Reviews

Family Guy / American Dad

Kevin Wong

The timetable for studio animation is slow, which means that American Dad's political jokes are dated as soon as they're written.


Family Guy

Airtime: Sundays, 9pm ET
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Mila Kunis
Network: Fox
Amazon

AMERICAN DAD
Regular airtime: Sundays, 9:30pm ET (Fox)
Cast: Rachel MacFarlane, Seth MacFarlane, Wendy Schall, Dee Bradley Baker, Scott Grimes

by Kevin Wong
:. e-mail this article
:. print this article
:. comment on this article

Unoriginal

Four minutes into "Blind Ambition," the third episode of this season's Family Guy, Peter (Seth MacFarlane) is suddenly tackled off the screen by a giant chicken. What follows is a cartoon action sequence to end all cartoon action sequences: vehicles explode and limbs flail as Peter and the chicken beat each other senseless. It culminates in a hysterical send-up of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and, with a last, frightened "BUCK-KAW!", the chicken is chopped to bits by an airplane propeller.

Family Guy is renowned for inserting such random-seeming interludes (including bits on Indiana Jones, the Rice Krispie mascots, and Big Bird), establishing a take-no-prisoners edge that cuts through any semblance of political correctness. This combination of self-reference, childhood nostalgia, and low humor gained Family Guy a cult following amongst college students when it debuted, but the mainstream press and audience were not as receptive. Fox eventually placed Family Guy in a timeslot against Survivor, Friends, and WWF Smackdown, leading to the show's cancellation in 2002. Internet and college communities, however, kept it alive, and after DVD sales of the first three seasons passed two million, Fox revived the show last month.

The first two episodes of the new season featured more raunch than reliable satire, mostly to the show's detriment. Although Family Guy has used scatological and sexual humor in the past, the new gags feel forced, as if offensiveness qualifies as a joke in itself. The show is also picking easier targets this time around. The episode "North by North Quahog" took weary aim at Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ, and the decision to go to war in Iraq. All are standard fodder for late night comedians, and Family Guy found little new to say.

Both of these changes mark a blatant appeal to a wider audience, whereas obscure gags used to make Family Guy something of an inside joke for fans. The third episode rebounded somewhat, focused on Quahog citizens -- perverted Quagmire (Seth MacFarlane) and sluggish Cleveland (Mike Henry) -- and other characters for humor. And so, after a rough start, the fourth season now appears to be back on track.

Similar problems plague American Dad. Also created by MacFarlane, it was originally slated to be Family Guy's replacement. Since the first series' resurrection, however, MacFarlane reportedly refocused his energies on it, leaving American Dad to associates. An early pilot, airing after this year's Super Bowl, proved disappointing; critics termed the characters imitations of Family Guy regulars, which they were, and MacFarlane's Generation X-geared wit was nowhere to be seen.

MacFarlane calls American Dad "a cross between Family Guy and All in the Family." This may be what he was aiming for, but American Dad is not interested in dealing with topical specifics or Archie-Bunkerish self-doubt. Worse, the timetable for studio animation is slow, which means that American Dad's political jokes are dated as soon as they're written (unlike, say, the humor of late night talk shows or the current pace-setter, The Daily Show). The duo of Stan (MacFarlane), a rightwing CIA agent, and Haley (Rachel MacFarlane), his leftwing daughter, is stereotyped (as the dependent in the household, she mostly reacts to Stan). Although this makes her a parody of "childish," liberal reactionaries, it's also an uninformed simplification of American politics. Over four episodes, including the pilot, Haley and Stan remain stuck in place, embodying liberal impracticality and conservative pigheadedness.

Other principal characters aren't so politically slanted; instead, they're irritating distractions from whatever social message the show might be conveying. Most notably inconsequential is Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker), a fish implanted with the brain of a German man, who lusts after Francine (Wendy Schall), Stan's wife. His one-track mind, combined with the difficulty of getting around (he's a fish, after all), renders him one-note, and he brings nothing to the table other than snarky one-liners. His oddities make him immediately comparable to Family Guy's Stewie, but Stewie's plotting to take over the world affords him better plotlines than shouting sexual innuendos at an owner's wife. Unless Klaus finds a way to breathe without water, it's unlikely he'll achieve Stewie's human-form flexibility.

The pacing of American Dad is just as wooden as its characters. Family Guy typically offers generous stretches of witty dialogue, punctuated by action scenes. American Dad, on the other hand, has already established hyperdrive as its rhythmic baseline. Stan's CIA buddies are the ultimate deus ex machina, swooping in with helicopters and guns to fix a plot problem whenever the show's writers get lazy. In "Francine's Flashback," Stan goes on an extended car chase to kill an adorable squirrel, hoping that the carnage will jog Francine's lost memories. As Bruckheimer-like chaos sequences are the characters' daily experience, this potentially surreal storyline almost seems mundane.

Family Guy, despite some initial missteps at the beginning of its new season, shows signs of regaining its admirable mix of niche nostalgia and hysterical characterizations. American Dad, setting itself as politically oriented from the start, doesn't make smart use of the family structure. And besides, borrowing this structure from Family Guy only makes the original look less original.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image