“3 Acts Of God” exists in a fantasy world where Bill Belichick still coaches the New England Patriots but Tom Brady is apparently a costly mistake-prone quarterback, and the Patriots lose at home to the Buffalo Bills in a season with 10 losses. The only time those things have ever happened (a home loss to Buffalo and more than 10 losses) under Belichick was his first season as head coach in 2000. That’s his only losing season. So this episode is already starting on shaky ground when it supposes that God hates the Patriots, a team that has been to five Super Bowls, won three, and only missed the playoffs three times since 2000. (Not to mention the Patriots are still a newly successful franchise in comparison to the Celtics, Red Sox, and Bruins, which makes them the least revered.)
But thankfully, this isn’t an episode about how much of an underrated and downtrodden team the Patriots are. It’s more of an examination of fan entitlement. After a horrifically improbable loss where the Patriots stay in shotgun formation when trying to kneel on the last play to preserve a victory, a snap goes awry, and Mario Williams scoops it up to score the winning touchdown. When Williams and CJ Spiller thank God during post-game interviews, Peter, Cleveland, Joe, and Quagmire take it upon themselves to track down God in order to ask him why he’s being so unfair to the Patriots. (If God is being unfair to the Patriots, I don’t even want to know the word for what He’s been doing to the Cleveland Browns all these years.)
The search for God begins in Nashville at the Country Music Awards, where the gang talks to Carrie Underwood, who credits her success to a “personal relationship with God.” It’s an excuse to get in a Taylor Not-So-Swift joke (which is cruel, but is one of the few jabs at her that does something other than shame her for dating a lot of people), before revealing that Underwood is dating Jesus, a cheapskate who bums $40 off her to get a Toby Keith hat. So the search continues to the ends of the earth, as the guys go to Greece and encounter Cronos, god of time and gift baskets. Then, after some disappointingly stereotypical jaunts to Jerusalem (full of Morts, because why do something different when a lazy Jewish joke will suffice?) and India (so dirty they don’t believe there’s a god anywhere there), they finally re-meet Adam Carolla’s Death, who’s there to claim The Cleveland Show. He magically transports them to Heaven, which bears a striking resemblance to a standard beach vacation resort.
The bald, white-bearded God of monotheistic Christianity on Family Guy typically shows up in cutaways. In the early seasons I can remember him making Shrinky Dinks, or preparing to grant Meg’s death wish only to be interrupted by a phone call. But here he’s just a laidback (if slightly autistic) guy running a resort who also sees and knows all. He isn’t specifically targeting the Patriots because of the team or the fan base, he just doesn’t like that Belichick won’t smile. And Peter’s impassioned speech about Pats fans who get drunk, go nowhere in life, and watch games on Zenith or Sylvania televisions isn’t exactly heartfelt. But it shows that Family Guy can fudge the details of the football team while still poking fun at New England culture. So they make a deal with God that he’ll stop preventing the Patriots from winning if they can make Belichick smile once. That proves to be an easy hurdle once they run through the gamut of comedy standbys and discover that Joe cataloguing the sad details of his life amuses the Patriots’ coach—a sardonic twist that again pokes fun at a coach so reviled at least in part because he doesn’t look like he enjoys much of his success.
And maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t been watching Family Guy this season and my time away has dulled my sensitivity to the cutaway style, but pretty much all the tangential jokes worked for me throughout this episode. Peter getting all of his cutaway gags for the week in order—including a Japanese Abe Lincoln, a monkey rabbi, and choosing the really cartoonish gay couple instead of the more reserved one—was one of the best self-aware jokes I can remember Family Guy making. The other fourth-wall gag of the night is much bluer, a cutaway about a pedophile opera performance of “Mozart’s The Magic Flute In A Minor” that returns to find an apoplectic Peter yelling that Family Guy deserves an Emmy and that Modern Family would be praised incessantly for that joke. That’s taking it a bit far, since all the grousing about Modern Family’s continued Emmy success is based on how broad and unadventurous the comedy has become, but it’s a way to turn a joke meant to offend in an unexpected direction with some vigor.
“3 Acts Of God” certainly has its moments where it touches the third rail and feels like Family Guy giving into its worst tendencies. Those brief scenes in Jerusalem and India specifically feel unnecessarily mean, as well as the final joke of what else Peter asked God about besides the Patriots. But more cutaways landed than many of the episodes I reviewed over the last two seasons, which made for a surprisingly pleasant visit back to Seth MacFarlane’s main gig. Now go watch Cosmos or some videos of MacFarlane advocating for more science education. That stuff really counteracts the negativity he’s cultivated over the years.
- Unofficial Cutaway Counter: 13.
- Best Cutaway: I’m going with Peter lining up all his cutaways for the week, which plays directly into the criticism that they’re too manufactured and hokey. It was the first meta-commentary from Family Guy that has worked for me in ages.
- Worst: The first cutaway—in which Peter tests how many beers he can have and still “safely” drive home—felt like it went a bit too far.
- In the interest of full disclosure: I’m an Oakland Raiders fan, but thankfully this episode really took a turn after that first act, so my rage at the Tuck Rule fiasco didn’t manifest.
- Thanks to Eric for letting me sub in even though I haven’t watched a single Family Guy episode since giving up the beat. He’ll be back soon.