Friday, October 29, 2010

DVD Bonus Features Push Family Guy - Volume 6 Out Of The Average Morass!

The Good: Hilarious, especially the bonus features, Some interesting character moments, Fun plots
The Bad: Not terribly sophisticated on the plot front
The Basics: Even with only a dozen Family Guy episodes, "Volume 6" has great value from its bonus features making it an essential boxed set for fans of great comedy.

Now in syndication, fans of the television series Family Guy must be asking themselves "is it truly worth it to keep buying the DVD sets?" The answer, with the release of Family Guy Volume Six is "yes." Actually, it is "yes, yes, most assuredly yes!" but the simple "yes" seems to please most people. The truth is, what Family Guy might lack in terms of its waning originality in terms of content in the episodes of the series, it more than makes up for on DVD with the bevy of fresh, funny and (perhaps as importantly) repeatable bonus features!

With only a dozen episodes, Family Guy Volume 6 continues a disturbing trend away from providing complete seasons of the animated series in favor of smaller collections that simply contain the next few episodes since the last set was made. The result is that this boxed set contains the final episodes before the 2007 writer's strike and at least one episode from during the strike. Given the amount of time it takes to create an episode of Family Guy one might have thought that the writer's strike would not have had much of an effect on the series, but - like most series' during the 2007-2008 television season, the season was significantly shortened. That said, what is here is a dozen episodes of Family Guy from throughout 2007 and early 2008. And they are good.

In "Volume Six," Family Guy fans get the 100th episode, "Stewie Kills Lois," as well as the frequent comic misadventures of Peter Griffin. In this portion of the series, Peter opens a restaurant, gets a horse when the family is forced to hide out in Texas, time-travels courtesy of Death which results in an alternate future where he is married to Molly Ringwald, discovers he is an illegal Mexican immigrant, and has a stroke. Fortunately, the hilarity in Family Guy is not focused solely on Peter and as a result, other characters get to take the forefront frequently. So, for example, Joe gets an episode when he gets new legs.

As well, the family is forced to move to Texas when the church believes Stewie is possessed by the devil, Lois runs for mayor but ends up corrupt, Chris is cut from school so it can comply with No Child Left Behind which gets him into the Skull and Bones as part of his grandfather's connections, Meg dates a doctor and is on her way to the altar when it appears she is pregnant and Brian and Gillian move in with one another and subsequently break up. Because the episodes that do not focus on Peter tend to be driven by Stewie, it is worth noting that Stewie becomes the coolest kid in high school, invests in real estate with Brian, moves in with Brian to help him pay the rent, becomes a beauty queen in Texas and . . . yes, ultimately manages to kill Lois in a two-part episode guaranteed to annoy as many people as it pleases.

What separates Family Guy from other animated television shows - outside the psychotic baby (Stewie) and the talking dog (Brian) - are the cutaway jokes. The main plot of Family Guy tends to be fairly formulaic and typical of a sitcom, save that usually the episode goes through three distinct plot arcs, one per act. So, for example, in "No Meals On Wheels," act one is focused on Peter and his new pajamas, act two establishes Peter's House Of Munch and how the restaurant is not taking off until Joe and his paraplegic friends become customers, and act three finds Peter distressed that his restaurant is not "cool" and going to war with Joe and the other wheelchair-bound patrons. But the plots tend to be typical.

What separates Family Guy are the cutaway jokes. So, for example, in one episode, Peter and the guys are talking about cutaways in sitcoms and the conversation stops to present Adolf Hitler riding a unicycle and juggling fish. The conversation resumes. What works as far as this joke is that it is returned to late in the episode and referenced, breaking the fourth wall. Jokes and gags like that keep Family Guy fresh and universal in a way that allows the show to survive being merely a sign of the times.

The other thing that helps to define Family Guy as something truly different are the characters. The characters seldom grow, but they do manage to reveal more about themselves and in "Volume Six," here is how the series finds the principles:

Peter Griffin - After becoming obsessed with a pair of footed pajamas and annoying the family with electrical shocks, he becomes both a restaurant-owner and wheelchair bound. As well, he fights the chicken after resolving the old differences with the giant chicken and having dinner with the giant chicken and his wife. His love of his new mustache leads him to a burger-eating frenzy which results in a stroke and a stem cell-releated cure,

Lois Griffin - Eager to get out of the house, she takes a job as a church organist. Forced to flee to Texas as a result of Stewie becoming poisoned by the Host, Lois becomes obsessed with the family's moral fiber and trying to stop their craziness. As well, she becomes mayor, marries Quagmire in an alternate timeline, supports Peter after his stroke, and works to save the world from Stewie,

Chris Griffin - Meets George W. Bush while in Texas, is expelled from Quahog's public school and entered into the prestigious Morningwood Academy and campaigns for Lois by going door-to-door (or at least coming home with signs),

Meg Griffin - The despised daughter of Peter and Lois is the butt of many of the family's jokes and when she is nearly killed getting Peter a beer in the flooded kitchen, she becomes romantically involved with her doctor, who she almost marries,

Brian Griffin - The family dog acts largely as Stewie's sidekick, though his search for love and fulfillment starts anew when he and Gillian break up. He challenges Stewie to become the coolest kid at James Woods High, invests with him on a fixer-upper house and accidentally goads Stewie into killing Lois,

Joe Swanson - The neighbor next door, he rallies his wheelchair-bound friends to support Peter's restaurant, then goes to war with Peter's House Of Munch when Peter resents them. As well, he gets a pair of good legs, which make him into a jerk and lead to tragic consequences,

and Stewie Griffin - Amid a slew of gay jokes aimed at the psychotic baby's burgeoning sense of sexual identity, Stewie becomes a transvestite beauty queen in Texas, annoys Brian such that Brian and Gillian breakup, blows up the fixer-upper when it is clear it needs too much work and becomes to most cool kid at school, getting him a chance with Connie DeMico at Anal Point. And yes, goaded by Brian, Stewie kills Lois and takes over the world, just as he has always dreamed!

Amid fast-paced pop-culture references and call backs to earlier episodes (the Giant Chicken fight in "No Chris Left Behind" is the longest, funniest fight Family Guy has yet done), "Volume Six" presents memorable moments that are humorous and often edgy. In fact, portions of the show step well over the line of "good taste," like Peter performing the stripper routine at his daughter's bachelorette party and the rocking cars and pained noises of girls at Anal Point.

But what makes the DVD worthwhile are the bonus features. There are few television series' that give as much to the fans for their DVD buying dollars as Family Guy gives to its fans. All twelve episodes on these three discs have a commentary track featuring Seth MacFarlane and others who work on the show both as voice actors and creative personnel. The commentaries are often funny, insightful and at the very least have some entertainment value to them.

That third disc, though, is packed with extras. Top among them would have to be Family Guy "Live," where the cast of the show performs a script ("Airplane '07") live at a Montreal comedy festival. The ad libs are hilarious, seeing the cast is fun and the presentation is memorable. It is followed by a question and answer session that is decent and it makes for a real treat for fans. Also hilarious is the 100th Episode Special where Seth MacFarlane interviews a number of people who hate Family Guy. Also, there is a behind-the-scenes look at the 100th episode that walks viewers through the entire process and a lame collection of "favorite scenes" by people who work on Family Guy. That featurette is redeemed by the 49 deleted scenes on the disc. Many of the deleted scenes are funny and it is disappointing they were not integrated back into the episodes, though some - most notably the Pat Tillman gag - were left out apparently in the interest of decency.

But for those who generally are not interested in standards, practices or decency, "Volume Six" of Family Guy stands as a monument to the continuing worth and entertainment value of the series that is arguably the funniest product of the new millennium.

For other animated works by Seth MacFarlane, please check out my reviews of:
Family Guy Volume 7
Family Guy Presents Something, Something, Something Dark Side
Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy
Family Guy Volume 8
Family Guy Presents Partial Terms Of Endearment


For other television reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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