Last week’s episode was a surprisingly effective character piece, getting at the sympathetic as well as the funny in Quagmire. Tonight’s Family Guy does the exact opposite, leaning into everything terrible about how the show has treated Meg over the years. Where the crucial image of “Quagmire’s Quagmire” was Quagmire’s horrifying but also sweet meet-cute with his insane girlfriend, the most representative moment of “A Fistful Of Meg” comes when the school principal uses the PA system to announce the deadline for bets on Meg being killed in a fight.
That fight is with Meg’s high school’s new student: bully “Mental” Mike Pulaski. Pulaski is definitely crazy (he can watch Friday Night Lights without crying!), and when Meg gets some spaghetti sauce on his jacket, he promises to kill her in the parking lot at the end of the week. On its face, this story is just a by-the-numbers Rocky/high school fight plot, with Quagmire taking the Burgess Meredith role and teaching Meg how to use her “gross” body as a weapon after Meg finds his main office in the girls’ bathroom. After some drawn-out demonstrations of just how violent Pulaski is, he finally fights Meg only to be defeated by her grossness—first, she kisses him (ew!), then squirts a zit at him (oh no!), and finally lifts her shirt up, which has the same effect on the bully the uncovered Ark does at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie, because ha, Meg is totally gross, right? So seeing her half-naked would definitely melt a guy’s face. In the end, even Meg’s victory in the fight is bittersweet—she dies from inserting a frozen hot dog (shudder).
The way Family Guy has Meg be an infinite punching bag has been one of the more distasteful parts of the show for a while now. To some extent, you have to just roll with the show’s weird little obsessions if you want to enjoy it, but this one in particular can just stop an episode entirely. Even when the show’s other characters are at their broadest, they usually get a grace note or two of the course of a season, and are never treated with the unending scorn Meg is. And tonight’s A-story is nothing but Meg-is-the-worst jokes—the episode manages to cover how much the universe shits on her for laughs from birth (in a cutaway showing that Peter renamed her Megatron in the hospital) to death (in Meg’s imagining of her death, Peter throws her body into a hole being used for another funeral). Meg doesn’t win the fight because she had it in her all along (the way these sort of stories usually goes). She wins because her body is some sort of chemical weapon.
Family Guy’s biggest sin in treating Meg like an animal isn’t even that the joke is offensive; it’s that it’s unfunny. Sometimes, terrible Meg jokes are decent in isolation when they’re done well or when the show recognizes how annoying the joke is—take “Road To Rupert,” where the joke isn’t that Meg is repulsive but that the other Griffins just hate her for no reason, and she and Peter become secret best friends. But like most late-period Family Guy, “A Fistful Of Meg” overdoes it to point of ruin. All of the digs at Meg are so over the top (she has a slave baby trapped in her locker), mean-spirited (her pulsating back she has to get from Chris), and predictable (all of the above, though especially that Future Narrating Meg is a man) that none of them are particularly funny, which is basically the only thing Family Guy has to be.
Pretty much the only saving grace in “A Fistful Of Meg” is the B-story, in which Brian can’t escape Peter’s nudity. There’s not enough here to sustain a whole episode (though I guess this is Family Guy, so maybe there is?), but Peter’s increasingly elaborate ways of getting Brian to look at his junk were pretty funny comedic escalation. And Brian’s final revenge, shaving off his hair until he becomes a horrible, wrinkled, multi-nippled thing was equally funny and kind of nauseating. The jokes in this plot (and some of the cutaways and throwaway lines) aren’t half bad, but for the most part, the terribleness of the Meg stuff makes it really hard to take the other, funnier bits out of context to boost the standing of the episode. I feel like Mike Pulaski: It’s kind of hard to pay attention to anything else when there’s unholy, face-melting awful staring right at you.
- Unofficial cutaway counter: 11.
- Best cutaway: The Princeton graduate woman interviewing for a job in the 1950s, only to find her application sorted by how pointy her boobs are. If the only the rest of the episode were closer to this gag (where the joke is about the man).
- Honorable mention: Peter’s castle.
- Worst cutaway: Garbage Peter.
- How weirdly adorable was the menstrual cycle? Like something out of a particularly whimsical children’s book.