It might be hard to remember all these years later, but Stewie was Family Guy’s major breakout character during the first few seasons—probably because he had all of the catchphrases (“Blast!”) and wacky world domination schemes/plans of matricide. Stewie was also my personal favorite character during those years (“Emission Impossible” is one of my all-time favorite episodes of the show), partly for those reasons, but also because his then-prominent hyper-intelligence contrasted so well with his nature as a baby. Some of the best Family Guy relies heavily on that conflict at the heart of the character (“Road To Rupert”), and tonight’s season finale—as well as the final episode of Family Guy to air as part of the Animation Domination block—smartly draws from that well.
Most of the best moments in “Chap Stewie” nod at the fact that the premise of a baby trying to erase himself from existence because he couldn’t watch a bad version of Downton Abbey (seriously writers, the terrible Downton Abbey parodies need to stop) is ridiculous, but makes sense for an over-emotional baby who just happens to be able to travel through time. That Stewie is really just a toddler comes through in moments like his failed comebacks and continued interactions with Rupert (who’s a real dick about picking up Subway), bits that provide a nice foundation for the episode. And the Brian and Stewie time travel stories’ loose approach to something like continuity is also a good touch—even though Stewie was never going to keep his time machine away for long, it’s refreshing to hear Brian question his motives for beginning to use it again.
“Chap Stewie” neatly splits up into two halves. First, Stewie tries to break his parents up to prevent himself from being born. This part hints at being a parody of Back To The Future and the like, where “fading away” is actually the end goal of the time travel, but the script doesn’t really suggest it’s aware of the ways it plays on that trope where it could really wring out the Doc and Marty jokes. There are, thankfully, some other weird threads here, in particular, the idea that Peter and Lois’ marriage was much more loving before Stewie was born, though they probably could have been taken to even darker, more fun places. (This might be one of the first times I’ve ever genuinely wished Family Guy were darker.) In the other, Stewie gets a quick introduction to his magical reincarnation as a British child, only to decide to jump ship and get Lois and Peter back together using Peter’s childish drawing of his wife. We don’t spend a lot of time with Stewie’s new life—only just enough to run through a checklist of easy jokes about British nobles before getting Stewie out. Some of these are fun, especially his “father” scheduling physical contact for 18 years in the future and Nigel the depressed servant. Others, however, are just lazy and kind of dumb (the tuxedo runner).
Unfortunately, the focus on Stewie is also a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it means that “Chap Stewie” is one of the tightest episodes in recent Family Guy memory, rarely wandering off on tangents and delivering cutaways gags that are linked to the main story. On the other, the spotlight on Stewie means Brian is absent from the bulk of the episode, the main place “Chap Stewie” fails in comparison to the earlier Family Guy stories it’s trading on—without Brian to bounce off, Stewie’s more emotional stories don’t work quite as well. Stewie’s initial trip to the past, and in particular the joke about the opening sequence, is reminiscent of “Back To The Pilot.” But where that episode piled on the self-referential gags on top of increasing time travel insanity, “Chap Stewie” takes its time getting to Stewie’s alternate life as a British aristocrat, and without Brian to play the straight man Stewie just spends a lot of time talking to himself. (The two Stewie death ending is also just basically the conclusion of Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story.)
And as much as the main plot is decently strong, most of the side jokes still fall flat. They hit quite a few of the Family Guy classics: there’s a quick incest joke about Chris seeing Lois naked, a “Stewie is gay” joke involving vibrators, and a few jokes at Meg’s expense (including Peter and Lois trapping her in the basement). These all have a perfunctory feeling of checking off a bunch of boxes for the side jokes in a normal episode of Family Guy, throwing off the pacing of the rest of Stewie’s adventures, and very few of them have more to their jokes than a premise—the runner of Chris going through Peter’s porn can be condensed to “Chris likes porn,” unlike, say, the duck, duck, goose cutaway, which combined both Peter’s idiocy and the presence of the goose. Like the Chris runner, too many of the jokes on this show are literally just of the form “Let’s present x thing and hope you find it funny,” but it was impressive to see the bulk of the actual cutaways in “Chap Stewie” function relatively seamlessly as more insert-type things referencing actual stuff happening in the episode. That’s an interesting look for this show—not necessarily a better one, and not likely something the writers will follow up on, but it’s fun to imagine another life for Family Guy every once in a while.
- Unofficial cutaway counter: 11.
- “My soul must have found another carrier” is a strong candidate for worst line of the season.
- Stewie livetweeting the Downton Abbey parody to ruin it for later time zones hit pretty close to him.
- I have also, in fact, played unga bunga. It ended roughly the same way.
- That’s it for this season (and Animation Domination)! This show can be tough to write about on a weekly basis—I’ve tried my best to handle it mostly on its own terms, but I know everyone has differing ideas about what that should entail. Thanks for joining me.