Two weeks in, it’s become clear to me that Family Guy is a hard show to write about (I should have known this). Partly, that’s because comedies are hard to review beyond “this was funny, and here’s why,” but it’s also because Family Guy takes great pains to not have any of the things you’d normally talk about in a sitcom—any attempt at characterization, plotting, any broader thematic content, and so on. The show is just a bunch of jokes thrown at the wall, waiting for what sticks. That makes any individual episode hard to write about as an entity, partially because those episodes are just all over the place.
“Vestigial Peter” showcases some of the best and worst aspects of Family Guy, particularly in its old age. For the most part, everything in the smaller spaces of the episode lands well. There are some good cutaway jokes (especially Peter telling Lois to hold off a burglar for 20 minutes while he finishes loading a newly purchased musket), which make up a substantial portion of the episode. The pop culture riffs, like a flasher-heavy parody show called Quantum Creep complete with Sam’s weird, gross cap, are pretty enjoyable for a second or two—and an episode-closing shot at The Middle is pretty damned funny (even though I’ve only seen a couple of episodes of that show). As a way of just providing a barrage of jokes that distract pretty well for 22 minutes, Family Guy is still reasonably successful.
But the main plot, in which Peter grows a tiny, vestigial, endlessly positive tumor named Chip, is just Family Guy going through the motions. After an ill-conceived shopping trip at the mall, Peter discovers the bump on his neck, only to find the rest of his family likes the passionate, fashionable Chip better than him. Peter tries to have Chip devoured by a dingo and then comes around when he finds himself saved by Chip after an accident. This story is super predictable—every story beat, from Chip’s initial creepiness to Peter’s jealousy at the other Griffins’ embrace of him to Chip’s decision to leave Quahog to go pursue the big, wide world is telegraphed from a mile away, which makes “Vestigial Peter” a bit of a chore. Chip might be new to life, but he provides the Family Guy writers an opportunity to make the same old jokes. His repetition of “Wow!” watching a rally in a tennis match is just another iteration of the classic Family Guy excessive repetition, though I guess at the very least, an easily predictable story is better than last week’s mess.
The plot might be hit-or-miss, but worse still, Family Guy’s offensive tendencies are really hard to ignore in this episode. I don’t want to spend a lot of time here harping on the show’s racist or sexist humor because those sorts of jokes are pretty much baked into its DNA, and I’d get repetitive, fast. But a cutaway making fun of trans people, in which Peter gets “reassignment surgery” to look like a lizard, claiming to have “emotionally” always been a lizard in order to get out of seeing Lois’ parents, is just really, really bad, not to mention a few more homophobic jokes than you’d expect in even an episode of this show (at least three). Arguably almost as bad as the straight-up offense of those jokes, being irritated at them interrupts the constant flow of cutaways and just makes the show less enjoyable.
The volume of those jokes makes it hard to watch the rest of “Vestigial Peter,” which is too bad, because there’s a lot of decently funny and almost interesting stuff in this episode. The opening segment at the mall keeps cutting back to an establishing shot of the mall itself (has the show ever done something like this?), which gives off the impression that the mall is some sort of weird, nightmarish, repetitive hellscape, which, well… Some of the humor in “Vestigial Peter” is even in the main plot. Chip wins over Brian by appealing to his smug Prius ownership in a joke that seems like it slipped in from a better episode, and the jokes about Peter and Chip’s shared biological functions are crass, but not directly offensive and raunchy in just the right way for Family Guy. With less transphobic crap and more Quantum Creep (where the joke is the bad/awesome pun and is not that flashing is awesome), “Vestigial Peter” would have been a really solid episode of Family Guy for this season instead of something that appeals to the worst parts of the show’s fan base.
- Best part of the episode: “Sorry! The board game that teaches you how to be a dick.”
- Another sort of icky joke: The cutaway where Lois attacks Peter for getting groceries, because I guess being a housewife is all she has in the world?
- Unofficial cutaway counter: 14.
- That The Middle joke almost knocked this up another third of a letter, though I have no idea why I found it so funny.