‘Bordertown’ Review: Seth MacFarlane Series Shoots for Topical Satire and Misses

Fox animated comedy is generically offensive

The characters in “Bordertown,” Fox’s latest addition to its animation lineup, make those of fellow Sunday night toon “Bob’s Burgers” seem as coolly chic as those on FX’s “Archer.” The denizens of Mexifornia, a little town on the border between Mexico and America, are all bulging bellies, phlegmy voices, and very un-P.C. attitudes.

Maybe every generation gets the Archie Bunker it deserves. “All in the Family” has been helld up for years as an exemplar of edgy TV — and employed as an excuse for lazy, prejudicial humor. There are moments in “Bordertown” when border patrol officer Bud (voiced by Hank Azaria, taking a break from multiple characters to focus on just this one) says something so outrageous that it’s simultaneously funny and thought provoking. But mostly, his comments and remarks are of the “You’re different and so I hate you” variety, a phyla that we already have plenty of in the news cycle.

As usual with a Seth MacFarlane show (he executive producers this one for creator Mark Hentemann, the “Family Guy” showrunner), the de rigueur throwaway-cutaway jokes are hit or miss. For every landscaper’s motto about murdering grass there’s a running gag about a man being abducted and anally probed by aliens. And for some reason, Bud’s youngest daughter is a toddler beauty pageant queen who could give Honey Boo Boo an unintelligible run for her money, despite no one else in the vicinity possessing the same deep-fried drawl.

But what, exactly, are we meant to laugh at here? Bud’s neighbor, Ernesto (voiced by Nicholas Gonzalez), is a hard-working immigrant with a successful business and a relatively happy home life, but his liberal, college graduate son J.C. is mocked as carefully as Bud is. In fact, Ernesto barely registers as a character since he’s surrounded by such extremes, as when J.C. bristles at his father requesting that he find gainful employment when there is still so much suffering and injustice to fight in the world. To that blinkered self-delusion, Ernesto can only sigh with the world-weariness of one who has carved out a life the hard way.

The rest of the families, from Bud’s chirpy wife and petulant daughter (both voiced by Alex Borstein on autopilot), mostly serve as sounding boards for Bud’s intolerance. Meanwhile, much of Bud’s hate speech falls firmly in the category of not funny enough, which makes it just … hate speech. The show is satirizing smug, middle-class white folks who resent any threat to their status quo, but the only viewpoints presented on “Bordertown” are those of smug, middle-class white folks and smug, middle-class liberals who resent the white folks’ resentment. As an animated series, there isn’t the room for character development the way there was on “All in the Family,” so Bud’s stance on immigration, his neighbors, and minorities won’t be changing or evolving in even small ways. In that instance, at least, “Bordertown” is less a satire than a mirror to the current state of our society.

“Bortdertown” premieres Sunday Jan. 3 at 9:30 p.m. ET on Fox.