A few times during each season, an episode of Family Guy reminds me that at its best the show functions simply as a joke delivery device, with some plot connective tissue and familiar players to carry out the bits. And an episode like “Farmer Guy,” with its plethora of cutaways and extended jokes illustrates that intention. “Farmer Guy” doesn’t ape Breaking Bad in any significant structural sense, but it does continue the show’s gentle slights against prestige dramas. And since Breaking Bad has its final season this summer, now is really the only time this episode works as well as it could.
Quahag has an increasing crime problem, which culminates in the Griffins’ house being robbed. It shows Lois that her hometown has changed for the worse, possibly forever, and she opines that she wanted to raise a family in a wholesome place. So Peter takes that and sells their house, buys a farm, and moves the family at the drop of a hat. That’s all basically to set up a less regionally-focuses retelling of third season episode “To Love And Die In Dixie,” which moved the Griffins to the Deep South in witness protection.
The move is one of the standard, “the Griffins do…this!” constructions that plague many animated shows, but at least it leans on my favorite kind of Family Guy humor when the Griffins explain to Brian that they’re taking him to “a nice big farm upstate.” Brian’s subsequent reaction with a gun undercuts the moment, but that minute or so when the family describes how nice the place will be, instilling more fear in their dog, worked perfectly.
Once they’re actually on the farm, Peter’s lack of work ethic becomes a real problem, and immediately they’re in danger of losing their land. Brian attempts to find a solution that suits him by going to study agriculture, but a tornado forces the rest of the family into the basement shelter, where they apparently never looked before, and find all the equipment necessary to start a meth lab. In desperate need of money, they turn their sanctuary from crime-ridden Quahog into a much worse environment.
Some of the farm and meth jokes land, like Peter’s quick devolution into hallucinating madman, but others, like the drawn out farming-as-incest bit involving Peter, Chris, and Meg, don’t (the knowing tag on that scene doesn’t help). I worry that watching shows like Family Guy quickly devolve into this kind of binary. What is there to say about a show when it all comes down to a thumb up or down on each successive joke? That’s really all Family Guy aims to be: a familiar delivery system for easily consumed jokes. And this episode shows that version of the show can still work, when it isn’t consumed by reaching for controversial material that trades on shock value.
“Farmer Guy” shows that perhaps the most lasting legacy of Breaking Bad is turning meth production into cultural capital, and that the death of small-time farming gets nothing more than a shrug. But the episode takes Peter’s decision to move the family—taking Lois’ offhand observation about raising a family in wholesome location and then making a bunch of rash changes in order to uproot their lives—and then critiques how they leave Quahog behind. In an attempt to survive financially in a more pastoral, docile place to live, they actually contribute to the crime problems plaguing their town. Though it doesn’t actually show any of the problems going on—except seeing Trisha Takanawa saying everything is fine and not to worry about the meth—the episode blames the Griffins for contributing to the cycle that increased crime in Quahog in the first place.
Instead of actually dealing with that implication, Family Guy cuts to the chase and blows up the house. To be fair, it’s not emphasized enough just how volatile all those chemicals can be, and as an ending to one of the standard episode types for this show—Peter initiates family upheaval—it swiftly shows Lois’ reversal to be correct. It’s a quick way to end the episode, and it makes Brian’s small subplot a bit of a dead end, but when there are so many cutaways, an already thin plot gets thinner.
- Unofficial cutaway counter: 14, an unusually high count for the season, but with more successes than normal.
- Best cutaway: the “Specific Store,” Peter’s “Only The Proposal” DVD rental store, or Stewie’s experience at a Kid Rock concert all tie.
- Worst cutaway: either the two guys discovering gold in California or Peter mistaking a red-haired man for Lois in a restaurant bathroom.
- Similar to Brian-as-dog humor, Stewie not understanding when Lois spells out “illegal” and “drugs” worked nicely, though the show always just randomly chooses whenever it wants to treat either of those characters as a dog or baby.
- “There were a lot of Rottweilers in that house.”