Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Too Short The Season Almost Kills Family Guy - Volume 5!

The Good: Funny, Excellent DVD bonus features, Decent plots and fun character stories
The Bad: SHORT!, Expensive for a 3-disc set.
The Basics: Average episodes of Family Guy (still above the curve for most television comedies) are brought up through wonderful commentary tracks and collections of deleted scenes on DVD!

The danger of starting any television series from a high point is certainly that it makes it difficult to maintain the quality of a body of work. There's something that there's no English word for that would describe Family Guy on DVD by the time it gets to Family Guy - Volume 5. I'm sure there's a German word for it; a word that nails precisely between "frustrating" and "disappointing." The frustrating aspect to Family Guy - Volume 5 is that offers the viewer more of the same without anything genuinely new. The disappointing aspect of Family Guy - Vol. 5" is that the fifth season of the series was only eighteen episodes long; Vol. 5 has only thirteen of them and for a series rescued from the fifty-episode syndication graveyard by people who shelled out for the first two DVD sets, it seems a bit ungrateful of FOX and the show's producers to release "volumes" instead of full seasons, especially for the recommended retail price of $40 for a three disc set. The guys at Family Guy are giving the crooks at Paramount (yeah, we're talkin' about the Star Trek DVD boxed set cost!) a run for their money!

With thirteen episodes spread over two DVDs (the third disc is entirely bonus features), Family Guy - Volume 5 picks up the irreverent adventures of the Griffin family. Because the show is not serialized, this does not mean much because it simply continues doing what it has been doing for the prior four seasons (and DVD sets). In this collection of episodes, the Griffin family undergoes a series of zany adventures which include: Peter having a prostate exam which leads him (and the other men of Quahog) to believe he was raped, Brian and Stewie getting a radio talk show, Meg and Peter working at a store modeled after Wal-Mart, Lois teaching sex education, and Peter discovering his true father. In the course of the season (or the part on this boxed set), there is a "Road To" adventure in the style of "Road To Rhode Island" and "Road To Europe." This time, it's "Road To Rupert," which puts Stewie and Brian on a search for Stewie's lost teddy bear. As well, Peter makes a chick flick, Brian dates Meg and the boxed set climaxes with Peter befriending Bill Clinton, who seduces Lois.

For those unfamiliar with Family Guy, the show is a pretty straightforward episodic animated comedy that intercuts flashbacks, media references and other non-sequitors into the primary storyline. So, for example, Peter might mention the job he once had at the Electric Company and the shot will suddenly break to a a parody of the old CTW show The Electric Company. Or, here in Family Guy - Volume 5, there's a great musical interlude featuring Conway Twitty that comes out of nowhere and does not otherwise relate to "Bill And Peter's Bogus Journey" (which it's in).

To best understand Family Guy, it helps to know the characters and here is who they are and how they fit into the fifth volume DVD set:

Peter Griffin - Patriarch of the Griffin family, he's pretty much an idiot (in a prior season, he was declared mentally retarded), overweight, married to Lois, father of Meg, Chris, and Stewie. His best friend is probably Brian (his dog), though he spends most nights with his friends Quagmire, Cleveland and Joe. He works an unsatisfying job at the Pawtucket Patriot Brewery. This set, he gets a job at a parody of Wal-Mart, deals with the death of his father, his mother dating, and he makes a film,

Lois Griffin - Wife of Peter, she's a knockout who is the target of Stewie's murderous plans. She accidentally hits Stewie in anger, helps Peter with his job when he is injured, teaches Meg's class sex education, and finds herself in bed with Bill Clinton,

Brian - The family dog gifted with the ability to talk and a liver that won't quit (he's a bit of an alcoholic). Best friend and nemesis to Stewie, he finds himself performing his own radio show, dating an airhead, dating Meg - who becomes obsessed with him -, learning to use the toilet and going on a cross country trip to rescue Stewie's favorite teddy bear, Rupert,

Chris Griffin - Oldest son of Peter and Lois, he pretty much sits the season out after joining a Goth band, though he is bullied after that,

Meg - Peter and Lois's only daughter, she is the butt of most of the jokes the family makes. Quick-tempered and becoming more of an independent teen, Meg spends the episodes working at a supermarket, having freaky ear sex in order to keep her abstinence pledge, and dating - in a "Fatal Attraction" kind of way - Brian,

and Stewie - The genius, maniacal baby of the family. He becomes fixated on Lois when she fixes his worn out teddy bear and when she beats him once. He horns in on Brian's radio show, goes to Iraq with Brian, and tries to break the dog and his girlfriend up. He finds himself dating Olivia (from "From Method To Madness" on Family Guy Season 3), attempts to capture the Tooth Fairy, and ultimately tries for the ultimate tan without getting skin cancer.

What makes Family Guy work so well is it is funny in a very irreverent way. The show gets away with humor that no live action show could do, like the bestial humor of Meg dating Brian in "Barely Legal." Or the ear sex in "Prick In Your Ear," which is actually a hilarious take on the problems of promoting abstinence-only education. The show is an intriguing mix of crude and smart.

On DVD, Family Guy works because it is packed with extras. Actually, the episodes are recut for the DVDs in order to include - in the actual episodes - scenes or lines that were originally cut for time or content. This makes it somewhat baffling that there are any deleted scenes at all, yet not all of the scenes are returned to their episodes (those scenes appear on the third disc). Family Guy - Volume 5 is blessed with commentary on every episode (sometimes these are funnier and more original than the actual episodes!), animatics, a host of deleted scenes, and the option to censor the language on the commentary (a ridiculous provision I refuse to engage). There are also two behind-the-scenes featurettes.

This set is pretty much a must-have for fans of the show, though for the few die-hard fans who have NOT been buying up until now, hold off as there's a bundle pack coming out next month that will have all five volumes in one place with some extra goodies. But for the rest of us, consumers who have bought along the way, this is the next step in the collection. Resistance is futile, laughter is not.

For other animated works by Seth MacFarlane, please check out my reviews of:
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 reviews, please visit my index page for an organized listing by clicking here!

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

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