The guest stars in the 10th season of Family Guy have gone by relatively unnoticed. If you don’t see the advertisements for a certain week’s episode or immediately recognize a voice, it’s possible to miss the guest entirely—except when Ryan Reynolds played himself in a retread of the Luke Perry storyline from all the way back in 2000. Ellen Page played Chris’ crush who looked suspiciously like Lois last week, Rob Corddry and Judy Greer voiced the Christian Scientist parents Lois railed against the episode before, and other episodes have featured Scott Grimes and Kaitlin Olson buried in small roles. Ricky Gervais didn’t get that treatment tonight, as he was front and center for most of the episode, playing a talking dolphin who decides to crash with the Griffins on land for a while, with no character ever commenting about the oddity. It’s a bit like what American Dad would feel like if at no point anyone mentioned that Roger was an alien or that his existence was world-altering.
Gervais has certainly put out some brilliant work on The Office and Extras (among other less-beloved television appearances and stand-up specials). His first hosting gig for the Golden Globes two years ago was hysterical, and his most recent was merely passable. As a talking dolphin, he basically just gets to be himself, making sea creature puns, rambling on, and laughing at his own jokes—basically his typical talk show appearance but with more shellfishness. (Boom goes the dynamite.)
Peter, Quagmire, and Joe go out on a boat in hopes of retrieving a free sunken Mercedes from a recent shipping accident, but instead accidentally snare Billy Finn, the talking dolphin. When Billy dives to retrieve a Mercedes hood ornament for Peter, it’s only natural to assume the three guys would talk about how they’re either hallucinating or witnessesing the miracle of a talking dolphin, but instead Family Guy sidesteps the obvious and completely ignores that potential. Billy is a talking dolphin, he can show up at the Griffins’ and become a terrible houseguest, sitting around because his wife kicked him out of the ocean.
Meanwhile, Stewie goes to a daycare run by a completely oblivious and neglectful young woman. When Brian picks him up and notices paint all over Stewie’s face, then sees the condition of the rest of the kids in the rather lawless house, he’s resolute to put a stop to the whole thing, until he sees the woman who runs the place sunbathing in a bikini out back and changes his tune. A few weeks ago, Brian was lying while wooing a blind woman who hated dogs, and that episode almost pulled some sincerity before it went south in the third act. Here, Brian’s story is unsatisfying from the beginning, as he ignores the terrible conditions at the daycare while attempting to ingratiate himself with Miss Emily. The mishaps with the kids and Brian’s desperation to keep Stewie from taking Emily away from him are mildly funny, but once he finds out she has a boyfriend he just turns her in, and the B-plot ends abruptly.
There is very little in this entire episode that would make it memorable for longer than a week. I’d be surprised if anyone thought of this as anything other than “that one time Ricky Gervais was on Family Guy,” not even as a talking dolphin. People will probably get the animal wrong. Peter eventually gets Billy back with his wife, with the help of Quagmire playing Aquaman and Joe playing King Triton from The Little Mermaid, but none of the romantic plot is set up when Billy shows up in the first place. It’s the same random meandering through well-worn sitcom plot clichés that keeps Family Guy saddled with the “lazy” label. If this rerun comes on as some mindless background filler, it’ll do the job dutifully, but it’s getting increasingly frustrating to watch the show come up with material for Adam West that always hits the mark, but never find a way to fit other high-profile guest appearances into the framework.
- Unofficial Cutaway Counter: 7
- Best cutaway: I’m picking Brian yelling at the screen during a showing of Milo And Otis, which made me laugh quite a bit. Second place goes to the bit about babies running the world. And though it pains me to say it, NBC would probably get higher ratings with shows like Shapes, Colors, and Dad’s Keys.
- My pick for the worst joke of the night isn’t even strictly a cutaway — Trisha Takanawa showing up with a harpoon was a bit too much, but then underscoring the obvious joke by saying Japan kills things we like. Clumsy, uninventive, and late to the game on The Cove by a few years.
- The reading-encouragement cutaway had potential, but it moved too slowly to actually get a laugh. The scrolling screenplay was clever, and Peter’s commentary broke the fourth wall as it had to, but the final tag to the extended joke was unnecessary.