The town around where I went to college had two bars that would reliably admit underage patrons with a fake ID. One, the size of a cramped hallway with an adjacent beer garden open during summers, closed during my junior year, after the university bought the building that housed the bar and declined to extend the lease. The other, a dingy, disgusting, dance floor that happened to serve drinks as well, closed just a few weeks ago, after a lengthy battle with city officials attempting to revoke its liquor license. The latter’s closing was met with outrage and nostalgia from students and alumni, but the former, a far better bar in attitude and location, slipped quietly into the night without protest. In a few years, people will mention the bar where freshman hopped the fence into the alley just to sneak onto the perpetually sticky dance floor and laugh at how terrible it was, but anytime I grab a drink in an outdoor location, I think back to that first beer garden, now empty and unable to introduce students to simple, summer entertainment.
This is all a way of saying that the bar-related nostalgia and defense of tradition in “Save The Clam” managed to strike a chord with me, once I blocked out the race jokes, the gay jokes, and the women jokes that never landed. That’s a pretty standard way to appreciate anything that Family Guy does these days, tuning out the deliberately provocative jokes as though they’re comments made by an older relative at Thanksgiving who gets a pass because they “grew up in a different time.” Family Guy doesn’t have that excuse, so when the material doesn’t work because it trades in lazy stereotypes, it hurts the episode. Still, I laughed more this week at the remaining bits than I have in a few months.
Opening with a nice send-up of middle-aged softball games is a good place to start. I used to see Styrofoam coolers all over the fields along the lakefront in Chicago on weekends once the weather finally turned warm, and the no stretching agreement was always in full effect. Peter, Quagmire, and Joe all play on a Drunken Clam-sponsored team but get nervous once Mort’s Pharmacy team shows up with Jerome, a ringer who hits home runs through windows in the next town over. There’s a requisite lesbian softball player joke, but a far lesser episode of Family Guy would have sent Jerome running the second Horace is pronounced dead, simply because he’s a black character involved in an accident. Instead, the racial humor is confined in one terrible cutaway about Asian-American Vietnam veterans.
The Drunken Clam is no Cheers or Moe’s. It’s not going to inspire much sympathy as a location, but it does inspire a nice faux last-hurrah celebration from Quagmire, Joe, and especially Peter, who drunkenly recounts all the times he missed out on important events in the lives of Homer Simpson’s children, probably the best we-copied-Simpsons joke the show has ever made.
There’s always a core sadness involved in these characters’ lives, but it’s buried beneath so many cutaways and race jokes that it doesn’t often show through. Peter’s plea to Lois that he and his friends need a place to drink together—since their sober friend activities like writing a screenplay prove unsuccessful—speaks to their status as maladjusted adults numbing the pain. Joe is frequently depicted as overwhelmingly depressed or suicidal about his condition, and though Quagmire mostly enjoys his predatory lifestyle, there has always been sadness at the core of his life. Peter is supposed to be the family man with everything (though with the raunchy tone turned up to 11), but he’s disappointed with his life in almost every episode that focuses on him.
The third act gets caught having to hurry up and solve everything, muddled by Joe leaving the bar to go back to the cops, only to switch sides again when he storms the place to end the sit-in. But until the quick changes and simple solution of Jerome buying the bar to save it, burrowing into the sadness of losing the one place that glues the supremely sad trio of friends together helped the higher cutaway count spring out with levity.
- Unofficial cutaway counter: 15, though that doesn’t include the extended homage to ’80s movies at the “big high school party that will change everything.”
- Best cutaway: Peter, Quagmire, and Joe writing a screenplay together was pretty amazing, and I’m always a sucker for Brian’s anthropomorphized dog humor, so him locked in the car with the windows up made me laugh for quite a while.
- The B-plot focuses on Meg, but thankfully, the entire point of her existence in this episode isn’t serving as the butt of insulting jokes about her being useless. She stumbles into a part-time job at a funeral home, where Chris visits, disrupts her work, and loses a body. Just like the main plot, this one runs out of time quickly, jumping to the extreme of Meg itching Chris’ scratch in an uncomfortable location, and Chris losing his face.
- Any chance to make fun of the Manning family works for me, even if I do like some of the commercials they appear in.