Judge Victor Valdivia's life is full of random cutaways and pop-culture references. Who says TV isn't realistic?
Our reviews of Family Guy: Volume Four (published November 27th, 2006), Family Guy: Volume Five (published December 12th, 2007), Family Guy: Volume Six (published October 30th, 2008), Family Guy: Volume Ten (published October 13th, 2012), Family Guy: Volume 11 (published October 29th, 2013), Family Guy: Blue Harvest (published January 15th, 2008), Family Guy: It's A Trap! (published January 19th, 2011), Family Guy: It's A Trap! (Blu-Ray) (published December 21st, 2010), Family Guy: Partial Terms Of Endearment (published October 13th, 2010), Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story (published September 12th, 2005), Family Guy: Volume One (published April 21st, 2003), Family Guy: Something, Something, Something, Dark Side (Blu-Ray) (published December 26th, 2009), Family Guy: The Freakin' Sweet Collection (published January 26th, 2005), Family Guy: Volume Nine (published December 26th, 2011), Family Guy: Volume Seven (published July 23rd, 2009), and Family Guy: Volume Three (published December 19th, 2005) are also available.
The lovable Griffins face each uproarious misadventure with no fear…and no shame.
Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy has always been controversial, but in its first seasons that controversy was less because of any presumed political and social commentary and more because the show was dismissed as just a weaker rip-off of The Simpsons. By Family Guy: Volume Eight, however, MacFarlane clearly views Family Guy as a vehicle for social and political commentary. This, it turns out, is a spectacularly misguided notion, because as insufferable as Family Guy can be when it's just randomly tasteless, it's much, much worse when it's actually trying to make a coherent statement.
Facts of the Case
Here are the fifteen episodes compiled on three discs:
• "Not All Dogs Go to Heaven"
• "Episode 420"
• "We Love You Conrad"
• "Peter's Progress"
• "Road to the Multiverse"
• "Family Goy"
• "Spies Reminiscent of Us"
• "Brian's Got a Brand New Bag"
• "Quagmire's Baby"
• "Jerome is the New Black"
• "Dog Gone"
When Family Guy first premiered in 1999, it was possible to at least overlook some of MacFarlane's self-indulgences (particularly his weakness for cheap shots at the expense of random has-been celebrities) because the show was clearly intended as an exercise in style over substance. It wasn't about anything except its own sensibility, and so was easy to either ignore or accept. These days, that's apparently not enough for MacFarlane, who wants to use the show to proselytize (that is the right word) for his political and social beliefs. If MacFarlane was half the social satirist Matt Groening, Mike Judge, or Trey Parker and Matt Stone are, this might have made Family Guy finally worthy of all the fame and fortune it has so easily accrued. Instead, the preaching is so heavy handed that it's neither funny nor enlightening. Frankly, you'll wish for more potshots at Donny Osmond instead of what you actually get here.
The first three episodes on the first disc are the chief offenders here. "Fox-y Lady" asserts that Fox News is a propaganda arm of the Republican Party. In "Not All Dogs Go To Heaven," Brian proclaims that the only enlightened spiritual philosophy is atheism. In "420," the show insists that marijuana should be legalized because it's not as harmful as alcohol. Whatever your views on those preceding statements, everyone can agree on one thing: they are not, in and of themselves, funny. That's the problem with these episodes. Ham-fisted lecturing and browbeating may be exhilarating to those on MacFarlane's ideological team, but to anyone else, it's just painfully lazy. There are no jokes, no real satire, no attempt at forging these viewpoints into some sort of art; Brian (the show's supposed moral center) simply recites them word-for-word. Call it Janeane Garofalo Syndrome, where the need to be ideologically pure prevents one from actually being entertaining.
MacFarlane also deserves criticism in another regard: For all that he positions himself as a brave atheist challenging the oppressive titan that is organized religion, the only religion he actually bashes is Christianity. "Family Goy" takes some pokes at Judaism, but they're barely gentle at best and the episode even takes the trouble to have Brian praise Islam. Only Christ, who appears as a character in various episodes, is hit repeatedly. Granted, some of the gags are amusing, but the fact that no other faith takes such abuse smacks of gutlessness. Say what you will about South Park, but at least Parker and Stone have the courage to hit all faiths with equal irreverence, not just the trendy ones. It's another mark of Family Guy's laziness that the show would rather settle for cheap laughs at an easy target's expense rather than actually think its ideas all the way through.
As for the non-political episodes, they're about the same quality as the ones on previous seasons. Family Guy has never been about consistency, so every episode is pretty much interchangeable. For every amusing joke, there are three or four random cutaways, pop-culture references, or scenes that are just aggressively tasteless and gross for no reason. Family Guy has also never been about characterization or continuity; Peter is still a big dumb jerk, Meg is still the hated and ignored daughter, Stewie is still trying to take over the world, and so on. The lack of continuity is such that halfway through this set, the character of Cleveland leaves (he's earned his own spinoff, The Cleveland Show) and no one really cares much. In one episode, he's there and in the next, he's gone and that's that. The episodes on this set do have far more meta jokes than usual, with Peter addressing the camera repeatedly to point out plot holes and errors. It results in some genuinely witty moments (the best is a cutting parody of Fox's irritating onscreen promos), but it also highlights just how shallow and weightless the whole enterprise is.
As for the DVD set, it's manna for fans. The full-screen (really, Fox? Full-screen? When are you gonna switch to widescreen?) transfer is good, displaying the animation flawlessly. The 5.1 surround mix is loud and clear, especially on the musical numbers, which are shown off to full advantage. The set comes with a typically full load of extras. Almost all the episodes come with commentary by MacFarlane and various cast and crew members. These are more for fans than anyone else. There's a featurette, "The Road to 'Road to the Multiverse'" (10:09), which covers the making of the alternate universe episode, which incorporated various animation styles and ideas that the show has never done before. "Family Guy Karaoke" (37:26) includes lyrics and music tracks from songs from throughout the show's history. There are also some deleted scenes from various episodes, stitched together into a montage. Finally, the set includes a miniature replica of the script for the "Multiverse" episode. The set also includes both TV and uncensored versions of each episode, for those who want to compare the differences.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It would be a mistake to write off the whole collection. "Family Goy," whatever its failings, is actually a funny and subtle (well, as subtle as this show gets) episode that actually comes close to being consistently funny and entertaining all the way through. "Peter's Progress" is also amusing, although it sometimes falls prey to MacFarlane's weaknesses (maybe an episode set during colonial times doesn't need to have so many shots at modern celebrities). There are also a few scattered bits and pieces here and there that are far more incisive that this show is usually given credit for. It's just that to find them, you'll have to sift through a whole lot of filler.
Family Guy fans will already be getting this set as it is, so there's no need to sell them on it. If you're not familiar with the series, however, this is probably not the place to start. Even if you are 100% on MacFarlane's political wavelength, the episodes that start off this set are actually atypical for this series, which in its earlier seasons wasn't so blatantly opinionated. MacFarlane's style of humor has always been an acquired taste, but throw in the hectoring and preaching and the result is deeply unsatisfying. You'd do better to preview a few episodes first to see if this is for you.
Guilty of taking something that was uneven at best and somehow making it worse.
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