glass of wine around with the other mums in her “book club”. Later we saw her praising the joys of staying in and watching a movie as opposed to raving at a dance party and then, in the very next scene, we were seeing her and husband Jack zonked out asleep in front of their blaring telly.

I couldn’t really relate to any of this, to be honest, but boy am I glad I watched the second episode alone because I have never felt so seen by a television show.

But before we get to that, let’s get up to speed with what the show is about.

Duncanville, which is now streaming on Neon, is a good-natured, slightly askew, comedy about a working-class family. It’s centred around the titular Duncan (also voiced by Poehler), an extraordinarily average teenager.

Poehler created the show with Mike and Julie Scully, a husband-and-wife team who both wrote for The Simpsons. That heritage is apparent here as the Harris family could almost be distant relatives of Springfield’s famous nuclear family. You can also spot the show’s shared DNA with the Griffins, the family from Family Guy.

From the former it borrows a surrealist streak and familial set-up, and from the latter it borrows the quick cut-away style, which sees the show briefly snapping away from the story for quick-fire scenes of absurdist situations or to land one-off gags. It does, however, tone the frenetic frequency with which Family Guy employs them.

But it’s a little disappointing that Duncanville doesn’t rip up the rule book on what to expect from an animated family. You’ve got the typical bumbling dad, bossy mum, average son, not-so-average daughter and a toddler with whichever adult trait is needed to suit the joke of the moment.

The first episode sees Duncan reluctantly learning how to drive so as to impress his crush by taking her and his pals to the aforementioned dance party. The second episode sees him being usurped from his position on their video game team by his aggressive sister. These were both fine and funny enough but in both instances it was the parents’ subplot that stole the show.

In the second episode, Jack, voiced by Ty Burrell with the same enthused blundering as his Modern Family character Phil Dunphy, is forced to confront his past after it literally falls on top of Annie, trapping her in their garage.

Much like the garage in my household, Jack’s is filled with instruments and stacked boxes containing records, books, memorabilia and other assorted paraphernalia from a life lived. His happens to also contain Alice Cooper’s famous guillotine, a gift from the original shock rocker after a gig Jack attended as a teen. And it’s this which falls on Annie and sparks her demand that he get rid of all his junk/precious belongings.

To his credit, he tries, much as I have, and fails. As I also have. Like I said, I’m glad I watched this episode alone so the topic can stay as buried as the floor underneath the mountain of boxes in my own garage.

Jack’s rationale that these towering stacks all contain memories, and “memories is what a family is all about”, allowed them to pack everything up nicely at the end of the episode. But here in the real world, I don’t think it would fly.

While I don’t care particularly for the show’s character design, it’s the blandly boring style that pervades American animation right now, I very much enjoyed its zippy one-liners and cosy vibe. It’s a fun show to watch. I only hope that its title doesn’t box the series into focusing on the least interesting character in it.

For my money the brilliant Bob’s Burgers is still today’s benchmark for a comedy about a family. It’s messier, much more real and, yes, funnier. It’s also being running a lot longer, and we’ve only just arrived in Duncanville. But the show must be doing something right because I’m going to stick around a little longer.

I only hope that the more time I spend here the more out there things get. And that we don’t ever see inside their garage ever again.

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