Friday, November 12, 2010

The Power Of Humor And Its Ability To Resurrect: Family Guy Volume One!

The Good: FUNNY, Irreverent, Clever, Interesting characters, Decent DVD bonuses
The Bad: Early series problems, Could use more bonus features
The Basics: The irreverent Family Guy starts out as a series that is biting with humor and packed with pop culture references.

Every now and then, I'll be writing a review and reference another work and I will go to find a link to my review only to discover I cannot find the review I wrote. Sometimes, I do just that only to discover that I never wrote a review for something I would have sworn I had. I was, for example, shocked to discover I had reviewed the Family Guy: The Freakin' Sweet Collection, but not the first volume of the series. This was a big surprise to me, as I kept up with all the current ones.

Family Guy Volume One is a generous little boxed set of DVDs that encompasses the first two seasons of Family Guy. While lately, the producers of the DVDs have gotten pretty chintzy with the number of episodes in the boxed sets - the last four volumes have comprised multiple seasons and delved out the episodes in approximately 13 episode sets for almost the same amount of money as the twenty-eight episode first volume. Sure, Family Guy- Volume 8 has commentary on every single episode, which this boxed set does not, but the value of that is lessened by the fact that there are so few episodes. Here, we get more episodes, but only eight of them have commentaries. And, disappointingly, the episodes in this boxed set are the originally aired episodes . . . save "Road To Rupert," which removed the Bin Laden gag (that was restored to the episode in the "Freakin' Sweet Collection.").

So, what is Family Guy and why should you buy it? Family Guy is an animated program that began on FOX television network in January of 1999. The show became instantly recognized as the most irreverent show on network television and - outside the language - gave South Park a run for its money with crude humor. Largely apolitical in its first two seasons, the show had quite a bit of humor using nonsequitors; a character would mention something and the show will cut away to a clip. So, for example, in "Holy Crap," Peter mentions that the situation he is in is like when God asked Abraham to kill Isaac. The show cuts away from Peter talking to Abraham Lincoln, who promptly shoots Isaac the bartender from The Love Boat. It is that kind of fast pop culture reference that turns the humor around quite quickly that makes the show work perfectly.

One of the other things Family Guy does extraordinarily well for humor is to have dialogue that completely does not match the situation the characters are in. For example, in "Let's Go To The Hop," Peter and Lois have a very straightforward conversation about keeping their children off drugs while dressing up in S&M gear for a night of sex. That kind of nonsequitor on the show is less common but often quite funny.

Family Guy focuses on the Griffin family, a sextet (including the family dog) living in Quahog, Rhode Island. They appear to be middle class and this first volume focuses heavily on the primary members of the family. Unlike later seasons that have ensemble episodes or episodes that focus on the secondary characters, this volume focuses quite closely on the Griffin family, most frequently Peter Griffin. The comedy is largely episodic, so the actions and events of one episode do not have consequences that carry over into future episodes. As a result, the characters do not so much learn from their mistakes and adventures and grow so much as they stumble from one situation to another.

In this volume of the series, Peter scams welfare, lives for a week without television, and becomes jealous of the attention his handicapped neighbor receives. Lois becomes a lounge singer in the basement of the house, Meg inadvertently joins a cult, Brian ends up on death row and Chris rejects the Scouts in favor of drawing. As well, the family inherits a fortune, is visited by the Pope, survives the Y2K disaster, and outsmarts Death. As well, Family Guy managed to be on the cutting edge (at the time) as one of the first shows to do a parody of reality shows when the Griffins have a reality show made of their life and family. There is also the first Brian and Stewie road trip with "Road To Rhode Island" (these trips become a recurring feature throughout the series). Fans of the series who return to these early episodes will be impressed with how the show truly tossed off episodes to each character more than it does now. Now, the show is pretty much dominated by Peter, Stewie and Brian, but in these earlier episodes, Meg, Lois and Chris had a decent amount of coverage.

To understand the show, it helps to understand the principle characters and where they start. The primary characters in Family Guy include:

Peter Griffin - The Griffin family patriarch and something of a sexist idiot (in a later season he is deemed mentally retarded). Peter works at a toy factory in quality control where he does not excel. He is neglectful of his children, his best friend is Brian and when he's not at home or at work, he's hanging out with his friends at the local bar, the Clam. He has various schemes, like getting on welfare when his incompetence results in him being fired, setting up a bar in his basement when he is put under house arrest, and using the "Grant-A-Dream" Foundation to get a canceled television program put back on the air. He also runs against Lois for school board president, infiltrates the school to stop a rash of toad licking, and gets some pretty serious plastic surgery. Peter also cedes his house from the union and discovers he is a genius at playing the piano . . . but only when he's drunk,

Lois Griffin - Peter's loyal and hot wife. She puts up with his stupidity despite it almost getting her killed when Peter befriends a mobster. She also lives with Peter's sexism and comes to loathe him when he takes over her production of The King And I. Despite her excellent upbringing, she married Peter, which caused her wealthy family to pretty much disown her. She teaches piano lessons to earn extra money for the family and has a passion for singing,

Meg Griffin - Lois and Peter's daughter who is learning to drive and finding she does not quite fit in at the high school. She tries to be popular by joining a cult and holding drugs (toads) for more popular students. She has a crush on the new neighbor's boy, rejects the family when they star in their own reality show and gets the attention of Luke Perry when she joins the school newspaper,

Chris Griffin - The painfully awkward teenage son of Lois and Peter, he has a talent for art, but is plagued by an evil monkey in his closet. He spends time with Peter watching Gumble To Gumble until it is canceled, at which time Peter claims Chris is dying to get the show back on the air. Chris is plagued by Peter's father and works to find his own identity,

Stewie Griffin - The one year-old baby of Lois and Peter, he is a maniacal genius bent on killing Lois. He invents ray guns, weather devices and time machines in order to try to dominate the world, though eventually he settles into traveling with Brian and getting a girlfriend,

and Brian Griffin - The family dog who talks and drinks quite a bit. He hits on women, tries to guide Peter (given that he is more intelligent and better read than Peter), and torments Stewie in his own way - like implying that the immunizations Stewie gets are a mind-control experiment. He has a love for Lois that is unrequited, demands to be treated with dignity and journeys with Stewie across the country to find his mother.

Family Guy is often criticized as being derivative of The Simpsons and there is some cause for those critiques. For example, "The Son Also Draws" finds Lois becoming a slot machine addict much the way Marge Simpson became one in the Season 5 episode "$pringfield (Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Legalized Gambling" of The Simpsons. In general, though, Family Guy is a bit more edgy than The Simpsons, in both content and language. Ironically - given his hatred of Family Guy in the commentary tracks on the DVDs, the show that was more like Family Guy was Clerks: The Animated Series. Both shows rely on a lot of fast pop culture references and humor that is more risque than FOX usually does (Clerks was on ABC).

Family Guy is not for the feint of heart, those who are easily offended. The show takes pot shots at virtually everyone and it starts from the first episode on. The show is sharp and funny and the characters are interesting.

Like any series, the show has some early episode problems. The animation is not as good as it becomes and Meg is recast after the first season (Mila Kunis of That 70's Show takes over for Party Of Five's Lacey Chabert). After almost a decade (yes, it's almost been that long!), these old episodes still hold up with humor and wonderful irony. The only drawback of writing a review of this boxed set is this: it's one of the all-time best selling DVD television boxed sets! So, more than likely, this is preaching to the choir, but the truth is there's a reason that the show was successful enough to garner such a fan base that the sales of this boxed set encouraged FOX to bring the series back.

If you haven't picked this up yet, it's time to see what all the fuss is about. references that make for hilarious nonsequitors!

For other animated works by Seth MacFarlane, please check out my reviews of:
Family Guy Volume Two
Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story
Family Guy Volume 3
Family Guy Volume 4
Family Guy Volume 5
Family Guy Presents Blue Harvest
Family Guy Volume 6
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 show reviews, please be sure to check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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