Family Guy: “Tea Peter”
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Family Guy: “Tea Peter”

I am wary of vaguely topical political episodes of Family Guy, because even though I’m a godless, liberal heathen from the Bay Area, I’ve grown tired of the way the show panders to my demographic. I don’t look to Family Guy to validate that I dislike an opposing viewpoint by making its followers out to be simpletons. Sure, I may agree with the comically oversimplified representation of the Tea Party, but the thin plot arc didn’t do much for me, whereas the cutaways made me laugh, which is the reason I watch this show.

Following the events of “Burning Down The Bayit,” Mort holds a grand re-opening for his store. Because Peter is a buffoon calibrated to be as moronic as each episode requires, the “Open” sign on the entrance fascinates him. Mort give him an extra sign, Peter puts it on the front door of the Griffins house, and suddenly, he’s an unlicensed business owner. Someone tries on Stewie in a closet (and he fits); Peter paints a family portrait with the mother and daughter kissing in lingerie because it’s his version of the truth; a guy wants a key copied but gets a deli sandwich instead; Peter tries to sell Lois’ wedding dress, then hides from Lois underneath the dress and gives the girl his business card in a way that made me weary of the way Family Guy always takes the path of highest-possible offense when it comes to sexual humor. It’s all a scattershot setup for Joe shutting down the business (since it’s unlicensed and infuriating the rest of the family), at which point Peter is just desperate enough to listen to a Tom Tucker news report about the Tea Party.

Anyone can accurately guess Family Guy’s view on the Tea Party without even watching this episode, though, as always, that unfiltered opinion with absolutely no attempt at multilayered storytelling or irony comes straight from Brian’s mouth. To illustrate the idea that the Tea Party is run by the wealthy in an attempt to appeal to lower income brackets, Carter Pewterschmidt is the Tea Party leader in Quahog. He brings Peter in to help disband the Quahog government, and Mayor Adam West is more than happy to go along with the will of the public, so long as he gets to take the column he brought from home. Once the government is gone, Carter’s oil refinery—which apparently Pewterschmidt Industries owns and operates right around Quahog—can run free from any legislative restrictions.

But it’s not just the oil refinery. Every public service in Quahog is disbanded, and the city turns into a wasteland with no power, no police, no firefighters, and general chaos and lawlessness all around. It’s a great big, obvious statement on what Family Guy thinks of the Tea Party’s political opinions. Peter fervently supports the group—and his fellow protesters are willing to beat up and shoot anyone who won’t toe the party line—but since he’s the giant fool, any cause he takes up is inherently foolish by extension. That’s the only bit of complexity this episode has up its sleeve.

Once the plot of the episode became clear, about a minute after Peter discovered that the Tea Party exists, I started focusing on the cutaways, since there were more than in an average episode this season. To my surprise, a lot of them worked. The Russian coats tangent, “Just For Eagles” commercial, and even Stewie’s throwaway lines about Lois holding hands with someone at a gas station or getting used as a garment landed. They’re a good distraction from a telegraphed main plot about an issue I would rather not think about.

“Tea Peter” got me thinking about political episodes of Family Guy that I found funny without feeling overpowered by a topical message. The local election hijinks of “Running Mates,” international political tomfoolery of “E. Peterbus Unum,” and lobbyist send-up/semi-morality tale “Mr. Griffin Goes To Washington” are all better examples of Family Guy easing into political discussions that avoid being too preachy. The delayed airdate of animated shows renders “ripped from the headlines” stories a bit risky, but the Tea Party is certainly still a relevant political movement heading into the summer before the 2012 presidential election.

This season, whenever the show deals with social or political hot-button issues, it has always been too didactic. “Thanksgiving” dealt with the war in Iraq by having everyone yell over dinner, “Livin’ On A Prayer” clumsily handled religious choices related to medical care by having Lois and Peter kidnap a child. “Tea Peter” seems to believe that every follower of the Tea Party movement would propose exactly the same type of government in place now once mass lawlessness overtook the land by following their proposed ideas. I didn’t buy that final step, but it was the only bit of irony in the entire plot, and I appreciate whenever Family Guy goes for satire with a bit of meaning instead of shouting distilled vitriol for its perceived opponents from a soapbox.

Stray observations:

  • Unofficial cutaway counter: 13, though that count could go up or down depending on how you count tangents like the guy-slipping-on-water sequence.
  • Next week is a back-to-back finale to round out the season, including “Viewer Mail #2,” a sequel to the last episode that aired before the show got cancelled the first time around.
  • Best cutaway: I liked the men’s knitting club, though many others deserve to be highlighted, including Quagmire marrying a giraffe, the cop/Native American/construction worker combination, and Chris taking mescaline and driving to Vegas.
  • Worst: The Japanese girls laughing during normal conversation. Paired with the joke about Mort giving something away for free, this filled the poorly-executed-stereotype-joke quota for the night.
  • Peter, on how much he agrees with Joe Working Man: “Its like he’s saying everything I’m listening to.”    

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