"To Surveil With Love"/"Brotherly Love"/"Brian & Stewie"

"To Surveil With Love"/"Brotherly Love"/"Brian & Stewie"

The 150th episode of a series often seems like an odd milestone to celebrate. Not many shows get there, and it's not exactly an arbitrary number to celebrate, like, say, 138. But it still doesn't feel as important as 100 - where a show gets to syndication numbers - or even 200 - where a show joins a very select number of programs that have managed to make it that long. Considering how important Family Guy is to Fox, it seems basically unlikely that the series will not make it to 200 episodes, so the giant brouhaha kicked up for the 150th episode is even more bizarre. I mean, yeah, the network is obviously doing this because it knows that Seth McFarlane fans will be enthralled to watch a heavily hyped episode like this, but some of it seems a little strange.

And for all the bad stuff I say about Family Guy in this space, I've gotta give it props for making it to 150 episodes. It long ago pretty much decided what kind of show it was and what kind of show it was going to be and stuck unfailingly to that plan. Even when it seemed like that kind of show could never be a mainstream success, it clung to the formula and cranked out what would become its best season (its third, the one season I'd say is filled with episodes that are mostly worth watching). The series is genuinely one of those shows that had to wait a while for the public to come to it, and because of its rabid fan base and the fact it was animated, it actually completed that rather amazing resurrection feat, something that seems decidedly improbable, even today.

Back when I was still unemployed, I got into a long argument with some dude on a message board about how Fox canceling Family Guy wasn't actually a terrible decision that somehow proved the network was filled with incompetents. Sure, the network had scheduled the show in a tough time slot, but it also gave the series plenty of time to prove itself, and instead of holding its own or modestly growing in its second season, the series just kept slumping and slumping, leading to the truly poorly scheduled third season. It made sense for the network to cancel the show at the time, but it also made sense to bring it back and shepherd the series to 150 episodes. I, in general, have little patience for arguments about how network suits ruin EVERYTHING, except for the shows you love, and even less patience for arguments that Fox is somehow more evil than other networks. (Why? Because they have a tendency to greenlight far more interesting shows? Their cancellation rate is basically the same as the other networks; they just are producing better, more interesting shows. But no network can keep everything, so some get canceled. I'd almost always rather watch a random Fox drama than a CBS procedural, however, even a Fox drama that just doesn't work.) But even setting that aside, I can see why the network killed the show. It took time for the nation as a whole to figure out what the series was doing (or dumb itself down enough, if you're cynical).

Anyway, I mean it utterly sincerely when I say that Family Guy deserves congratulations for making it to 150 episodes, for fighting off the forces of TV death to do so, for going from a little-seen curiosity to an American institution. But I still don't like it very much.

The Simpsons: I thought this was a strong episode of The Simpsons. I laughed frequently throughout, I thought both of the major storylines mostly made sense and concluded well, and I enjoyed some of the ways the episode turned satire on its ear. I particularly liked the idea of Lisa conforming by becoming a brunette after everyone made fun of her for being a blonde. Dumb blonde jokes are as old as time itself, but the way the episode turned the whole thing into a sly parody of diversity and conformity was winning. And while the tale of Springfield adopting UK-style constant surveillance seemed a little tired at first, the episode found some fun ways to play with the idea, particularly with Flanders watching everyone and scolding them via his magic voice box and with Bart discovering the tiny space in the Simpsons' backyard that was a blind spot. I don't think this was quite as good as the curling episode, but I very much enjoyed it, and it's another pretty good episode in a pretty good season. I even enjoyed the lipdub at the opening, simply because I'd never heard the Ke$ha song before and, indeed, didn't recognize it as being her. It was just fun to see all of the characters in their natural habitats, if you will. I doubt this will become an all-time classic, but when it turns up in syndication a few years from now, I might not flip the channel, which is about the best you can ask for from a Simpsons episode nowadays. Grade: A-

The Cleveland Show: It really seems that I like The Cleveland Show in direct proportion to how much Cleveland, Jr., the episode has. When there's a lot of the little round guy, I tend to really enjoy the episode, particularly if he's paired with Rallo. When he's barely around, I can take the episode or leave it. Tonight's episode is a good example of this principle. I hardly even remember what happened in the "Cleveland and Terry are strippers" plotline, except that it mostly seemed like an excuse to slowly turn Cleveland into a pimp. But I still remember just how much I enjoyed seeing Cleveland, Jr., and Rallo trying to figure out a way to get Jr. with his crush, over her boyfriend (and, ultimately, baby daddy) Kenny West. This episode was mostly just a way to work in a Kanye West guest spot that threatened to take over the half hour, but because there was some good stuff with the rotund youngster and his younger step-brother, I went with it, for the most part. Hell, I even liked that rap battle, cliche as it might have been as a way to end an episode with a prominent rapper guesting. I don't think The Cleveland Show is ever going to become anything other than an awkward spinoff of Family Guy, but if I can enjoy a plotline every so often, well, that's something, I guess. Grade: B-

Family Guy: Here's an episode that I feel like I should like a lot more than I do. It's actually got some ambition to it, locking Stewie and Brian - the show's best characters and the one actual character relationship the show has - in a bank vault together and forcing them to play off of each other. It's an episode that can't do cutaway gags or tell a story about how everyone hates Meg as a side plot or cut to an elaborate musical number to kill some time. It's just two characters, one location, a series of what amount to grossout comedy sketches, a few attempts to graft some actual heart onto the rest of the show, and the voice of one Seth McFarlane. In short, this is basically everything critics of the show would like the show to have. And yet, the whole thing just felt so flaccid. Family Guy is, if nothing else, brutally paced, always moving on to the next thing, but the 150th tossed all of that aside in favor of something closer to a one-act play, where the situations were mostly disgusting. Again, I get that Family Guy is just trying to push people's buttons by coming up with ideas like Brian eating the contents of Stewie's dirty diaper or giving the kid the worst piercing ever, but I'm not sure why it's doing so, other than to do so. And the final scene - where the two admit they love each other (but not like THAT) - strains a little too hard to give the episode a heart. Family Guy's characters aren't deep enough to have that kind of heart. They're two-dimensional gag machines, and that's fine when the gags are funny, but it doesn't work as well when the whole thing is built on some sort of character interplay. Or maybe this just felt flaccid because it was seven or eight minutes longer than the usual episode, and it needed an edit. I certainly would have rather had another American Dad than close to a half hour of McFarlane musical numbers, most from other episodes, but to each his own. Grade: C (but mostly because I tend to overreward ambition).

Stray observations:

  • Confidential to Family Guy fans: You DO realize the "Shipoopi" thing is a direct ripoff of The Music Man, yes? I mean, yeah, the word has "poop" in it, but the musical number is not THAT great.
  • "Is the yellow one lemon or pineapple?" "It's your pet canary!"
  • "Ralph Wiggum will be standing in for your lectern." "I'm a furniture!"
  • "Ooh! It's dinner time!"
  • "Is this what the framers of the Constitution would want?" "Well, I'm Wally of Wally's Framers, and this is exactly what I want."
  • "That's a rather unambitious book."
  • "You are all that rare combination - prying but not pervy."
  • "Now, just follow a little formula called PB & J. Peer at the monitor. Be judgmental. And jot it down. One way to remember that is A-B-C. Always Be Considering PB & J. But the single most important rule is the four As. Always Act According to A-B-C."
  • "Oh great. Make me look easy in front of the voice."
  • "A half-man, half-bug that knows what's best for everybody."
  • "Hey, boy. Whatcha' doin?" "Experimenting with my butt." "Heh heh heh. My little Einstein."
  • "Who wants feet steak?"
  • "This used to be just a little part of me."
  • "I'm gonna stuff my feelings down deep so they can come out in interesting and surprising ways years later."
  • "They think we're strippers. Good thing I'm wearing my breakaway pants!"
  • "You'd know that if you read my blog, Out and About with Julius."
  • "You know what else I found out about myself? I don't like to be strangled. Hell, it's scary!"
  • "What if I told you that you could draw a turkey with nothing but your hand?"
  • "I was gonna take it home, show it to Lois, make her proud of me."
  • "You invented a time machine, but you can't get us out of a safe?"
  • "I do. I do like throw up."
  • "Now type in Japanese fish ass.

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