At a certain point it’s just not fair to compare Family Guy to The Simpsons. But when Family Guy eases into an A-plot designed around a fringe character like tonight, which features Quahog news anchor extraordinaire Tom Tucker, it’s hard for me not to think of great Simpsons episodes centered around non-Simpson family characters like Barney, Moe, Apu, Mr. Burns, and countless others. My gut reaction is that I don’t care about very many of the fringe characters on Family Guy, or even many of the members of the Griffin family for that matter, so I didn’t really trust that we’d get anything too enlightening. I was probably about two-thirds right with that prediction, since this episode had some pretty great jokes sprinkled throughout a relatively uninteresting attempt to include Tom Tucker in a more central role for the first time in a while.
In a nightly newscast, Tucker’s co-anchor mentions his former stage name, which Peter recognizes as the guy who played Michael Myers in Halloween IV, his favorite movie of all time. He gets Tucker to sign his copy of the film, then proposes to get Tucker back into the acting business in Hollywood.There’s just one problem with this plan: Tom can’t act; he just does his news anchor voice in every role. He can’t ever fully get into character, so overly wordy and awkward he comes off like Perd Hapley trying to be an auto mechanic during his guest role on NCIS.
The second James Woods burst into Peter’s office, my first thought had nothing to do with Woods dying in his previous appearance on Family Guy, as Peter and Tom both mentioned immediately. I’d forgotten that irrelevant plot point, because within a few seconds it was clear that Peter would take on another client, devote more time to James Woods, drop Tom as a client, have a hard time managing Woods, get fired, then crawl back to Tom before they both move back to Quahog — the typical rise and fall rushed into eight minutes of screen time. So James Woods didn’t die, he’s just the beneficiary of Hollywood medicine unavailable to the general public, sucking the life force out of a 17-year-old ingénue to continue living, a sequence that doesn’t really land in the way it wants to, showing that rich and famous people get treated better in ludicrously extreme ways.
Some of the other jokes within the predictable plot are kind of great, like Woods throwing the drained 17-year-old at Nora Ephron, blaming her for turning Jack Nicholson into a pansy, presumably for the film Something’s Gotta Give, which was actually directed by Nancy Meyers, but who cares. Others like Peter’s “Hollywood Jew Glasses” and Woods calling Peter late at night to confirm his 18-year-old cousin is hot enough to hook up with, fell flat. It’s a decent little romp to take Peter to Hollywood and have him pal around with Tom, but the plot goes nowhere, returns to the status quo without even a modicum of something new. We’ve seen Peter behave badly, then apologize for overreaching and hurting his friends before, but this time he did it to someone in Halloween IV, his supposed favorite movie. There have been plenty of Family Guy episodes with more dim-witted plots than this without any help in the laugh department from the cutaways, so at least a few jokes work.
Keeping with older sitcom structure, the B-plot tonight had absolutely nothing to do with Peter and Tom in Hollywood. That’s not a bad thing; in fact I think it’s actually the stronger plot of the two in the episode. Chris has a crush on Lindsay, a girl from school, and when he brings her around to meet his family, it turns out she looks strikingly similar to Lois. Brian and Stewie notice immediately — and get in a joke about “Oedipussy” that clanked — but Lois overlooks the girl’s obvious flaws out of some perverse form of flattery.
I definitely got a kick out of seeing just how far Lois’ own vanity got in the way of her seeing just how awful Lindsay was, not just to Chris, but as a person. When she sees Lindsay with another guy, she hesitates bringing it up with Chris, since he has a tendency to overreact to bad news — he turns into the Dilophosaurus from Jurassic Park and spits in people’s eyes. When she actually brings it up to Chris, their conversation is handled surprisingly well: Chris assumes that he has to find someone like his mom, who puts up with all the crazy shit Peter pulls, otherwise he’ll end up alone. Lois manages to be a competently comforting parent, and then in a perfect Family Guy moment, tells Chris she’s turning off the child filter on the computer for his entertainment.
So tonight has two completely different halves, both with their fair share of decent jokes and rushed, barely tolerable elements. No political stands, nothing too offensive on the gender or racial fronts, but I still come back to the Simpsons comparison. This episode didn’t put Tom Tucker in a different light the way that the colorful citizens of Springfield always ended up more sympathetic or fleshed out. It’s not new to say that Family Guy is a weaker show than the Simpsons or can’t quite get the formula down right, but after the middling jokes die down, what’s left is just another example of that major difference.
- Unofficial Cutaway Counter: 9, though a few cutaways are extended stories, so this total is a little more flexible than usual this week.
- Best tangent: I’m always a fan of when Brian anthropomorphizes dog actions, so my favorite is him yelling at the squirrel outside the Griffin’s house, repeating commands he barks every day. Honorable mentions to the Nora Ephron/Nancy Myers sequence and the Dilophosaurus joke.
- Worst cutaway: God listening to his iPod and ignoring Peter’s question. It was just a waste of time.
- Peter’s favorite period piece film, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas is tonight’s example of manatee-determined random references. Simply stunning.
- One other joke that really worked for me: Peter’s speech just before leaving for Hollywood is about following your dreams. Meg wants to dance, but Peter shoots it down, before promising to be back for Chris’ dance recital, despite the fact that Chris hates his dance lessons. Normally I don’t like when the show piles on Meg, but that crisscrossing dialogue made me laugh.