In sports with scoring judges—mostly Olympic sports like gymnastics, diving, or figure skating—there are times when ambition and risk are more valuable than execution. The athletes who perform flawless dives or routines score less than the eventual winners because they chose elements with a lower starting value. Even with perfect execution, a lesser degree of difficulty prevents a larger potential for success.
“Lois Comes Out Of Her Shell” is that kind of Family Guy episode, setting the bar very low with two telegraphed plots with very few surprises. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but compared to the times when the show is lazy in structure and joke execution, episodes like this one are vastly preferable. It takes a well-worn sitcom theme—desperately trying to appear younger while growing old—and peppers it with crude body humor and late to the game cultural references like Justin Bieber.
The emotional arc is simple and has been used by the show over and over again. Peter is a misogynistic moron to his wife, sending her into a midlife shame spiral. He then realizes the consequences of his ineptitude, only to revert back to his crude tendencies right at the end. That moral structure is Family Guy on autopilot, but again, the low degree of difficulty makes it hard to screw up. Instead of good cutaways saving a bad central plot, the tangential jokes build upon a thoroughly mediocre foundation.
Since Lois’ crisis stems from Peter constructing his entire birthday toast around a grossly insensitive description of Lois’ body changing with age, it’s somewhat nice to see that the show is competent enough to make him suffer a minuscule amount for the emotional pain he inflicts on his wife. As clumsily as Family Guy stumbles through the motions, Peter does finally come to the conclusion that spending an hour with a hot young chick at his age makes him want to blow his brains out . It’s a far more ham-fisted way of making the same point Louis CK makes about the “hot chick at the bar” in his standup routine, but that doesn’t rob the moment of a small amount of resonance.
The derivative B-plot is a rote choice as well, but it works because hey, animated turtles can be cute. Stewie’s new pet turtle isn’t a safe, innocent little animal, but instead a cross between Peter’s nemesis Ernie the Giant Chicken and the Evil Monkey from Chris’ closet. Sheldon terrorizes Stewie and the rest of the family through escalating insidious acts, capped off by a short fight sequence that ends in telegraphed but still enjoyable fashion. The Evil Monkey was mostly a short tangent, while the Giant Chicken is always endurance humor, but Stewie and Sheldon’s arc finds a way to take what was funny in the derivative setups and make them work in an actual plot structure. It builds out of the A-plot when Lois takes Stewie to a park, ropes in the other characters, and finishes with a truncated fight sequence. I laughed at a handful of gags throughout the episode, but whenever Sheldon showed up, I paid attention. Hopefully his video game demise isn’t permanent, since he’s a funny, silent adversary.
“Lois Comes Out Of Her Shell” has a low bar to clear, but with a surprising abundance of funny cutaways and a cute B-plot, this is just barely above average. Considering how often Family Guy phones in episodes like this with tired structure and unfunny jokes, it’s refreshing when it manages to put the familiar to good use with successful material around it.
- Unofficial Cutaway Counter: Nine, but I didn’t count the two quick cuts to Meg taking sleeping pills or Peter with a “Hot Butt” as they were part of Brian talking to Stewie as they realize Sheldon is evil.
- Best cutaway: The secret bald guy interaction was hilarious, and since I’m a Tim Burton apologist, I found the Edward Scissorhands cutaway highly enjoyable.
- Worst: That baby shower was kind of terrible, as was Peter’s first blog.
- Conway Bieber. There’s another go-to joke that needs to be retired.
- Adam West’s antics, on the other hand, continue to be hysterical. He mistakes his dry cleaner for a nightclub, declaring the background noise in the shop his jam.
- Thanks so much to Sonia for subbing in for me the last two weeks while I was on vacation.