Animated family dads strike me as crueler narcissists than other sitcom dads. Homer Simpson is the template for the similar characters in Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show, and even in Bob’s Burgers or Allen Gregory, the other animated family sitcoms attempting to fill in the rest of the Sunday night block. Homer Simpson strikes the difficult balance of bumbling lunatic and heartwarming doofus, the kind of man who genuinely loves his family underneath all the misguided antics. Bob Belcher is the next funniest father under the Fox animated umbrella, working with much better material, even as he careens into drugged-out public embarrassment at a yacht club in this week’s episode of Bob’s Burgers. Stan Smith is a CIA agent, more out of touch with family life and built as a shallow satire of every political opinion Seth MacFarlane disagrees with.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Peter Griffin is a hollow copy of that template, so misogynistic and uncaring that whenever Family Guy goes back to the well for one of these plots, it’s a chore to keep track of every piece of the story that mirrors another time Peter ignored his family’s well-being for his own purposes. Tonight, he becomes enamored with Jolly Farm, the children’s program Stewie loved, then hated all the way back in “Road To Europe” but is now watching again. He’s so obsessed that when Mother Maggie announces she’s leaving the show, Peter abandons his family duties to produce Petey’s Funhouse, a bland replacement with no personality, there only to separate Peter and Lois and cause marital fighting.
It’s another showcase for Peter’s misogyny, as he accuses Lois of nagging him with household chores, which shouldn’t fall to a children’s television star who could have all the 3-year-old girls he wants. Peter is an uncaring father during the times he isn’t an absent one, so episodes like this that attempt to teach Peter the error of his ways have diminishing returns, because Peter never changes. To continue the Homer Simpson comparison, I never doubt that Homer loves his family. Even when he’s choking Bart, there are still enough tender moments that show just how much everyone in that family loves each other and tolerates even the biggest character flaws. But Peter insults everyone, ignores any interests other than his own, neglects his duties to his children, and disrespects Lois—who doesn’t really have moral high ground to stand on either, since she rarely treats her kids with genuine love.
Lois gets so frustrated with Peter that she vows to stop nagging him, even when Peter decides to re-enact “Who’s On First” with a live puma. Though I’m not poring over the episode list to pick out every time Family Guy has done this clumsy morality ploy, it’s more important to me that it feels like I’ve seen this exact emotional progression multiple times this season, not just throughout the show’s entire run. Even worse, I don’t think there is very much different about previous versions of this plot structure; it’s never worked because the foundation of the characters and their innate cruelty causes the capstone realization to ring false every time.
Oh, and Family Guy told us that Meg is really ugly, just in case you’ve never seen an episode of the show before.
I wanted to like the reveal that Meg has a strange aptitude for biology, during a high school pig dissection, complete with a uselessly offensive throwaway Jewish joke. I hoped that Meg’s newly discovered interest would play out similarly to the episode where Chris becomes an art phenomenon, but as the B-plot, it never got time to develop. Instead, as Meg demonstrates her talents, shadows the utterly inept Dr. Hartman at the hospital, then uses her knowledge to save her father after the puma attack, Family Guy undercuts every bit of progress with jokes about Meg’s appearance.
In the eyes of the show, she’s ugly, unnecessary, unloved, and unworthy of praise or attention. I was past the point of forgiveness with Family Guy’s insistence on continual, open, unrepentant mockery of Meg as a person at the beginning of the season, and I have to come down hard on this again. I just don’t find it funny because it’s been one-note ever since the show came back from cancellation. One-time or oblique references spaced out over the course of the show would make sense, but the constant barrage is so overwhelming now that it does far more harm than good.
Combining the tried-and-false structure of Peter learning a lesson and cleaving to his family with Meg insults is a cocktail of everything I like least about Family Guy. If not for some Brian and Stewie throwaway lines and a few cutaways that inspired laughter in my living room, this would have been a total failure. Instead, it’s just a mostly forgettable episode that will never stand out among all the episodes of Family Guy it echoes, lost in the shadow of even the mediocre entries in the Fox animated family sitcom lineup.
- Unofficial Cutaway Counter: 8
- Best cutaway: I’m going to say Peter alone on an island with a monkey, because even though I knew exactly where it was going, it still made me laugh.
- Worst: It may not fit the standard definition of worst, but the unnecessary Evite skewering didn't work.
- The first red band trailer for Ted hit the Internet today. The Mark Wahlberg “white trash name” extravaganza is one of a few Seth MacFarlane signature touches, but the movie looks like a bad rehash of The Beaver.
- For whatever reason, the children’s show scenes made me miss Greg The Bunny, the wonderful little show about the less-than-reputable cast of a children’s show.
- If there is one redeeming aspect of tonight’s episode, it’s that cutaway gags can provide laughs when the main plots do not. Not every one of them landed, but they significantly brightened my mood.