This week’s Family Guy pulled it together for a tight show. “Joe’s Revenge” enters that world of farcical, bizarre scenarios that Family Guy makes a general practice of; unlike many of those other stories, though, the beats in the episode generally fall in the right places. Joe takes Peter and Quagmire with him on a journey of revenge against the heroin dealer that paralyzed him; the quest takes them to Atlantic City and then to Mexico, obviously. Meanwhile, Lois and the family watch Quagmire's cat.
Even if I don’t always appreciate the crudeness of Family Guy's humor (or, let’s be frank, the outright racism and misogyny that is “supposed to be ironic” and really just isn’t), there’s no doubt that the humor is written into the plot at the right moments in "Joe's Revenge." I was surprised at the number of times I laughed out loud in this episode. It’s significantly funnier than last week’s “Yug Ylimaf,” which never found its rhythm.
A device that Family Guy has leaned on with gratuitous, joyous impunity is the prolonged dry punchline: the long pause, interrupted by nothing except the blank, unmoving animated faces of the characters in the scene. Perhaps it is Peter gasping over his wounded knee for 10 minutes, perhaps it’s Brian waiting for a response from an unenthusiastic crowd. In “Joe’s Revenge” it was Quagmire handing Lois his cat, giving her instructions, petting the cat, going on for too long about the cat. It’s funny because it’s weird; it’s funny because the timing is off, and I do get that (I found the Peter/knee thing very funny the first time I saw it). But it isn’t the most engaging way to maintain viewers, is it? There’s a big drag in waiting for the punchline to find itself that makes it hard to stay with the joke. After some time of not watching Family Guy, I found that it was a lot more difficult to maintain my attention span for Quagmire’s inane conversation with Lois about the cat. I think that particular brand of humor is directed at Family Guy’s stoned fans, which is fine, but it loses its edge after a point.
Because: Family Guy is almost entirely about timing—the sharp edges of a cutaway to the prolonged wait, with bated breath, for a punchline to emerge from a static scene. I think that’s why it’s so appealing to the stoned among us: It’s always engaging when you’re watching it, because it moves when you might not expect it to, and vice versa. The pace of “Joe’s Revenge” felt right, and that was enough to showcase some very funny jokes (Stewie leaving Goober with a babysitter Barbie!!), glide over some terrible ones (South America breaking away from Africa because of black people? What the HELL?), and redeem some questionable ones (Quagmire’s illegitimate stripper twins…!). When it hits the sweet spot, it can take you right over the weird parts and deliver you to a vague but familiar conclusion. Can’t ask for much more than that.
I think what Family Guy wants to do is to be the show that can be read either entirely ironically or entirely earnestly, such as, for example, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Family Guy’s issues in pulling that off in recent seasons speaks to how good Sunny is at what it does. In part, that's because Family Guy's structure is so limited—it's a cartoon that can't play off the facial expressions of comic actors. But it's also just hard to write a show that plays with those two tones. Right now, Family Guy can only manage to switch gears from terrible lowbrow pandering into witty, sarcastic pop culture references. It’s painfully choppy, and honestly, it’s not doing the show any favors in the long run. What kind of life in syndication can a show have in 10 years if it’s overtly racist, misogynist, and homophobic? From a purely practical point of view, it seems like Family Guy is increasingly in retrograde while other cartoons are doing something new and awesome in every episode, and that means its shelf life is expiring.
That being said, it clearly knows how to put together an episode when it needs to. This isn’t great material, but it’s good enough for this show.
- “We saw Reality Bites together!”
- The stripper scene, needless to say, was an affront to humanity. Yikes.
- “…A prison open house, an event that will most likely be cancelled in the future.”
- Kevin will be returning to cover Family Guy next week!