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Family Guy

Family Guy is an animated comedy about the dysfunctional Griffin family. Head of the house is lazy drunk Peter, married to Lois, with dim son Chris, unattractive daughter Meg, evil genius baby Stewie and talking dog Brian. FOX 1999-???


Episode 1 - Death Has A Shadow

22 March 2012

Synopsis: Lois Griffin asks her husband Peter not to get drunk at a bachelor party but he does. It ends up costing him his job and he doesn’t want her to know. So he signs on for welfare and mistakenly receives cheques worth $150,000 a week. Brian the dog talks Peter into giving the money back and Peter is arrested when he crashes a blimp into the Super Bowl. Meanwhile patricidal baby Stewie has been trying to kill Lois in order to get his mind control device back. Once in court Peter is sentenced to two years in prison but Stewie uses the device to change the judge’s mind.

The Good: One of the most densely packed pilots you are ever likely to see. Not a line goes by which isn’t a joke. It’s certainly entertaining, though the sheer amount of jokes means quality doesn’t win out over quantity.

The show draws instant comparison with King of the Hill and of course The Simpsons. To differentiate itself the show is less focussed on the story and much keener on cramming in every joke the writers could think of. The characters don’t have much time to bed in during the episode either. But at least they stand out and help rationalise the surreal Family Guy universe. A talking dog and baby stand out instantly as different characters from the standard adult animated comedies. Both go against any kind of traditional stereotype too. Brian the dog seems to be the voice of reason, dryly pointing out to Peter the error of his ways. This could be a fun dynamic with the obvious irony of the talking dog pointing out the sensible way of behaving. Similarly Stewie is a megalomaniacal super villain trapped in a baby’s body. Again the humour is obvious as he attacks his mother without his angry words being understood. Describing her womb as a “Cursed ovarian bastille!” in his squeaky English accent is definitely unique. By having the two characters speak and behave like adults certainly helps the more surreal aspects of the show roll off your back. The presence of Brian and Stewie clearly indicates that reality doesn’t hold in large areas of the show.

The sheer breadth of the jokes means something is bound to make you laugh. If you are interested in any of the following then you get something about them: The Brady Bunch, Different Strokes, Joanie loves Chachi, G.I. Joe, Seinfeld, Philadelphia and The Sound of Music. Not to mention Bill Clinton, Tiananmen Square, Kool Aid commercials and the Super Bowl. The flashback jokes are a neat idea and allow time specific jokes to be shoved into an unrelated plot.

The key to Family Guy becoming a successful show may be the strength of its more surreal jokes. That is where the show’s genius can be found (see Best Joke). For example, Peter comments that his hangover feels like two accountants cranking add machines in his head. We zoom into Peter’s mind to see these two accountants, working away surrounded by flesh coloured walls. One says to the other “Dick, you ever wonder what’s outside these walls?” The older accountant replies “Say now that’s dangerous thinking Paul, you best stick to your work.” It’s about as surreal and unexpected as you could get. And the philosophical, old fashioned repression of their conversation only adds to the amusement. It’s certainly a joke which sticks with you. Then you’ve got Peter building a moat now that he is awash with cash. Lois comments that at least it keeps the black knight at bay, cue a shot of an actual black knight lurking at its edge. Or the Kool Aid guy bursting through the court room wall only to realise his error and back sheepishly out. Finally you have Peter pretending to be a lamp in his own home so that Lois won’t know he isn’t at work.

These surreal and unexpected moments light up the episode and give it that edge which should keep certain viewers coming back. But even if you are a fan of more traditional comedy there are easy jokes about prison showers, Hitler and communion wine. Not to mention all the Homer Simpson style gags you would expect from a character like Peter Griffin. His dumb statements, drunken antics, pathetic excuses and his huge size are all used to expected effect. Even linguistic jokes are thrown in as we see Peter being a “sneeze guard” at a restaurant and threatening a lady with a gun before she can sneeze near the salad.

The conclusion of the plot is Stewie’s mind control device saving the day and restoring Peter to his normal job. I suppose by throwing in that sci-fi element, the writers can go to extremes with their storytelling and always find a deus ex machina to press the reset button.

Flashback ratio (good-medium-bad): 3-5-3

The Bad:  So far the normal human members of the family seem Simpsons-esque, particularly Peter who so far has Homer Simpson written all over him.

The sheer number of jokes means some real duds slip in along the way. These include Peter farting for the first time, Peter being at Tiananmen Square for no good reason and Stewie’s grenades actually going off (which makes too little sense). In the show’s huge breadth of humour we also get jokes about gays, Jews and sex which will keep censors and parents on their guard.

Best Joke: Another surreal and imaginative running gag involves Peter’s attack of conscience. The devil on his shoulder instructs him to keep lying but when he turns to hear the angel’s perspective no one appears. We cut to the small angel stuck in traffic on the conscience’s highway. Later in the show the conscience arrives and Peter seeks his advice. So the small angel gets advice from the small devil on his shoulder and then turns to his other shoulder and again no angel appears. Cut to an even smaller angel stuck in traffic. Pretty memorable.

The Bottom Line: A different kind of animated comedy which clearly sets out to do jokes which other cartoons can’t do. At this stage there is enough promise to believe the show could become really funny. But let’s hope the writers become a bit more selective with their material.



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