Season Analysis: Season 11 was the loudest Family Guy season yet!
I still enjoy Family Guy enough to watch it regularly, but I no longer love it the way I loved it during its early years. Its joke-telling is simply not as consistently sharp anymore. Too often, the gags are just crass for the sake of being crass, without any real rhythm to them. Since the joke-telling cannot be relied on, a modern FG episode needs a solid hook to its plot to work out. A backwards episode isn’t the most unique hook ever, but it is strong enough compared to most other episodes, and it plays on the established FG continuity of Stewie’s time machine, and there is tension because of an endpoint (the reversal of Stewie’s birth) that needs to be avoided. Revisiting the show’s past allows for meta commentary (Meg is voiced by Lacey Chabert for a line) and seems to allow the show to revert to a time when the characters were simply better: case in point – Peter pouts like an older sibling (“I want to be the baby!”) when newborn Stewie arrives home from the hospital. But the main reason “Yug Ylimaf” succeeds – and the most common Family Guy episodes succeed nowadays – is that it focuses on the Stewie-Brian pairing, the most fruitful character combination perhaps in the show’s whole run and certainly the best of the show’s current iteration. Interestingly enough, the best gag has nothing to do with the concept itself and doesn’t rely upon the Stewie-Brian interplay – it’s one of those moments of Stewie muttering something mundane in his sleep (“Mmm, yes, I’d like to return this printer.”)
Honorable Mentions: Further proof that Stewie-Brian is the show’s best character combo: the surprisingly poignant “Brian’s Play,” and “Roads to Vegas,” my favorite of all the Hope/Crosby homage episodes.
Season Analysis: In some corners of the Internet, latter-day Family Guy really gets knocked around. But I remain an apologist of the present version of the show, although, for the most part, Season 10 did not offer the best representation of what the show still has to offer.
“Back to the Pilot”
A lot of TV shows look very different when compared to their pilot episodes, animated shows more so than most. But not too many shows have utilized a time-travel plot to have their characters travel back to the time of the pilot. Some shows have revisited their pilots from new angles, but none (that I am aware) have used the strategy employed by Family Guy in which the characters notice and comment on the cruder animation, continuity gaps, and other gaffes. FG’s main hook is its trove of cultural references, and in later years, those references have become self-referential, and those fourth-wall breaking gags, while occasionally funny, have usually been a little too knowing and a little too winking. But by actually placing its characters in a situation in which it would be logical (relatively speaking) for them to make such references, FG demonstrated exactly the sort of self-awareness that a show should have ten seasons into its run. Also, the sequence of the dozens of Brian’s and Stewie’s attempting to stop their previous selves from doing whatever it was they were about to do was just a really awesome set piece.
Best Cutaway Gag of the Season: “The end of a depressing 1970’s sci-fi movie starring a guy in a turtleneck” (from “Stewie Goes for a Drive”)
Taking its visual cues mainly from Logan’s Run, this dystopian vision was an original creepy and thought-provoking vision all on its own.
“Brian Writes a Bestseller”
The most essential aspect of the success of “Brian Writes a Bestseller” was not the cynicism that fueled Brian’s writing of Wish It, Want It, Do It. While many self-help books certainly deserve the treatment that Family Guy gave them, this was an easy target and one that has come under fire before. What really made this episode work – and what makes most great Family Guy episodes work – was the way in which the satire was melded into the framework of the show’s own particulars. The foundation of Family Guy is its vast reservoir of cultural references, but there has to be something going on with the Griffin clan as well, or else those references are meaningless and often grating. As Stewie becomes Brian’s publicist, “Brian Writes a Bestseller” ends up being a Stewie/Brian buddy episode, and the nonsense of an infant working as a dog’s publicist is completely ignored. It is sensible, though, that that nonsense is ignored, as Family Guy has developed a shorthand for all of its ridiculous elements. But most viewers must surely have a moment at which they stop and realize the ridiculousness, and that is a moment of laughter when everything in the episode comes together.
Next up: Glee
“Brian Griffin’s House of Payne”
Stewie discovers an old TV pilot screenplay in the basement written by Brian. Brian tells Lois that she should read it, eventually she does, and – shock of all shocks – she likes it! It turns out that Brian is capable of writing something other than pretentious drivel. Then CBS is all set to pick up “What I Learned on Jefferson Street,” and Brian could not be happier, until everything is ruined, ruined in a way that could only happen on Family Guy: James Woods is cast in the lead role. The show is revamped as a comedy and renamed “Class Holes,” and James Woods is granted a chimpanzee costar. The take on TV executives’ and the pilot process’s knack for twisting shows into something that they are not was spot-on (signature quote: “Well, we thought it would be a lot funnier if it was a sitcom”), or if it was not spot-on, it was at least perfectly hilarious.
But the real treat of this episode was that other storyline. Meg and Chris knock Stewie down the stairs, resulting in a gnarly head wound, rendering him unconscious. A piece of skull is broken, and some brain is visible. They hide the injury from Peter and Lois by dressing him in various goofy hats and dragging him around like a ventriloquist dummy. This is exactly what I want from Family Guy: as much outrageousness as possible. And just when you think they have gone as far as they can, they go even further: When Peter finds out, he hides the truth from Lois … by tricking her into believing that she caused the injury. He throws (the still unconscious) Stewie into the driveway as Lois is pulling out, causing her to drive over Stewie’s head. And Lois, like everyone else, wants to hide the truth. To which Peter responds, “I love you so much right now.” And this is why we love the Griffin family.
Next up: Lost