Family Guy goes so many episodes without actually managing to weave its plot lines together that whenever the show actually makes that work, it takes me by complete surprise. There are a lot of arbitrary twists in tonight’s episode that take Peter and Chris from sitting on the couch to the attic to a remote fat camp, but for once, I thought it all actually fit together nicely and created some nice laughs opposite a Stewie/Brian running B-plot that got better as the episode wore on.
First, Peter wants Chris to enter a hot dog-eating contest against undefeated champion Charles Yamamoto, but because this is an animated sitcom, he has to find a way to come up with the $50 entry fee. While he browses his old possessions in the attic with Brian and Chris, they stumble upon a crate of records, including a copy of Queen’s 1977 album News Of The World—the one with “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” on it. The album cover, with artwork from sci-fi artist Frank Kelly Freas, depicts a giant robot holding the dead and bloodied members of the band, and the image deeply disturbs Stewie, who can’t even stand to glance at the thing. Brian promptly ponies up the money for the entry fee, having found his entertainment for the week.
Much in the same way I find it pretty funny whenever Brian vocalizes doglike thoughts, whenever Stewie speaks reactions that are normal for babies, it generally works for me. The various ways in which Brian scares Stewie with the album cover range from the obvious—Stewie waking up next to the album in his crib—to the more elaborate, as when Stewie cautiously cranks a Jack-in-the-Box, finds it harmless, then realizes the cover has been painted to cover an entire wall of his room. H. Jon Benjamin even gets in on the fun with a quick appearance as the convenience store clerk who also played Yoda in the Empire Strikes Back parody, giving Stewie a scratch-off lottery ticket with the album cover underneath the last square. It’s a joke elevation sequence much like Peter repeatedly falling down the new stairs earlier this season, only better and more tied into the reference-heavy humor Family Guy can still at times do well.
Meanwhile, Chris wins the eating contest, but Lois so dislikes the whole ordeal that she decides to send Chris to fat camp. Once there, Chris complains that Peter should be there with him. After all, Peter is fatter than Chris, so why the hell not? Although the opening shot of the camp features kids squashing horses to the ground and a kid using a tire swing to jump into a lake and dragging the connected tree along with him, the episode doesn’t descend into a montage of typical camp hijinks. Instead, a murder plot interrupts it when Peter and Chris stumble upon a dead camper. Since it’s a fat kid, Peter suspects Lois’ brother Patrick, who strangled fat guys and ended up in a mental asylum.
Bringing back Lois’s brother Patrick is a bit of a contrived red herring, seemingly only in the episode to break Patrick out of his asylum and let him loose in the world, free to come back in a future episode. Even when Patrick shows up at the Griffin’s house, it was pretty clear that Yamamoto was out for revenge and just kept getting Chris mixed up with other kids. Unlike other episodes that have veered strangely into violence or action sequences at the climax of the episode — “Brenda Q” in particular went over the edge in that regard — I was happy to see that not only did the episode tie things up with a bit of comedy, but it linked the fat camp/eating contest plot to the News Of The World plot. Stewie shows Yamamoto the cover of the album, and it causes a heart attack. Still a rather gruesome ending, but one that connected the two plots in a clever and simple fashion.
The cutaways had some laughs, especially the two patter song sequences with Peter mumbling his way through musical numbers, but for the most part this was an average half-hour. That’s better than the norm for late-period Family Guy, which too often forgets things like plot and intertwining stories in favor of cutaways intended to offend. I liked the simplicity of tonight’s half-hour, laughed a few times, and never really groaned at any horrible material. Faint praise to be sure, but it makes the show bearable.
- Unofficial Cutaway Counter: 8
- Best cutaway: I’m sticking with the musical sequences, especially Peter’s incompetent rendition of “Modern Major-General’s Song”.
- Worst: Not really a cutaway, but Peter’s extended gag where he introduced himself as the cabin clown was pretty lame.