We currently rest in a climate of uncertainty. Whether it is the looming spectre of Trump’s administration, the war in Syria that continues to claim countless lives, or Australia’s new Health Minister advocating the American healthcare model, it’s not surprising that most us turn to the comfort of television. We’re officially in “peak TV”, after all, and the onslaught of new fictional content to consume tracks quite nicely with the increasing noise in our lives born by an increasingly interconnected world.
We are lucky that we have escapist period pieces like The Crown and Outlander, or socially conscious sitcoms like Master of None and Blackish. The grand fantasy of Game of Thrones draws hundreds of thousands each season, keen to watch over Tyrion’s shoulder as he delivers yet another fabulous quip or watch Jon Snow die, again, probably, maybe on a dragon. Animated comedies such as Family Guy have an abs-
Sorry, Family Guy? Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy? They’re still making that show?
Scrolling through my viewing options last night I saw the whole Family™ and was struck by a feeling I’ve come to call nostalassment; one part nostalgia for the things I used to love, two parts embarrassment that I used to get in heated classroom arguments over its virtues and biting satire.
My relationship with Family Guy begun after its 2009 cancellation and renewal, which while being a relatively inspiring story of the passion of fans and creators, says nothing about the series itself, which I remember as being crass, “un-PC” and, yes, hilarious. I loved the first five seasons of Family Guy. I would rewatch episodes to where I knew every cutaway gag. I bought the guide to the first three seasons. I was fourteen at the time if that’s any consolation, and as I matured I found myself laughing less. I dropped the show, and in my Narcissan ways assumed that the rest of the world had as well.
Not so, dear reader.
I watched the latest episode of Family Guy. I didn’t do what I normally do with new sitcoms – watch the first episode, and then watch the most critically acclaimed episode of that season – to ease in. I watched the first one that I was pointed at.
Whoo, boy. That was something, I’ll tell you what.
I watched episode 11 of season 15 (15!) of Family Guy, which I retroactively discovered was titled ‘Gronkowsbees’. If you know anything about American football (I don’t) it’s clear that this title is a very amusing pun on famous Patriots player Rob Gronkowski’s name. It’s a very clear signpost for the episode’s content, particularly if your idea of a very clear signpost is a huge neon sign saying “Shit”.
The episode opens with “the guys” – Peter, Joe, Quagmire, and Cleveland, sitting in The Drunken Clam and watching football. So Cleveland is back now, I guess? The Cleveland Show is yet another sitcom spin-off consigned to the pits of mediocrity, along with Joey, Top of the Heap, and The Love Boat: The Next Wave? Also, two out of three of those examples star Matt LeBlanc, so I’d be eyeing the American Top Gear with scepticism.
Anyway, the show lasts about thirty seconds before Quagmire insists the bartender change the TV to ‘The Bone Zone’, which shows ‘every sex scene on television but without dialogue or plot’. Cut to a man sitting at a newscaster’s desk who quickly makes a gag about not showing the audience Girls‘ Gaby Hoffmann because of how many viewers they lost. Finish with a cutaway of Peter having “breakfast in bread”.
Well, I don’t know what I expected. Open with an extremely unfunny pun, continue with some hurtful insults and finish with a ‘random’ cutaway. Exchange these three elements from scene to scene, vary the characters and the number of elements, and you’ve essentially made your own Family Guy episode, at least from what I saw in this episode. This wasn’t an “event” episode that the show had started doing around about the time I stopped watching – Stewie and Brian go back in time, Stewie and Brian travel the multiverse, Stewie and Brian get pizza, etc. I genuinely enjoyed the conceit, if not the execution, of those episodes – it’s something that Rick and Morty takes, makes their own, and leaves every other animated comedy in the dust with. But this was a run-of-the-mill episode, by all accounts.
The B-plot features Stewie and Brian investing in an artisanal honey business, which leads to a funny (yes, I’ll admit, it was funny) scene where Stewie sells his honey to the gullible crowd; “say ‘anything-to-anything’ & people lose their minds”. But the episode spends about two-thirds of its length on jokes at Gronkowski’s expense; it’s like they picked the stereotype of ‘football player meathead’ and built an episode around it.
There were ten cutaway gags, which seemed low – but the show only runs for twenty minutes. So roughly one every two minutes. Roughly five jokes that were varying degrees of offensive depending on your sensibilities – possibly more that I didn’t pick up on. Example A: A black man stands in a farmer’s market and asks if it is some sort of “vegetable parking lot”. It’s not just that the jokes are offensive (though they are), they also just seem so lazy. That’s the danger of the stereotype-reliant joke.
That’s not to say there weren’t funny moments. There were some. But few and far between, and not really worth the effort. Like, say, if you found a ten dollar note but it was covered in dog vomit. Sure, you got something for nothing – but at the end of the day, you had to handle dog vomit to get there, and what you got wasn’t even that valuable. It’s clear there are some writers working on the show who see its potential, but after fifteen seasons, the show probably isn’t acquiring many new viewers. There are expectations to uphold, after all.
Sadly I won’t be coming back to Family Guy, although I may check in here and there. Nothing quite reminds you what you like about television than something you don’t – or, even better, something you did like, but don’t anymore.