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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Family Guy: "Brian's A Bad Father"

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Sitcom plots often exist solely to service fake emotional beats which don’t ever come back—say a character gets a new, cool friend only so she can realize that her reliable, old, lame friend was the better friend the whole time. It can be a little distracting when there are radically new things introduced into a pre-existing sitcom structure solely to drill in some banal, “heartfelt” message, which is why the fake episode of The Love Boat in tonight’s Family Guy (in which a pirate crew comes on board to rekindle a dying marriage) is one of the funniest parts of the episode, but also calls attention to the faults of “Brian’s A Bad Father.” The Love Boat is a particularly good show to illustrate this facet of reset-heavy sitcom storytelling, with its focus on the self-contained stories of guest stars. But the example also calls attention to the way that sort of storytelling works best with one-off characters. “Brian’s A Bad Father,” which does the same thing but in the service of a pre-existing character, just collapses.

The bulk of tonight’s episode focuses on Brian being, well, a terrible father. We’re reminded that he has a son named Dylan from way back in the day (introduced in season six’s “The Former Life Of Brian”), and further, that Brian has been extremely neglectful. Of course, that’s not quite the case, since at the end of that episode Brian offers to be an attentive, present father and Dylan chooses to take care of his mother, but Family Guy seems happy enough to sweep that under the rug. Here, Brian tries to sleazily avoid Dylan until he discovers that his son is acting on a TV show, at which point he rushes out the door to try to get a writing job. Part of the joke of Brian has always been the juxtaposition of his professed liberal “compassion” and the same selfishness that drives everyone else, but the speed with which he goes to exploit his son still seems a bit off, somehow. Beyond that exploitation, Brian acts like a pretentious windbag on the job (of course) before getting fired. On his way out, he takes a large amount of free food from the craft services table as well as a whole case of Diet Coke (in the best gag of the episode) before stuffing the whole table in his douchey Prius. Brian’s horribleness comes across as just painful, more Eastbound And Down than even It’s Always Sunny.

Other aspects of Brian’s character are also a little off. His terrible writing used to be one of the character’s best sources of humor. The ridiculous, gruesome, after-school special quality of Brian’s writing (there’s an abdomen0punch abortion) and the way he lets himself stop working after having one stupid idea at the beginning of the episode are decent enough, but they don’t quite congeal into the perfection of the early-season digs at Brian’s perpetually unfinished novel. Eventually, Brian tries to redeem himself, feeling terrible about what he did to Dylan. Stewie calls attention to how much of a bad person he is, but he goes through the motions of convincing Dylan to take him back anyway—not that Dylan is ever going to show up on Family Guy again (probably). When so much of the episode is based on moving Brian from one end of the parenting spectrum to the other, that story has to be compelling. But because it’s hard to buy Brian at the beginning, it’s difficult to watch this episode or take it that seriously (or as seriously as you’d ever take an episode of Family Guy).

Family Guy has always been a mean-spirited show—the characters mostly serve as cutouts to set up an endless series of jokes—so the trappings of sitcom beats work even less than they do in other shows, where’s there’s at least slightly more of a stab at continuity. Family Guy laughs in the face of that sort of long-term storytelling—that’s especially true in this episode, which makes several references to how long the show has been on and the age of the audience—so its attempts at getting anyone to care about Brian’s “redemptive” arc even more pointless. That’s especially odd because over in the B-plot, Peter and Quagmire act, weirdly, like real people. Peter accidentally shoots Quagmire on a hunting trip and the two get into a huge fight in which they end up splitting all their friend assets, divorce-style. This story isn’t so funny, but it at least hangs together reasonably well—mostly playing on the aggressively rational, uptight Quagmire, who usually only shows up when he’s angry with Brian. Though, I guess it ends with Quagmire shooting Peter in the face, so there’s only so much realism we can ask for on this show.

Stray observations:

  • Unofficial cutaway counter: eight.
  • “You’re the worst. Welcome aboard.”
  • As weirdly flat as Brian’s story was here, it wasn’t half as flat as most of the Grammys (ba-zing!).