Regal Blue

The conspicuous fall of Family Guy

Posted in Uncategorized by gklarsen on October 5, 2009

The following is a link to an AV club review of Fox’s latest “Animation Domination.”  It got me thinking about each of the shows involved, Family Guy in particular.*

*Animation Domination?  Really?  Did you have to go with the hackiest, most “extreme generation” Rockstar energy drink-fueled title you could come up with for a Sunday night line-up consisting of all animated tv shows? **

**PS, I stole this asterisk device from Joe Posnanski.

There’s apparently some discussion that Family Guy used to be really good but has since fallen on hard times.  I’m wondering if it was ever any good.  Don’t get me wrong, my friends and I were big giant fans when it came out all those years ago.  I’ll still watch the show.  I own some DVDs.  But watching those old episodes is difficult.  They were the height of the cut away era; the “you think that’s bad…” era if you will and borrow South Park’s eternally apt criticism.  The old episodes simply aren’t funny; a loosely thrown together melange of Gen Y pop culture and sex jokes.  No need to bitch about it here.  It’s all been written before.  I imagine that if I watched them now for the first time I would find them tedious.

Yet the criticisms of the show now are equally valid.  The characters which in the beginning exhibited a small measure of consistent personality have all either become parodies of themselves (peter, any of his friends) or one-off jokes (Meg, especially).  Chris has become a modern day clone of Ajax from Duckman without the strong underlying development.  Chris exists solely to hear Seth Green scream into a microphone or occasionally spout some piece of slacker wisdom about semi-gnostic popular culture.

The whole show is strangely polemic on political matters.  It has been for awhile but at least it was shocking to see a depiction of George Dubya with a table full of cocaine.  Now it feels more like spite.  Brian, the only character besides Lois who has retained some decency and realism is too often used as the vehicle for Seth McFarlane’s hatred of all things right wing.  I can both agree with Seth McFarlane and hate the way he does it which is a lousy combination.

I’ll happily give the show some credit.  They’ve quit the extended non-sequitor cutaway that plagued them the last couple of seasons.  The interminable fights with Peter and a giant chicken and clips of Conway Twitty (which was admittedly funny the first time) have all disappeared.  Yet it reveals that the show doesn’t really have any additional tricks up its sleeve.  While the initial cutaway style humor was kinda edgy when it first started (unless you consider it simply a rip off of Simpsons circa season 4), they’ve taken the device as far as it can go.

In the end they find themselves with their go-to device tired and worn out leaving them with very little left.  The characters, having been eviscerated for a few gags, cannot support a plot.  There’s no credibility to pursue political satire.  And while the humor was at one point a bit edgy for its time, the show has stalled in that department as well.  The violence and profanity they once flaunted has now become the standard in the cruel irony that so often happens with rebelliousness, no matter how petty.  The writing has struggled to adjust after taking as far as it’ll go.  All of this leaves the show feeling without direction or purpose.  I do not doubt that there is skill and creativity in the writer’s room to take chances in another direction, namely character, plot and humor that doesn’t have anything to do with overbroad characterizations and sex puns.  It remains to be seen whether or not it’s a chance the show is willing to take or if they’ll be content simply to ride out their run, a la the Simpsons.

That’s enough for now.  Separate post on American Dad forthcoming.

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