The Good: It's a new episode of Family Guy! Bonus features.
The Bad: The episode isn't particularly funny, Short, Proportionately expensive.
The Basics: The producers of Family Guy release, straight-to-DVD, an episode that involves abortion which is nowhere near as edgy as one might expect from the show.
I have always been suspicious of straight-to-DVD (or straight-to-video) works. I'm not sure why that is; the market is so tight, I can certainly understand how not everything worthwhile makes it to the big screen or to television. I was surprised when a movie with Richard Gere that my wife and I saw a cinematic preview for was bought and aired on The Hallmark Channel rather than ending up in theaters like it was supposed to. So, when Family Guy released "Partial Terms Of Endearment" straight-to-DVD, I was one of the first people I know to go out and buy it. Now I'm just pissed that I did.
"Partial Terms Of Endearment" is a Family Guy episode, a single episode, which is out on DVD now, presumably, because Seth MacFarlane and Fox didn't want to include a whole episode as a bonus feature on "Volume 9" when the next DVD set is released and they figured they could make a fast buck selling it to their sheep, er, fans. My objection to "Partial Terms Of Endearment" is probably quite a bit different from many other reviewers': I don't object to the content, I object to the lack of content. For $10 (on sale where I bought the DVD), one only gets an hour (generously) of "entertainment." That hour is comprised of the episode, watching the same episode a second time with the commentary track on, and the Family Guy Presents: Seth & Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show (which aired on Fox and has the funniest joke of the disc). To be fair, there is the Family Guy Live performance of "Partial Terms Of Endearment" which adds another thirty-five minutes to the disc, but it's not as entertaining as some of the other live shows the Family Guy DVDs have presented.
So, why all the controversy? "Partial Terms Of Endearment" is supposedly banned from television because it involves abortion, or rather, the abortion debate (as Lois debates whether to or not). If Fox were truly clever (and didn't want to make the inevitable killing off people buying the disc that it will) it would simply have said the episode couldn't be aired because it wasn't particularly funny. Humor being subjective, "Partial Terms Of Endearment" flops not because it is edgy, but because it is not smart, funny or truly edgy enough. After all, characters have had abortions on television before (Erica Kane on All My Children had one over thirty years ago) so just having an episode where someone considers an abortion is hardly timely.
Lois and Peter go to Lois's twenty-year college reunion where Peter is on edge because he doesn't know anyone there. He perks up, however, when Lois runs into a woman she had sexual experimentations with and when she asks to meet with Lois and Peter privately later on, Peter assumes she wants a three-way. Eager for that, Peter kicks Brian and the kids out of the house and is disappointed when Naomi and her husband, Dale, both arrive. She asks Lois to become a surrogate mother and Peter does not get the threesome he has always wanted, despite him appearing in various roleplay gear.
After Lois is successfully inseminated, Naomi and her husband die in a car accident and Lois is left carrying an embryo she never wanted. Initially opposed to the idea, Lois goes with Peter to a family planning clinic in order to explore her options. When she comes around to having an abortion, she sends Peter outside where he runs into a contingent of antiabortion activists. Easily swayed by them, Peter insists Lois carry the fetus to term and the two return home to debate abortion.
The sad thing about "Partial Terms Of Endearment" is that Seth MacFarlane and writer Danny Smith waste the chance they have to make the episode relevant, funny or particularly edgy. The show misses out on being relevant because there is no new information here. The debate that Peter and Lois have is one that anyone who cares about the abortion debate have heard ad nauseam. Smith and MacFarlane make only a passing attempt to debunk the term "pro life" without actually nailing home the idea that the group is simply anti-abortion/anti-choice. The episode flops on funny because the jokes get buried too quickly among the politics. Peter role-playing in a Nazi uniform is arguably the most edgy (and disturbing) joke of the episode and there is, in current MacFarlane tradition, the obligatory incest jokes that he seems obsessed with these days. The most funny bit on the entire disc is Alex Borstein impersonating Rene Zellweger on the Almost Live Comedy Show and Marlee Matlin cussing her out on the same program. Finally, thematically, the episode didn't go anywhere particularly edgy with the subject. All right, Lois considers abortion. Again, it's been legal for decades. Where was "Partial Terms Of Endearment" in, say, 2004 when raising the dialogue and un-demonizing the procedure could have actually poked at American politics? It's a pretty safe time in American politics to be pro-choice, regardless of the local movements to overturn Roe v. Wade.
On DVD, the commentary track is surprisingly dull. One learns more about the episode and its controversy through the Family Guy Live presentation, but it is not any more funny there. The only real reason I can conceive to buy this disc is for the Family Guy Presents: Seth & Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show which has moments that are genuinely funny, entertaining and cute. Or just to have a complete set of Family Guy DVDs. As the series trundles toward the inevitable acknowledgment that it may have jumped the shark, completing the set becomes a far less worthwhile reason to consider buying "Partial Terms Of Endearment."
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© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.