Bordertown is a good example of how insipid and smug certain kinds of television can be when it tries to address contemporary issues. An animated series by some folks who brought you Family Guy, Bordertown — which premiered Sunday night on Fox — is on its surface about the current politics surrounding immigration reform, but it’s really more interested in ridiculing what the show feels is politically-correct culture.
Set in an American state called Mexifornia, this minimally-animated series centers around two next-door households. One is headed up by Ernesto Gonzalez, who runs a lawn-cutting service, and Bud Buckwald, a border agent. Both are married with children. Ernesto and his family are American citizens as surely as the Buckwalds are, but that doesn’t prevent Bud, presented as a bigot who’s also dumb, from ridiculing his neighbors with various ethnic slurs and idiocies. These purported jokes are laced with the kind of pop-culture-tagged references familiar to Family Guy fans: “Translate ‘La Bamba,’” Bud asks at one point. “I know ‘la’ means ‘plane crash.’” Bordertown is the kind of show that wants you to feel good about yourself because you recognize a reference to Ritchie Valens tucked into an unfunny punchline.
It’s when Ernesto’s son Juan Carlos, or J.C., comes home from college that Bordertown’s true subtext emerges. J.C. is depicted as a young man who’s been infected with college-campus liberalism. He wants, for example, to re-name America “the United States of Indigenous Rape.” In the show’s premiere, he gets engaged to Bud’s like-minded daughter, Becky, who says things like, “I want you to put a baby in me so I can fight for the right to abort it!”
And so, while Bordertown disguises itself as a liberal critique of anti-immigration sentiments — a recurring gag has the government propelling illegal immigrants out of the U.S. in a “deportation cannon” — it shares its true contempt with a favorite target of conservatives: an exaggerated version of political correctness. Oh, and more broadly, a hatred for intelligence. Bud, a racist, musters his worst insult for his future son-in-law when he refers to J.C. as “that egghead.”
Reviewing the premiere of All in the Family in 1971, the great critic John Leonard accused the show of “stealing laughs from bigotry, and in the process legitimizing the expression of it.” Exactly so with Bordertown. Like so much Family Guy-inspired humor, the most insidious message Bordertown releases like passed-gas at its audience is the ridicule of anyone who might like to read a book.
Bordertown airs Sundays at 9:30 p.m. on Fox.