A serious episode of Family Guy cripples the show’s strengths. Ceding time that could be used on cutaway gags and more jokes to a plot that is tonally opposite to the show’s foundation doesn’t come across as a good idea. While other shows, even procedurals with grisly murders, play around in Halloween specials, Family Guy went for an episode about domestic abuse that wrote off any chance that comedy could save it if things took a wrong turn.
Peter, Joe, and Quagmire are going fishing, but Quagmire doesn’t show up. When the other two go to his house, they find that Quagmire hanging from the ceiling with his underwear around his ankles, apparently dead from autoerotic asphyxiation. It’s a moment that fits with Quagmire’s sex-obsessed character but gives a sign that a darker direction is in store. These kinds of moments in the show aren’t offensive; they’re actually sort of harmless, but the real problem with how frequently they occur is that they just aren’t as funny as they need to be. An episode like this only works if the bits of comedy surrounding the serious plot create contrast to the darker main story, but they weren't here. Fortunately, Glenn is still alive, and his sister Brenda shows up at the hospital with her awful boyfriend, Jeff, in tow to watch over Glenn while he recuperates.
Jeff is such a horrible, offensive misogynist that he makes all the other characters look like saints. His lines weren’t funny, just deeply uncomfortable, and any attempts to inject humor into his tirades never landed. The only part that seemed the least bit funny was Brenda’s meal at a restaurant with Lois. Olson got some laughs out of just how deep Brenda’s denial went, finding every possible excuse to blame herself and exonerate Jeff. It made her endearing and easily likeable, every bit the opposite from Olson’s place in the rogue’s gallery of misanthropy on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. That was really the only comedic bright spot, as most of the other scenes kept trying to top each other for which could inspire the most discomfort. The scene where Jeff beats Brenda for switching the television from Leno to Letterman was particularly stale, especially the lukewarm cutaway to Leno’s bad jokes that barely resembled the criticisms lobbed at Leno.
While Brenda and Jeff stay with Quagmire, his over-the-top abuse begins to affect everyone, to the point that the Griffins, Swansons, and Quagmire hold an intervention for Brenda. When Quagmire delivers the requisite emotional outpouring, it all sounds right, but the action is undercut by the fact that Brenda only showed up in response to Quagmire slipping into a coma due to autoerotic asphyxiation. That’s the guy being the voice of reason, and there’s no joke attached to it because of the serious tone, no irony because of the mood in an intervention scene dealing with an abusive boyfriend. Peter got a bunch of snarky lines to mutter between plot points, but the show resorted to repeating a “Rock Lobster” joke that it used back when Cleveland was still a part of the show gave the impression that even in an episode with many fewer jokes, there wasn’t enough new material to go around.
That intervention doesn’t have any effect, and Jeff bursts into the room to deliver the news that not only are Brenda and Jeff getting married, but Brenda is pregnant. That sets Quagmire in a spiral where he comes up with the idea of killing Jeff, and enlists Peter and Joe to help by taking him on a "midnight hunting trip" in the woods. After a few twists, Quagmire prevails with a little help from his penchant for autoerotic asphyxiation, but it doesn’t feel satisfying, and more importantly, there’s no comedy. This episode veers into territory that doesn’t do Family Guy any favors, and this is the last show with high moral ground to stand on for dealing with more sensitive subjects like domestic abuse or revenge killings.
There were fewer tangents tonight, and thus fewer opportunities for jokes to fail. But the Jeff plot brought out some truly terrible tendencies in the characters. During the final scenes, when Peter, Joe, and Quagmire deliver a fake letter to Brenda to explain Jeff’s disappearance, Peter blurts out that he wants to kill again. The takeaway from the whole experience, from watching how horribly Jeff treats Brenda, to the failed attempt on Jeff’s life, to the violent struggle with Quagmire, leaves him with the thought of killing Mort. When Family Guy goes serious, it shouldn’t make the mistake of trying to mine those more frightening plots for moments of bad humor. They rarely work. The Simpsons managed to find the right blend with Sideshow Bob episodes, or in the aching sadness of Homer and Marge’s marriage, but as has been said ad infinitum, Family Guy hasn’t mastered that combination in the same way as the original.
- My cutaway counter was way off tonight because I accidentally forgot to count during the second act, so if anyone knows how many there were just leave it in the comments.
- Probably the best tangential joke was when Joe got Chris’ name wrong and called him Caleb. It was kind of a nice touch to show how little he knew about the Griffin family. The worst was the first in the episode, about what Peter though Portuguese meant, which I’m assuming was a picture of “porch geese” instead.
- “It only hurts when I see.”
- “So you like getting beaten? Well why don’t you smoke a whole carton of cigarettes!”
- “Eddie Izzard would be very discreet.” “Well, there’s your answer.”