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.

Music
Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Books
Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Film
Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Recent
Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.