Family Guy was destined to succeed. Even though Fox cancelled it, the Cartoon Network revived it and the DVD market paved the way for its eventual network return. Despite its familial name, however, this is by no means a family show. Like All in the Family before it, each episode begins with cast members singing words that long for the good old days — in this case, the good old days of television. But whereas All in the Family was all about the troubling racism and personal politics of the time, which bubbled just beneath the surface of society, Family Guy takes on many of these same topics and then blurts them out like a tactless guy at a party that says exactly what he’s thinking, without even a second thought about self-censorship.
Peter Griffin is this family’s Archie Bunker, if you will. And like Bunker, Griffin is usually completely oblivious to his many wrong-doings. For instance, when asked to break the bad news about his condition to an AIDS patient, Griffin approaches this task by singing the diagnoses with a peppy barbershop quartet. Another uncomfortable comedic situation is an episode where Griffin is diagnosed as being retarded. Politically correct, this show certainly ain’t.
While Peter Griffin is clearly a Bunker type, his wife Lois is by no means any sort of quiet and shy Edith. She’s shown here in one episode as a kleptomaniac, and elsewhere she tries her hand at sexy modeling. Edith knew her place was in the home, but you never get the impression that Lois wants to play second fiddle home body to Peter.
As you might expect, the two older Griffin children (Meg and Chris) are fairly messed up offspring. Chris is a big, fat Peter-in-waiting, and Meg is a pitiful wallflower. Chris’s best scenes occur during “Brian The Bachelor,” where he is shown developing an unlikely friendship with one of his facial zits. Meg gets treated to an extreme makeover during “Don’t Make Me Over,” then gets sold to the local pharmacist in “8 Simple Rules for Buying My Teenage Daughter.”
Family Guy is so dysfunctional, even the family’s infant child and pet dog are screwed up. Stewie, the football-headed baby, is a British-accented manipulator, and only Brian (the dog) can hear him when he speaks. Although earlier seasons found Stewie consistently plotting to kill Lois, this plot device appears to have been shelved, at least temporarily. Although Peter, Lois, Chris, and Meg all appear primarily as blue collar archetypes, both Brian and Stewie have much higher social aspirations. During an episode titled “Brian The Bachelor,” for example, Brian is seen and heard intelligently discussing jazz music with a hot chick during a break from “The Bachelorette” show. Stewie’s upper class perspective is revealed more through his commentary — especially when he points out the lowbrow activities and attitudes of his fellow family members.
Although friends and neighbors to the Griffins act more as unwitting witnesses of Griffin dysfunctional behaviors, one episode (“The Cleveland-Loretta Quagmire”) revolves around an affair that the perverse Quagmire has with Cleveland’s wife, Loretta. Yet for the most part, Cleveland and Quagmire end up being party to Peter’s bad circumstances, such as when they all get shipwrecked together during “Perfect Castaway.”
Unlike The Simpsons, which is a program where the viewer at least feels more than a little empathy for its characters, the Family Guy is all about jokes for jokes’ sake. Its most offensive jokes, in fact, are more offensive than just about anything found on The Simpsons. A good example of this extreme offensiveness is exemplified by a cut-away where God is in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and forced to hide his porn collection from Earth’s first couple.
In The Simpsons, and even in the aforementioned All In The Family, you felt bad whenever either Homer or Archie messed things up. But with Family Guy, it’s always a case of laughing at Peter, rather than with him. But when the jokes work, this can be extremely funny stuff. Just don’t ever mistakenly call it family material.