Monday, April 2, 2012

What I Was Watching While Mad Men Was On: A Review of Family Guy S10 E18

Family Guy is now in its tenth season, and it's unclear who's paying attention anymore. Over the last two seasons, Family Guy has gotten less and less funny while getting more and more weird, and not in a good way. Seth MacFarlane has clearly checked out: at best the episodes are lazy, and at worst they're preachy and intentionally unfunny.

 The latest episode of Family guy, "You Can't Do That on Television, Peter," was no exception. The episode has two plot lines (as most Family Guy episodes do, at least in the past five or so seasons). The first involves Peter, who, sad that his new favorite show -- Jolly Farm Revue -- is ending, makes a new show on public access television called Petey's Playhouse. The second plot line involves Meg's interest in becoming a doctor and shadowing the comically clueless Dr. Hartman for a day in the hospital. I guess I'll put a spoiler alert here in case anyone's actually going to watch this.

So Peter spends way too much time on his new children's show, which makes him even more useless to the family. This angers Lois, and she tries to get Peter to pull his weight more around the house. In response to Lois's incessant "nagging," Peter makes a puppet likeness of Lois called Saggy Naggy, and this becomes a very popular segment on his public access show. After a group of children attacks Lois because of Peter's portrayal of Saggy Naggy, she decides to stop "nagging" Peter and let him fail on his own. Peter then tries to do an Abbott and Costello routine with a puma, and the puma attacks him, leaving Peter seriously injured.

Meanwhile, Meg shows talent at dissecting a pig in her high school biology class, so her teacher encourages her to consider a career as a doctor. She shadows Dr. Hartman, who knows absolutely nothing about being a doctor. When Dr. Hartman has to leave for a family emergency, he tells Meg to take over as the doctor in his absence because she knows more about being a doctor than he does. She learns a little bit in her day as a doctor, and when Peter gets attacked by the puma, Meg is able to suture him up as he waits to be taken to the hospital.

There are some relatively humorous jokes in this episode. When Neil Goldman says that he cannot dissect the fetal pig for religious reasons, his teacher remarks that it's no thrill for a pig to touch a Jew either. That's certainly a fairly humorous and clever joke. There was also, however, a bunch of jokes that missed. Dr. Hartman advises Meg that there is a cheat sheet in each patient's file with the names of body parts, and has to reference the chart to tell Meg that she has a good "head" on her "shoulders." That's really not that funny. Peter's Saggy Naggy bit was sort of played out, and the humorous segments on Petey's Playhouse were kind of lame. Also, Family Guy's made enough public access TV/bad TV jokes that it's really overkill to have another entire episode about it. I'd rate this episode as typical for this season, so that's like...2 out of 5 stars.

This episode also featured something that recent Family Guy has relied on very heavily: hyper-violence. The puma attack in this episode featured pretty graphic (at least for a cartoon) injuries. This season alone, off the top of my head, I can think of a few other instances of really graphic violence: Peter crushes 2 birds to death with a stone, Peter is shown roasting on a spit in Brian's mushrooms trip, Quagmire crushes his sister's boyfriend to death by running into him with his car and crashing into a tree, etc. I'm certainly not going to say that violence is never humorous, or that hyper-violence cannot itself be considered inherently humorous (consider Tarantino's Kill Bill saga), but these instances of violence in Family Guy happen not to be humorous, and they're also sort of confusing. They just don't fit in the show. It's sort of like if Spongebob Squarepants had an episode that dealt with abortion. It's too serious and too jarring to fit into what Family Guy is, and it just comes off as trying to get a cheap laugh out of something ridiculous.

And that's what Family Guy is now. Cheap laughs and odd ridiculousness. The show is now bereft of the quality humor and hilariously-over-the-line moments that made it one of the funniest shows on television. Seth MacFarlane is now concentrating more on other creative ventures, and that's sort of fine. Family Guy's been on since 1999. He might be sort of tired of it. But for Seth MacFarlane's sake, I hope he's getting lazy about Family Guy because he's sick of it, and not because he thinks his other projects are going to be good. Everything else that Seth MacFarlane has done has kind of sucked. The Cleveland Show is balls terrible. American Dad is a very weak show. And his new movie, Ted, whose trailer ran during last night's episode, doesn't look too promising. I know Seth has made enough money and gotten enough acclaim to do whatever the hell he wants, and that's cool, but I hope that he doesn't think for a second that anything he ever does will match Family Guy's quality. He either needs to put Family Guy to bed and rest on his laurels, or go all in on it again and make it the awesomely hilarious show that it once was. He just shouldn't drag it along like a vestigial limb while his other projects get all of his attention. If American Dad and The Cleveland Show continue sucking at Family Guy's expense, that would be a total shame.

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