How many incest jokes is it cool for a half hour comedy to make? Is there a manual of taboo subjects somewhere that says? An FCC law? No matter what, “Fresh Heir” probably violates the limit with, as best I can tell, four really clear jokes whose punchline is family members doin’ it, not including the whole main plot being about Peter marrying Chris. You can sort of see why these make it into the show. Maybe one incest joke is “edgy,” and catches a hypothetical viewer (who somehow has never seen any of Family Guy’s other incest jokes) unaware. “Oh, that’s funny,” he says. Two incest jokes is pushing it. “I can’t believe they went there again,” our viewer says. Three? Four? “This… isn’t that funny anymore. Maybe I should just rewatch Bob’s Burgers.” He is not wrong to do so. “Hey, incest!” is pretty much the main joke in “Fresh Heir,” and it drags everything down, down into the depths of comedy/decency hell.
But before we talk about incest, there is actually some pretty good stuff going on in the first ten minutes or so of this episode. At first, Peter refuses to spend any time with Chris because he is a terrible father, which is par for the course. But then Carter breaks his leg, and Chris goes to take care of him (and also take care of him, in the first incest joke of the episode) just to have someone to hang out with. Carter is one of my favorite recurring characters, partially because Seth MacFarlane’s voice for him isn’t done to death yet, and partially because his particular combination of childish incompetence and mogul aggression actually makes sense, and his bonding with his grandson is good stuff—Chris’ childishness is a good fit for Carter’s entitled ignorance, so it makes sense on some level that they’d have fun together.
After a few band practices and limo rides, Carter goes the Cincinnatus argument—Chris should get all of his money when he dies precisely because he doesn’t want it (apparently Barbara will definitely die first). This makes sense, and Lois’ willingness to just roll with it is refreshing, but of course Peter decides he has to have all of Carter’s money immediately, so his previously cool dynamic with Chris is reversed. The forced father-son bonding here is pretty good, as Peter attempts to show Chris Meatballs, complete with unwieldy VCR tools, only to find it can’t compete with any of the other things he could be doing.
But then Peter decides to marry Chris for his money, and the whole thing just turns rotten. Yes, Family Guy has a history of doing these sorts of incest jokes (though not in any of the episodes I’ve reviewed, so this is the first I’m talking about it), but the whole main plot here is about how funny it is that Peter and Chris are getting married, because it’s gross that a father would marry his child. Yes, it is gross. Yes, Joe trying to touch Kevin’s butt, Chris jerking off his grandfather, Chris and Meg taking baths together, and Peter promising to do “weird butt stuff” to his son during their wedding ceremony are gross. (That’s all four of the explicit incest jokes I counted). But jokes that are that type of gross are also only funny or effective because they’re shocking, and just having an unending string of the same joke about family members totally doing it is just horrendous.
It really does not help that the cutaways are also miserably unfunny, especially the Ballzheimer’s Disease joke about Peter showing up with human testicles and unaware of how he got there. Usually, there are at least a few good ones just based on the way the writers will throw tons of stuff at the wall to see what sticks (and, in all fairness, the “unspoken bond” cutaway was enjoyable). It seems like the satellite jokes were actually all thematically consistent for once—“Fresh Heir” isn’t a particularly random episode of Family Guy, but most of the humor just converged on incest being funny in the same way “Mom’s The Word” converged on old people being gross, which also isn’t the best joke to run into the ground for a few reasons.
What makes the whole thing worse is that there’s a decent enough episode of Family Guy buried in here. Scrape away the incest jokes, have Peter go to increasingly desperate lengths to win Chris’ love and get at the money (which is where it seemed like everything was going), and there are a hundred different things Peter could have done. Seth Green does his best to save this story, selling Chris throwing himself into the social inanities of marriage just to spend time with his dad. With the exception of the episode I was unfortunate enough to miss, this season has been on a real cold streak lately, parading around all of the things that make Family Guy so unpleasant when it wants to be. Even at this late date, it’s still capable of being decently funny in not-terrible ways. “You just have a way of looking at things that’s delightfully fresh,” Carter tells Chris. If only.
- Unofficial cutaway counter: Nine (including five in the first five minutes).
- Didn’t even get to mention the Annie Hall reference gag that closes out “Fresh Heir.” This episode really commits to the incest (or near-incest) theme, at least?
- Many thanks to Kevin for filling in for me last week, but many curses for getting a pretty funny episode.