Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Family Guy: “Grumpy Old Man”

Illustration for article titled Family Guy: “Grumpy Old Man”

My father is an anesthesiologist, and practices with a group of other doctors as an incorporation with a mandatory retirement age of 65. After he reaches that age, he’ll probably end up teaching medicine somewhere, not only because he has the drive to teach, but because he’s not ready to stop working. It seems to me that he finds medical work so rewarding that he couldn’t do without it entirely, so I don’t see him every truly retiring. This is a roundabout way to say that Family Guy took on a topic that a large portion of us assume is a given—retirement at the end of lifetime employment—and tried to deal with what happens when confronted with the questions of the right time to leave a job and close the professional chapter of life.

Aw, who am I kidding? Family Guy doesn’t take those kinds of things seriously. That only applies to sociopolitical opinions that can be screamed from atop a soapbox. And to a certain extent, that’s what I admire about Family Guy: the insistence on taking absolutely nothing seriously, so long as it isn’t a political opinion held by its creator. “Grumpy Old Man” has a tiny, tiny heart in the right place, telling a very small story, using Carter Pewterschmidt as an emblem of people who just aren’t suited for a very stereotypical view of retirement, surrounded by far more material that had absolutely nothing to do with any part of that story, to typically varying degrees of humor.

The comparatively small amount of time devoted to the retirement plot didn’t surprise me very much, but I was far more disappointed by the pace at which the episode piled up tired old-person jokes. When Carter falls asleep at the wheel, he endangers the life of his wife and grandson, but instead of going down the avenue where Peter becomes his driver—which I would have welcomed, because at least there would be conflict between two characters—the show takes a left turn into retirement, and it’s all well-worn motions through to the end. That meant that everyone would be making old-person jokes: the Full Metal Jacket drill sergeant with Alzheimer’s, who keeps telling Joker to say his name, the Slightly Open Robery montage, Bingo in a Florida retirement community, and more.

I was fine with the fact that despite Carter’s initial vehement disapproval of retirement, that Carter both tries out retirement in the northeast and the Griffins convince him to move to Florida within the same act. The episode treads water to get us to through the requisite beats, and the ending is telegraphed from the moment retirement becomes the subject. Carter retires, finds he has nothing to do, moves to Florida with his wife, and degenerates into a mumbling fool because only working until he dies will satisfy him.

Some of the cutaways worked for me, but they may not work for you, as is the nature of a comedy like this. When I watch with a group of people, it’s always easier to be laid back and not pick things apart in a vacuum. As a social activity, Family Guy can be a good way to unwind and laugh a few times. I liked the “phone sax” sequence, though that might stem from the fact that it reminded me of Bleeding Gums Murphy and his album Sax On The Beach. The pizza place making a salad was also spot-on, and those kinds of small observant moments make me wish that the tangents were all as keenly detailed and not about name-dropping references.

Family Guy is more partial to a sequence like Barbara Pewterschmidt reminding Carter how long it takes him to moisten his mouth, followed by a 15-second sequence of that exact action, neither of which got a laugh. Or when Carter takes too much time figuring out how to pronounce “vagina” when he shows up at the Drunken Clam. Or the string of cameo cutaways showing the others cars that pile up in the crash, with two Deaths, Adam West, and Consuela. When the show wallows in discomfort or spins its wheels to kill time, I lose interest and get frustrated that more of the actual plot doesn’t get the opportunity to create tangent jokes. When cutaways develop from the spine of the episode instead of at random, they can have a purpose, and have a better chance of making me laugh.


Stray observations:

  • Unofficial cutaway counter: 7. I feel like this is a little off because I forgot to count for the first act, but that’s why it’s unofficial.
  • Best cutaway: my vote goes to the pizza place making a salad. That shit was spot on.
  • Worst extended sequence: Peter doing the “hey, buddy… ” talk to Carter, treating him like a child. I never like that trope, treating someone old like a little kid.
  • Was this advertised as a Christmas episode, or just a holiday/winter episode? It started in the snow, but after the opening few minutes, that setting had absolutely no effect.
  • Herbert shows up this week, with a cringe-inducing path of snow leading back into his house for Chris to keep shoveling.