Family Guy often does something special for premieres and finales—even when they’re unsuccessful, those episodes (like the Star Wars parodies or that James Woods murder mystery) at least represent the show shooting for more than the comfortable groove it’s been in for a few years. Worse still, this is the episode that has to air opposite the Breaking Bad series finale. But instead of a (likely futile) attempt at originality after 11 seasons, “Finders Keepers” is just another Family Guy episode, and not a great one at that.
At the beginning of the episode, Peter has developed horrible breath and, after increasingly annoying his family by breathing heavily into fans and Meg’s mouth, reluctantly goes to the dentist. This should be an opportunity to use Peter as a completely overgrown child for a half hour, but instead turns out to be one of my least favorite Family Guy tropes: Spending the first quarter of an episode on a totally unrelated plot before finally kicking the main story into gear. Peter and his “dad breath” seem like an excuse to toss out whatever jokes the writers could think of about bad breath while setting up a lengthy ad for Hurry Up Shrimp, an idea for a fast-food shrimp chain that someone must have thought was hilarious. The real meat of the episode, about a madcap treasure hunt, doesn’t get started until minute five, which makes “Finders Keepers” feel sluggishly paced, even for an episode of Family Guy.
To celebrate fixing Peter’s rancid breath (which it turns out is caused by a whole, undercooked shrimp stuck in his craw from Hurry Up Shrimp), the Griffins head to a theme restaurant called The Founding Father, where the waiters all wear powdered wigs and have what I guess are period-appropriate bouts of diarrhea, which should be a strong recommendation for the food. When Peter decides he knows the location of a spot marked on the restaurant’s kiddie placemat/treasure map, he sets off to find the treasure of Quahog founder Miles “Chatterbox” Musket (who, astonishingly, has actually been previously referenced on the show as the founder of Quahog). Instead of an actual treasure, Peter finds a clue which in turn leads to another clue, etc. I didn’t realize “Finders Keepers” was supposed to be a National Treasure parody for a few hours after I watched it, which suggests either a.) I’m an idiot, b.) It’s super weird and random to be making fun of that movie in 2013, and/or c.) The parody wasn’t very good.
All of Quahog gets in on the hunt for some reason after Peter dishes about the treasure on the news, turning the rest of “Finders Keepers” into It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World (or Rat Race if you’re feeling uncharitable). Splitting up the Griffins into pairs doesn’t add much to the episode, though it does leave Stewie and Brian free to do their own thing for a while, which is always fun. The hunt leads to increasingly obtuse clues while the citizens of Quahog go to ever-greater lengths to find the treasure, including digging up a child’s grave. By the time the last, misleading clue sends most of the treasure hunters to a baseball stadium, the entire town is caught up in madcap, chaotic violence. Most of this part of the episode is just escalation for its own sake, meaning nothing is really surprising or funny, which is too bad considering the opportunities for weirdness presented by a massive treasure hunt. It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World gets laughs when otherwise normal people go to insane lengths to find treasure, but everyone in Quahog is already so heightened the bar is much higher. Eventually, Peter and Lois find the final chest at the Drunken Clam (the real treasure was booze!) and discover only an expired coupon for the Founding Father, a cute if sort of predictable ending.
Several of tonight’s cutaway’s land well, particularly Peter’s attempt at a Planet Earth-style documentary and a Back To The Future riff asking if George McFly ever suspected any funny business once his son turned out to look like “Calvin Klein” (featuring Lea Thompson as Lorraine). Toward the end of “Finders Keepers,” the cutaways mostly become about the cutaways themselves. Family Guy has been making that sort of self-referential joke for a while, but tonight’s versions actually work pretty well, particularly when Peter uses his cutaway power in the treasure hunt by traveling via douchey promo for the Suzuki Samurai or cutting into the closed Drunken Clam. Unfortunately, the effective cutaways don’t make up for the lackluster main plot, which is so formulaic it distracts from the rest of the show’s ample distraction. Family Guy’s cutaway-driven plasticity is kind of an all-or-nothing asset. The show’s best episodes are either insane and totally continuity-less or grounded more closely in a character or relationship (most of the Stewie and Brian episodes). “Finders Keepers” is stuck in the middle, where it gets the worst of both worlds.
- Kevin MacFarland is giving up regular Family Guy coverage, so I’m your replacement reviewer for this season. In the spirit of tradition, here’s your unofficial cutaway counter: 12.
- Wikipedia suggests this season will see Cleveland move back to Quahog. It was weird that they wrote him out of the show without doing anything else with the character, right?
- Peter singing along with Cab Calloway’s “Minnie The Moocher” (the version from The Blue Brothers soundtrack, I think) is great.
- So who else eats Mounds bars?