Seth MacFarlane’s brand of scattershot animated comedy gets a timely edge in “Bordertown,” the acerbic rejoinder to Donald Trump’s campaign salvo about Mexicans streaming across the U.S. border. Set in the hamlet of Mexifornia, the series focuses on two neighboring families – one Hispanic, the other headed by a conservative white border-patrol agent – whose grown kids are joined in a star-crossed romance. Like MacFarlane’s “Family Guy,” a former stomping ground of series creator Mark Hentemann, there’s a hit-miss quality to the gags, but enough knowing jabs connect to elevate the satirical component above mere wackiness.
America’s shifting demographics are a source of concern to Bud Buckwald (voiced by Hank Azaria), who laments that the Southwestern U.S. by rights “belongs to retired teachers and meth lab entrepreneurs.” Bud gets only moderate pushback from his wife (Alex Borstein), and plenty more from his liberal daughter Janice (Borstein again), who has long been in love with J.C., the scion of the neighboring Gonzalez family, a new college grad who, to the chagrin of his father (both voiced by Nicholas Gonzalez), doesn’t want to get a job until all the world’s ills have been addressed.
“Bordertown” picks a familiar but fertile array of targets, from Spanish-language television to a conservative cable news network where the bloviating commentator brings out a four-year-old girl to present the liberal counterargument. There’s also a spoof of a pugnacious talk host who advocates for the little guy, it’s noted, on a pay network that charges $50 a month.
Given the long lead time associated with animation, kudos to the writers for a future episode dealing with Bud’s decision to donate a stash of found drug money to build a border wall, and all the unintended consequences associated with that. (Let’s just say ingenuity trumps his efforts to close the border.)
The series dabbles in no shortage of stereotypes to make its point, and the rapid-fire sight gags are of a piece with MacFarlane’s other Fox comedies. What makes “Bordertown” somewhat more pleasing at first blush is its willingness to address the apprehension that older white conservatives feel about the swelling Hispanic population at a political and cultural moment when that tension has permeated the current election cycle.
Granted, how well and long that will play is anybody’s guess, but in terms of separating Fox’s forgettable animated comedies from the pretty good ones, “Bordertown,” at least initially, lands on the right side of the fence.