I didn’t have TV reception for almost half a decade (summer 1996 to the beginning of 2002), so I had a lot of catching up to do once I was able to actually watch TV again. Hell, I still have major pop culture lapses from that era-not knowing anything about “Friends”, for example.
One of the first shows that was brought to my attention once I was back in touch with the rest of society was “Family Guy”, via the first set of DVD compilations that was released. My buddy Danny would come over on our days off every week and we would watch movies and TV shows on DVD for hours on end. From the very first episode I saw (where Pter goes to jail for something of other, everyone says “oh no!” and the Kool-Aid guy busts through the courtroom wall and screams “ohhh yeaaahhhh”), I was hooked. The humor was irreverent, the pop culture references were timely, and it served as the perfect companion piece to “South Park”, another show I’d discovered through the magic of DVD box sets.
Well over a decade since it’s debut, it seems like “Family Guy” has run it’s course. The last few seasons have been inconsistent, to say the least, although there has been the occasional fleeting ray of hope. Most recently, there was the murder mystery episode, which was the most inspired episode of the show in years. However, for every inspired half-hour of the show, there’s hours upon hours of recycled gags, outdated pop-culture references, and the sense that “Family Guy” is just coasting on autopilot. Even more prevalent recently is the sense that the show itself has no heart, something that’s essential to making good art.
I don’t consider myself an overwhelmingly sensitive type-I laugh at pretty much anything. “Family Guy” has come close to activating my sensitivity reflex on a couple of occasions by cracking jokes about 9/11 (show creator Seth MacFarlane was supposed to be on one of the flights that crashed that day, but missed his flight), AIDS, and several other topics that should probably not be joked about. Most recently, writer Alec Sulkin has gotten in trouble for posting a ridiculously insensitive tweet about the recent tragedy in Japan, and that’s indicative of the heartless humor that the Family Guy writers have been trafficking in lately. It allows people (usually heterosexual white males) to file their racism, sexism, misogyny and homophobia away under the guise of irreverent humor.
I can’t recall a point in my life where I’ve actively stopped watching a TV show. In most cases, I watch until the bitter end (hell, I even watched the last season of “Scrubs”), or the show eventually fades out of my favorites list (like animated favorites “The Simpsons” and “South Park”). Two episodes of “Family Guy” that have aired this year have actually caused me to turn the TV off mid-episode. The first was an unnecessarily violent holiday episode (complete with potty-mouthed narration from “Seth MacFarlane’s dad”), and the second was a recent episode that recycled at least 3 different plot points from previous “Family Guy” episodes: Meg developed a crush on Joe Swanson in much the same fashion that she developed a dangerous crush on Brian a couple of seasons ago, Stewie developed an evil twin, and said evil twin reacted in an extremely violent manner to other characters in the show. When you’re watching an episode of a show and the only reaction you have to many of the plot points is “haven’t they done this before?”, then it’s probably time to turn the TV off.
Maybe it’s time for Fox to do the same. After all, “Family Guy” has been running off and on for 13 years and has conceivably made the network a shit ton of money. Most of the voice characters (Mila Kunis, Seth Green and Patrick Warburton) have pretty solid careers outside the show, and even Seth MacFarlane has two other shows (the dependable but not fantastic “Cleveland Show” and the mediocre “American Dad”) that are a little bit fresher. Ideally, he’d concentrate on those. Hell, maybe he does and that’s why “Family Guy” has sucked so much lately. Of course, with continually strong ratings and a heap of money from syndication, it’s unlikely that “Family Guy” will be going anywhere anytime soon, but if the aim was to leave a legacy instead of make money hand over fist, the Griffins would’ve been wise to have gone off the air several years ago.
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