ABW’s TV Corner – Family Guy
I like blogging about TV, I’ve discovered, and I’ll probably do it once a week or so as time goes by. I’m just doing a bunch at once because, as I said, I felt like a little break would be fun. Then again, this one is filled with a lot of anger…
Family Guy used to be one of my absolute favorite shows. I remember the annoyance when it was cancelled, the joy when the reruns showed on Adult Swim, and the triumph when Fox said they’d greenlight its return. Few shows get that kind of second life, and I felt Family Guy definitely deserved it.
What went wrong, then? Well, I should say that I don’t hate Family Guy now. I still watch, it still has the ability to make me laugh. But. But, but, but.
The main problem that the show suffers from is getting too comfortable with its types and ‘same joke over and over’ syndrome. Early in the show, someone might have made fun of Meg for being fat, but it didn’t happen all that often – mainly because Meg isn’t fat. Also early in the show, Peter and Lois loved both of the kids, though Peter clearly preferred Chris and Lois Meg. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, made sense. Now Meg is just fucking hated by her whole family. You can’t go a whole episode without a fat joke, or an ugly joke, or having the family completely diss her in some horrible way. Meg went from being a plain girl to the ugliest troll on the face of the earth (in the eyes of her family and peers) without undergoing any change in her appearance. Chris became the favored child even though he remains stupid and borderline retarded except when the writers break his character and make him the only person in the room making any sense. ??
So far I haven’t mentioned Stewie, my favorite character, because Lois and Peter pretty much ignore him unless there’s a need for them to deal with him plot-wise. Stewie is essentially Brian, the dog’s, kid. Or his best friend. Whatever, Brian is the only one who deals with Stewie on a regular basis, he’s the one who raises the kid and teaches him life lessons.
Brian is another problematic character. He started out as just a dog who talked, often showing himself to be the only one making sense. Then he sort of morphed into a person in dog form and that’s where he is now. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but I feel like the show stretches this far too much. In one early episode, Brian gets it on with a pedigree dog (not anthropomorphic) who he says he’ll marry and raise kids with. Then he was shown falling for human women, who fell for him right back. Now he’s in a relationship with a cliché (a beautiful woman who is chronically stupid/childlike).
Brian’s characterization often goes too far into ‘same joke over and over’ waters. Especially as concerns this weird crush/lust/obsession he has for Lois. That joke was funny once, sort of funny the next time, and then stretched to the limit in The Perfect Castaway. The whole sexual tension bull isn’t as interesting as the writers seem to think it is. They bring it up every three episodes or so.
Lois morphed from a caring wife and mom into a selfish bitch who seems to do nothing all day but sit around and deal with everyone else’s problems. She used to have a job – piano teacher – which disappeared at some point, never to return. It’s clear that Lois is repressing a lot of rage (or something) because every opportunity she’s given to act ‘bad’ she takes and runs with. The writers seem to enjoy portraying Lois as a skanky slut waiting to emerge. She’s kept in check by her father, then her husband, and somewhat by her role as a mom. If any of those slip, it’s crazytown.
And finally there’s Peter. I complained to some friends just yesterday that I was tired of the cliché of a stupid, fat man with a loving, beautiful wife (who’s completely loyal to him). You’d never see the reverse – there are no fat women with hot, stud-like men. But beautiful women are totally willing to put up with fat bastards like Peter, Homer Simpson, The King of Queens, Fred Flintstone, Ralph Kramden, Ray Romano, Stan Smith… need I go on? It can certainly be said that Family Guy is satirizing the formula, but it’s not subverting it. After a while, it really seems like any woman who would put up with Peter is either seriously fucked up herself or so suppressed that she doesn’t even know it. And, after a while, Peter’s complete uselessness becomes less and less funny. He’s the same joke over and over.
Of all the same lame jokes over and over, I think I’m particularly annoyed by the show’s treatment of Meg. There’s a point where comedy rolls over into offensiveness, and we’ve definitely reached that point with Meg. I knew I’d reached my limit when they had an episode where Meg gets a makeover and is suddenly pretty. What changed about her? She didn’t get liposuction, a nose job, or any kind of surgery. She just dyed her hair blond, got extensions, put on makeup and wore a halter top. That’s it. In the world of this episode (and you really do have to go ep to ep) the only thing wrong with Meg was a lack of makeup and nice hair. And slutty clothes.
I was almost ready to never watch an episode again when they did one where Bill Clinton hangs out with Peter. All through it, Bill is shown lusting after fat women. Like, huge fat women. (In one scene he judges a ‘cankle’ contest – a cankle being a leg where you can’t tell where the calf fat ends and the ankle fat begins.) But when Meg strips to her underwear and says “You can have me,” Bill’s response is “Ewwwwwwww.” What. The. Fuck.
Beyond the annoying lame joke done too much quality, it has a deeper impact. No matter what people may say about the show being comedy or just a cartoon, this bullshit about some girl with a normal body being fat and ugly needs to stop. It’s not healthy coming from Family Guy the same way it’s not healthy coming from Vogue or America’s Top Model or anywhere else. I am so tired of them picking on Meg I’m ready to ask for Fox to cancel the show all over again. Jokes are meant to be funny, but this crap is just downright mean. Plus, it’s not even clever anymore. If you’re going to be offensive-funny, you need to be more clever than “OMG Meg you’re so FAT! Hahahahahahahahahaha.”
The only reason I still watch is Stewie. It’s kind of funny that the one character on the show that hasn’t had any kind of aging (everyone else has had a birthday or two, moved on to different stages in life, etc.) has grown the most. He’s a lot like Brian in that, even though he’s a 1 year old, he does a lot of things adults do. It’s never consistent, though. Sometimes Stewie is shown driving a car, sometimes sitting in a baby seat. He eats regular food and gets drunk in one episode, in another he’s still breastfeeding.
In many ways, he’s the most interesting character because his stereotype isn’t so limiting. Meg is the fat, plain daughter, Chris is the stupid son, Lois is the loving wife and mother, Peter is the bastard father, and Stewie is… a baby who seeks to take over the world and kill his hated mother. That’s brilliant! It doesn’t limit him the way the other character’s stereotypes limit them. Though I should say, if the writers were cleverer there wouldn’t be those limitations to begin with. Still, with Stewie they clearly shine, allowing him to take on several different types of roles.
There are times when Stewie is worth wading through all the other shit. But, I gotta say, those times are getting fewer and fewer.