Friday, December 13, 2013

I Think This Is My Stop, Family Guy

So, Brian died on Family Guy a few weeks ago (don't worry; he's coming back). Long story short, Stewie destroys his time travel machine forever, consequently Brian goes outside and dies, and the family gets a new dog. And, guys, this is my stop.

As a comics fan, I recognize all of the beats. The elimination of a wacky, recent addition to the series (the time travel machine). The death of a major character in an attempt to engage the audience's concern for a character. The desperate introduction of a replacement character like so much New Coke. They just need an awkward crossover that bumps up ratings for a week while eternally hobbling them with canon, and my comics-ruin-everything Bingo card is complete.

Oh, wait.

There have been a lot of good reasons to not like Family Guy. "Family Gay," where Peter gets a gay gene and abandons his family to become a stereotype comes immediately to mind. But there are still great moments where Family Guy does something creative and brilliant because there aren't any rules and they aren't afraid to get outside of the frame. They're rarer these days, but the full-on commitment to the "Dancing in the Streets" gag, the bit with—no that's it I guess.

The beginning is the only real "Family Guy" bit. It features the line "Indians killed all the white people and took over America," which Just wrong on a lot of levels. The first sin Family Guy is accused of is insensitivity (as a guy who wasn't phased by the Muslim emo passionlessly saying "Death to America" in the previous week's episode I am more comfortable with Family Guy being offensive when it's taking potshots at things I'm not familiar with. But seriously, does anyone have the emo Muslim's number?). It's an even kind of wrong though because it's followed up by Family Guy's second-most cited sin: laziness. Listing Native American stereotypes is the next thing that happens. I don't know how else to describe the rest of that bit.

Brian does call them Native Americans at some point, so...not 100% insensitive? Yay team? I can (and will) talk about Family Guy's offensiveness later. But I just wasn't pulled in. It failed. The bus pulled into the station.

It eventually leads to the reason more people than usual were watching this show. Brian dies how he lived, a moment of douchiness causes him to mistake impulsiveness for whimsy and for the last time his status as a sapient being is juxtaposed with the fact that he's a dog as he's hit by a car. Possibly a Prius (If he was killed by his own drunken, time-traveling self, it was a perfect death).

His death is just one of two major developments; the other is that Stewie's time travel machine is no more. The nerd in me says that if they want to simply say that Stewie can't use the time machine to go back and get Brian, they could. That would be me nitpicking a story that someone else is writing though. I find that being dissatisfied with a story written by professionals (and yes, they are professionals) because it doesn't unfold the exact way I expect means that I'll never be satisfied with anything I watch and I'm being a big, unreasonable baby. The plan here is to junk the time machine while Brian dies. I don't think it's a good idea, but then "professional writers," "never satisfied," "unreasonable baby," etc. My complaint is that it's perfunctory and functional. Worse, it feels perfunctory and functional.

But at least it's not pretending it's something more. Brian's actual death scene and the rest—look, I know Family Guy doesn't do drama, but I just read a 7,000 word essay about how Man of Steel fails because we never know the characters' relationships and the motivations are assumed. I imagine that after having watched Brian over the course of 14 years, I could feel something other than bored at the stop-and-go pathos and jokes that fill out the rest of the episode. The story is supposed to carry some emotional weight as Stewie misses Brian, rejects his replacement, then accepts the change, but even a heartfelt monologues by Tony Sirico fails to tether "Life of Brian" as it all just seems to hover over nothing.

I'm not invested in any of these people or things. I'm not curious about anyone's hijinks. I don't care what happens next week. Stewie can't be gay or genius enough to pique my interest. Vinny...I don't hate Vinny, he just doesn't have a hook. I do hate Peter and...what's his name or what's her name. They're awful people, and the comedy is that they shouldn't be awful people, but there they are, riding the awful bus from one end of the route to the other; going nowhere, doing nothing, meaning nothing, occasionally pulling out familiar cultural artifacts and attitudes and pausing for laughter because they've contextualized them incongruously or inappropriately. That's fine.

This though, this is my stop.

1 comment:

Jason said...

I quit watching about three years ago, partly because of the first season of Game of Thrones, but also because I just got tired of the perpetual rape jokes. The fact that Seth MacFarlane himself has said that Family Guy should have ended years ago is telling.