One of Family Guy’s defining attributes is the way it burns through stock sitcom plots—often several over the course of a single episode. This tendency is simultaneously one of the show’s strengths and one of its weaknesses: In the earlier seasons, it was possible for the Griffins to breeze through sitcom chestnuts as a vehicle for parody and for joke delivery, using the television episodes everyone had seen a hundred times as shorthand for all the jokes the writers wanted to cram into their 22 minutes. But as the show has dragged on, and particularly in episodes like “Boopa-dee Boppa-dee,” stuffing it with plots like this for no reason just turns into overkill.
Think about all of the mini-arcs that happen over the course of the episode. The episode begins with fights between airlines leading to ridiculously cheap airfares, so Lois decides she wants to take a trip to give the kids “culture.” To that end, she goes behind Peter’s back to buy plane tickets to Italy. Then, she has to first hide the tickets from Peter and then trick him into going to Italy (with a “lie” about the biggest water park in Rhode Island, Seven Flags Atlantis). So the first few minutes of the episode run through a “someone has to keep a secret plot.” But once the Griffins are in Italy, the plot shifts to be about the lack of passion in Lois and Peter’s marriage, another typical sitcom story that could sustain an entire episode of another show. After some fighting, Lois and Peter rediscover their romance and live in Italy for a month until they finally decide to return to America. Then, they’re stymied by the consulate and have to engage in a wacky adventure to make it home.
Even resolutions the show uses to get from plot to plot are clichéd. When Peter tries to persuade Lois that Quahog has culture, there’s a montage of them going to a local science museum, trying to solve the problem with sheer enthusiasm in a way that’s only barely undercut by Peter declaring that the museum sucks. Then, Peter fixes his romantic problems with Lois by getting in touch with Italy, whatever that means (though it happens because he has a dream about a magical pasta-riding Dean Martin). Merely packing all of this stuff into an episode isn’t bad by itself—often it makes the show funnier. But they’re all just sort of played out seriously, which means that “Boopa-dee Bapap-dee” comes across as a string of not very good standard sitcom episodes instead of something more subversive or funny in the way Family Guy is normally funny. And that sort of episode makes Family Guy, which should be madcap and sometimes difficult to follow, feel sluggishly paced and boring.
Beyond the structural concerns with the episode, the setting and focus of “Boopa-dee Bappa-dee” presents its own set of issues. It’s not really that this version of Italy is offensive—Family Guy’s portrayal of Italy here is so ridiculous that it’s hard to really complain about it. There are jokes about everything from wife-beating and the Mafia to murder and the weird sexual habits of the Mario brothers—all of which are so over the top, especially when combined with Peter’s ridiculous fake Italian accent, that it’s difficult to get really angry about them. This is Family Guy at its more appropriate levels of offense: Too broad to take seriously. No, the real problem is that the jokes are offensive in a bland, extremely superficial sense, meaning they don’t have enough teeth to be taken seriously, remaining almost entirely surface level “Hey, here’s an Italian stereotype!” bits. That means, offensive or no, the jokes are just not funny.
Instead, the best of parts of tonight’s Family Guy draw on another part of the show’s tradition—randomness. My favorite joke in the episode, in which Peter learns he’s died in America when he calls to take advantage of the time change, is pretty much out of nowhere, the way the best Family Guy jokes often are. As welcome as a jab at M. Night Shyamalan is (and a “What a twist!” joke is always welcome), it also reeks of the sort of thing the writers just thought would be kind of funny and found a way to cram into the episode—the types of jokes that are often best (since someone liked it enough to shove it into the script). At first glance, the show’s more chaotic element appears to be in contrast with the tightly scripted/clichéd nature of the sitcom chestnuts it deploys en masse. But the best episodes of Family Guy manage to combine the two seamlessly. “Boopa-dee Bappa-dee” doesn’t do that, so it never rises about forgettable.
- Unofficial cutaway counter: 7. Low for this season.
- “I don’t know why we even go places, we just always end up reading pornography.” Tell me about it, Stewie.
- It’s not “The” Family Guy, guys. Good to know that was still in question after 12 seasons.