So this episode is called “Meg Stinks!” The title, at first, does not bode particularly well—the Meg hatred well has simply been exhausted too many times and in too obnoxious ways, concentrated most recently in this season’s terrible “A Fistful Of Meg.” There are a bunch of garden-variety “Meg is gross” jokes in this episode about her unattractiveness and “stupidity,” but they feel perfunctory in a way that makes them boring and mildly distracting rather than straight-up irritating, and are mostly filtered through Peter’s blinkered perspective rather than simply the show pronouncing her as horrible. Mostly, “Meg Stinks!” is a vast improvement over “A Fistful Of Meg” in almost every way, primarily because it’s actually more reminiscent of one of my favorite episodes of Family Guy: “Road To Rupert.” Like that episode, “Meg Stinks!” features a surprisingly effective Meg-Peter plot and, while it doesn’t have an all-time great Stewie-Brian story, it’s still solid.
In “Road To Rupert,” Meg ends up driving Peter around because he can’t drive, eventually becoming his partner in juvenile crime and secret confidant. “Meg! Stinks” has a similar claustrophobic premise—Meg is going to look at a college, and Peter has to drive her. At first, this telegraphs a series of standard Peter dumping on Meg jokes, but when the two stop at a diner the night before Meg’s big interview, the episode takes a step up. This scene is eerily reminiscent of Don and Sally Draper’s heartbreaking conversation in a pretty similar venue on Mad Men a couple of weeks ago. Like that scene, this one gets a decent amount of emotional mileage out of the parental pairing (comparing each show against itself), in this case mostly due to the presence of “Night Moves.” Meg knows a lot of specific, weird things about Peter that come close to painting an actual picture of a person rather than an amorphous cartoon id, Peter reveals he wanted to be a podiatrist but got sucked into having a family because of Lois’ pregnancy. It’s futile (and probably kind of dumb) to try to think seriously about characters on this show as real people, especially when the show doesn’t want to be thought about that way, but this came pretty close and was clearly the high point of the episode—Meg confronts her father’s failures and the reasons he might hate her (or be indifferent toward her), and Peter comes to see the results of his behavior. So, naturally, they party.
Meg blows off her interview to hang out with Peter, in the logical conclusion of the end of the same story in “Road To Rupert.” That there are consequences to being friends with Peter isn’t new to the show, but it’s fun to see what it would be like to have to help a sort of human Peter engage in being an insane animated sitcom character, like getting money to buy a zebra by robbing a bank—and Meg, desperate to befriend her father, obliges. So for the last act, “Meg Stinks!” turns into a “bad influence” sitcom story, as being friends with Peter leads Meg into increasing debauchery and poor decision-making culminating in said bank robbery before she has to “break up” with him. This stuff isn’t quite as good as everything preceding it, mostly because “Meg Stinks!” is pressed for time (and ends with a similar Meg-bashing voiceover to “A Fistful Of Meg,” which is best left forgotten), but it’s still satisfying to see several wells the show has gone to previously used in somewhat new ways and in novel-ish combinations.
Speaking of which—for most of the episode, Brian becomes a feral creature (albeit one with a spear) when he’s forced to be outside by Lois after a skunk sprays him. The sequence here is typical mass escalating violence in the Griffins’ living room, even including the necessary vomit, but Stewie’s attempts to get Brian back in the house (and Brian’s attempt to rationalize his new life as a “hunter”) are decent enough—both he and Meg are trying to be something they are “supposed” to be, but just don’t have the stomach for, for whatever reason.
It’s almost astonishing that Danny Smith’s script manages to pack in decent arcs for both plots that have some level of thematic resonance, especially when there are also more than twice as many cutaway jokes as there were last week. Though a lot of the throwaway jokes are as unfunny as anything in most of the last few episodes, some of the stuff around the edges is pretty good, especially an early joke at the expense of Washington’s football team. (“This is important for sports!”) The episode also manages to include other callbacks to the show’s early history (like a Megcopter) and a loose, loose runner of an evil Peter that make it a little easier to stomach this as something other than just a rehash—after 12 seasons, it’s difficult to imagine Family Guy ever really doing an original story again, but if the episodes all manage to build on the better examples, that’s not such a bad thing.
- Unofficial cutaway counter: 12.
- Favorite cutaway: Fiona Apple picking.
- Sorry Family Guy, but this is the greatest sitcom use of “Night Moves.”