Friday, October 1, 2010

Family Guy Volume 8 One Of The Best Episodes, One Of The Best DVD Sets!

The Good: Exceptionally funny, Great bonus features, Still innovative
The Bad: Gets in a rut with one too many incest jokes.
The Basics: An utterly hilarious collection of Family Guy episodes, “Volume 8” is a great investment for anyone who loves racy, cutting-edge humor.

There have been few DVD sets I have gotten excited about of late. After all, I have almost every DVD or Blu-Ray disc or collection I could want and if the Apocalypse came tomorrow and my wife and I managed to get safe to a bunker where we had reliable energy and our collection, I could watch what I have the rest of my life (and she would be thrilled because I wouldn't jump up when we were done watching to review each one!). The very latest Family Guy DVD, Family Guy Presents: Partial Terms Of Endearment (click here for my review of that!) left both of us a little disappointed. But right before that, we picked up “Volume 8” of Family Guy. That set was one of the few I was psyched about and there is a very simple reason for that. As a huge fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I have been waiting to see “Not All Dogs Go To Heaven” again. That episode was one of the top five episodes of Family Guy and my wife and I unexpectedly encountered it only once when it originally aired.

Until now.

With the release of Family Guy Volume 8 on DVD (and, supposedly Blu-Ray, though no store I have locally carries it in that format), I can watch “Not All Dogs Go To Heaven” as often as I want! With the latest fifteen episodes to be released on DVD, fans of the irreverent animated series have a lot to cheer about. This is the collection that has Meg becoming a Christian fundamentalist while Stewie takes around the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is the collection that features Lois exposing FOX News and Brian helping to get marijuana legalized in Quahog. Lauren Conrad visits (not, apparently, realizing that some of the cruelest jokes of the episode are on her), a new history of Quahog is revealed and Stewie and Brian take a trip around the multiverse.

This is the boxed set that found Brian dating an older woman and the Evil Monkey finally being exposed. When Cleveland goes off (because The Cleveland Show began after a few of these episodes were done), Joe, Quagmire and Peter search for a replacement for him for their group. Stewie gets addicted to steroid and becomes a jerk while Brian works to learn why Quagmire doesn't like him. Family Guy continues to play well in the market that was once dominated by The Simpsons largely by continuing to be hilarious. Most episodes feature cutaway jokes, jokes that set up a completely different visual and involve non sequitor humor which upset the expectations of the viewers.

Family Guy also pushes the limits of good taste and with “Volume 8,” the only serious problem is that writer/executive producer Seth MacFarlane has become obsessed with jokes that aren't funny. The sheer number of incest references are just troubling. So, for example, when Brian meets Lauren Conrad (“We Love You Conrad”) she notes that he reminds her of her stepfather right before making out with him. This is more twisted and unsettling than actually funny and if it were an anomaly in the boxed set, it would be one thing, but MacFarlane continues to beat that humorless horse into the ground.

For a better understanding of what this boxed set actually entails, the episodes in it are:

“FOX-y Lady” in which Lois takes a job for FOX News and Brian, eager to dissuade her from that decision objects when she is set upon the assignment of proving Michael Moore is gay. But when she discovers his gay lover is Rush Limbaugh and FOX kills the story, Brian seems to be vindicated until the story takes an even more bizarre turn. Meanwhile, Peter, Chris and Meg try making an animated program of their own,

“Not All Dogs Go To Heaven” where the family goes to a “Star Trek” convention (absolutely hilarious) and Stewie gets annoyed by the lack of answers to his “Star Trek: The Next Generation” questions. So, he abducts the cast of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and drives them around, only to discover just how terrible the experience can be. At the convention, Meg gets the mumps and while bedridden, she becomes an Evangelical Christian and begins persecuting the atheist, Brian,

"Episode 420” where though a song and dance, Brian gets marijuana legalized in Quahog only to be offered publication of his book . . . if only he will help Carter Pewterschmidt get it re-illegalized,

“Stew-roids” has Stewie getting beaten up by Joe’s infant daughter and using steroids to compensate for it. Connie DiMico decides to make over Chris and she makes Chris into a jerk who cheats on her after she has made him popular. This inspires Meg to team up with Connie to ruin Chris,

In “We Love You Conrad,” Brian learns Jillian is getting married and he becomes jealous. In a drunken stupor, he sleeps with “The Hills” star Lauren Conrad, who turns out to be vastly smarter than him. Together, they try to break up Jillian’s wedding, where Peter is acting as the father-of-the-bride,

With “Three Kings,” parodies of three Stephen King movies – “Stand By Me,” “Misery” and “The Shawshank Redemption” – are presented, each with Joe getting his legs ruined. This is reminiscent of “The Simpsons” “Treehouse Of Horrors” where Willie got killed in each vignette, but it is remarkably funny,

“Peter’s Progress” explores the founding of Quahog as a Peter story. As it turns out, Peter’s ancestors were integral in founding the town and the story of Griffin Peterson and his love for Lady Redbush is told. Unfortunately, King Stewart has Peterson deported to the Colonies to take Lady Redbush as his own,

The “Road To” series is continued with “Road To The Multiverse,” an episode that finds Stewie and Brian lost in alternate universes thanks to Stewie’s latest device. Gut-wrenchingly funny for the Disney parody, the episode goes weird in a universe where dogs and people have reversed dominance,

In “Family Goy,” Lois learns her mother is a holocaust survivor and that she is Jewish. Peter immediately takes this overboard and tries to become the ultimate Jew, which angers the ghost of his dead (adoptive) father,

One of the weaker episodes of the set (at least upon replaying) is “Spies Reminiscent Of Us” which has Brian, Stewie, Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd hunting for a Russian spy who is threatening to start World War Three. While they do that, Peter tries to transform his John Wayne at Thanksgiving impression into an improv comedy group with Joe and Quagmire, with pretty pathetic results,

Nana Visitor provides a brilliant guest vocal performance for “Brian’s Got A New Bag” where Brian is stood up by a hot young woman, so he takes her mother out on a date. When he brings her home to dinner, she is mercilessly mocked by Lois, Peter and the others for her age. Upset and stupid, Brian falls to temptation when she breaks her hip,

“Hannah Banana” finds Stewie absolutely obsessed with Miley Cyrus, who turns out to be a robot. The b-plot has Chris capturing the Evil Monkey in his closet and learning the truth behind the bizarre animal’s behavior,

In “Quagmire’s Baby,” Quagmire discovers he has an illegitimate daughter and he struggles to raise her. Stewie makes a clone of himself to do menial chores and Brian has him make a dumb clone of him as well, the results of which are painful to watch,

Cleveland’s absence is once again explicitly addressed in “Jerome Is The New Black” when a new black guy named Jerome helps Quagmire, Joe and Peter compete in a darts competition. But when Peter brings Jerome back home, he learns that Lois was intimate with him before and he becomes insanely jealous. At the same time, Brian learns that Quagmire hates him and he tries a charm offensive to turn Peter’s friend around,

The set closes with “Dog Gone,” where Brian inadvertently drives over a dog and discovers no one cares if a dog is killed. He tries to raise awareness about the lack of animal rights and becomes targeted by a lynch mob. Consuela is hired by Lois and will not leave, making things very uncomfortable for the family.

This series of episodes of Family Guy is largely funny and the humor, outside the disgusting failed jokes, generally holds up exceptionally well. The bright colors and animation style have a great sense of movement and episodes like “Peter’s Progress” where the whole episode involves a completely new set of characters (mostly in terms of costuming and “sets”) make ambitious use of the animated medium.

The show is largely episodic, so the episodes lack a real sense of consequence and there is no real sense of character development. These fifteen episodes focus largely on Brian, Peter and Stewie. Meg is seriously neglected in the mix, though she gets a great part in “Not All Dogs Go To Heaven.”

What the viewer gets on DVD (and Blu-Ray) is the unedited version of each episode. What that means is a lot of swearing. Sure, it’s fun to hear Patrick Stewart and Seth MacFarlane swear in their animated guises and the DVD makes nice use out of the idea that humor can come from being crass. Bonus features include equally raunchy DVD commentary on each and every episode, a few deleted scenes which were inexplicably left out of the episodes (“inexplicable” because these episodes often include scenes that could not be shown on either network television or Cartoon Network already), and featurettes on the making of the “Road To The Multiverse” episode. Fans of the show are likely to fall in love with the series all over again.

And for those who are not yet Family Guy fanatics, this set offers a great way to become a fan. The pop culture references are fast, the humor is audacious and it holds up well over multiple viewings. If only Seth MacFarlane could stop writing the one joke that's not funny, this would have been perfect.

For other animated works, please check out my reviews of:
The Little Mermaid
Despicable Me


For other television reviews, please check out my index page!

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

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