A double-bill of Family Guy season 10 probably isn’t news to anyone who watches FX or has an inclination and an internet connection but BBC 3 greeted it with appropriate fanfare; appropriate to the extent that the cartoon comedy is still the only thing worth watching on the entire channel. Those who disagree should reference Monday night’s Are My Fake Breasts Safe?, a ‘documentary’ clearly aimed at all those teenage boys sincerely concerned about the safety of model/presenter Gemma Garrett’s breasts. Furthermore, one can only hope that there is a special circle of hell reserved for the dim bulbs responsible for turning a charmingly misogynistic parlour game like ‘Shag, marry or die?’ into something called Snog Marry Avoid? – which should surely not end with a question mark.
Anyway, continuing with the theme of breasts and misogyny, back to Family Guy. I knew for a fact that I’d never seen the first episode before, but it certainly seemed like I had. The family won the lottery and Peter quickly frittered the money away with his shenanigans, but if I had an issue with shenanigans then this really isn’t the show to be watching. The problem was really that everything about it seemed familiar; Peter constantly buys ludicrous and bizarre things, through cutaways or an episode’s plot, so what difference does it make if he’s wearing a solid gold suit this time? The cutaways themselves have a similar problem, if they are always so random then they all blur into one – and I’m positive they’ve done the Scrooge McDuck bit before.
The second episode, however, was much better stuff and we witnessed Meg getting a decade’s worth of grievances off her chest and, more importantly, the somewhat disturbing and dementedly inventive visuals of Brian’s magic mushroom experience. So we can at least say that Family Guy and its siblings are the most graphically rich of all the cartoon comedies – The Simpsons? too yellow; South Park? too flat, of course. I’m aware there are others but we can say this much for all of them: British TV comedy has nothing to boast of by comparison and little that even approaches satire. This is to say nothing of the vast disparity between US and British live action comedies; while Ricky Gervais leaves us hanging between super squibs shows of brilliance such as 30 Rock and Community have given us a couple of seasons of gold each. There, one supposes, is the problem; when do you talk turkey with the golden goose?
Perhaps when it ceases to be funny, certainly when it ceases to be entertaining. Family Guy isn’t as funny as it was a few years ago but it’s still one of the best ways to spend a couple of spare half hours. It should be mentioned that American Dad and The Cleveland Show are as funny as the former was a few years ago, so perhaps they should’ve concerted their efforts.
Family Guy risks becoming the Sartre of animated comedies: trying to say everything at once to obfuscate meaning in order to hide the fact that they actually have nothing to say. Two pointless jokes about Jews in too episodes doesn’t make satire. Satire is not, of course, an ideology in itself, but should lead to something more and in this case it had better lead to entertainment or the fans won’t be so vocal if it’s ever cancelled again. It’s also possible that I shouldn’t look to comedy for the answers to life’s problems. But if they’re not in Sartre either, then where?
(Originally written for SKRBBLR.com, May 2012.)