Thursday, September 23, 2010

In Defense of: Family Guy

The Last Time I checked, the first Amendment means sometimes you get offended”

- Danny Trip “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”

It's 9:00pm (EST) on a Sunday night and you want to laugh. In fact you want a couple of different laughs. You want to laugh at the absurd, like a man fighting a chicken for 3 – 4 minutes. You want to laugh at the obscure, like a reference to “ Avoid The Noid”. Then you want to laugh at the absolutely astounding, like how Chester Cheeto gets high on lines of cheetos and listens to Rush, exclaiming Neil Pert is like, the best drummer ever, dude (And is!). You can only get this level of absolute insanity from one TV show, and that's Family Guy. However, Family Guy has come under attack from watch dog groups and even from its peers in animation. All because it just wants to be the show with the funny sight gags.

Family Guy debuted in 1999 after the Super Bowl. That was the best time slot it would ever get. Featuring a family from Quahog Rhode Island, comparisons with The Simpsons were almost natural. After a season and a half of hilarious shows that lacked in ratings, it was canceled. Only to be brought back for a third season, then promptly canceled again. Trying to avoid comparisons with The Simpsons, Family Guy was moved around the schedule, eventually settling in the Thursday night slot. A great place for a new show to be, up against the first season of “Survivor” and the ratings juggernaut “Friends”. Family Guy floundered and was canceled (again). Then a funny thing happened. Cartoon Network (owned by Fox) started airing reruns of the show. It became a staple for late night television watchers everywhere. Cartoon Network got some of the highest ratings it ever received. Due in part to these ratings, the show was released on DVD, to the tune of 2.2 million box sets sold in the first year1. Merchandise sold like hot cakes. Then something happened that rarely ever happens. The show got a second (third) chance, returning to the airwaves in 2005 with new episodes. A full two years after it was canceled for the second time. This time it took. Smartly, they placed the show with the other animation on the network, claiming their new line of shows “Animation Domination”. Recently, Seth Mcfarlane, the creator of the series, was awarded a 100 million dollar contract, making him the highest paid Writer / Producer working for TV. And with any popular television series, or anything popular in general, there are going to be criticisms. Family Guy has come under fire for being vulgar and obscene, for pushing the envelope so hard it's more like paper pieces now, and for not being very funny.

the two things that make them scared gutless are the FCC and every psycho-religious cult that gets positively horny at the very mention of a boycott.

- Wes “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Never under estimate the lengths a bored, rich, white, Republican will go to for exposure. They'll take down whoever they can, whenever they can, and then they'll stand up on their soap box and claim that evil has been thwarted, even if nothing has changed. The Parent's Television Council graciously took it upon themselves to tell us what is best for, well, us. Thank you PTC, our society hates making our own decisions anyway right? The PTC has launched campaigns against the WWF, lying about the content of the programs so big name advertisers like the Coca Cola Company wouldn't advertise with them anymore. During the Golden Globes in 2003, Bono said “Fuck”. The PTC launched a campaign to get NBC fined a whole bunch of money. Of the 234 complaints lodged with the FCC 217 came from PTC members1. The PTC then went after Family Guy. L. Brent Bozell III. (His real name, honest) wrote on the PTC web alert website that: “Creator Seth MacFarlane has aggressively sought to push the content envelope. Worse, Fox has permitted him to do so. Although Family Guy airs during the family hour, when children are likely to be watching, recent episodes have included animated nudity, vulgar references to genitalia, and references to pornography and masturbation.”

Of course the majority of those accusations are true. Family Guy makes it's name on animated nudity, vulgar references to genitalia, and yes, references to porn and masturbation. In fact that's what it's known for. It doesn't “Push the Envelope” it tears it open with a cavalcade of obscene jokes. It airs at 9pm EST, and could hypothetically be watched by children. Shows do routinely feature racist jokes, scatological humor, and many things that perhaps young eyes shouldn't see. A particularly engrossing sequence sees the entire family drink a bottle of ipecac in a contest to see who can throw up the least. What follows is a sequence that is funny as it is disgusting.

So, does the PTC have a point? Sort of. No one is going to argue that Family Guy is family friendly entertainment, and any family that believes it is has bigger problems then what their kids are watching. The PTC however, isn't campaigning to have the show moved to a different time slot, which would be an acceptable argument. It wants it off the air entirely. “If you want to make sure Family Guy is gone for good, contact Fox today.”1 And since it can't get it's way, it, instead tried to hurt FOX in the wallet, managing to get “Whataburger” to pull advertising from local Fox affiliates2. Family Guy is a show for adults. And if the PTC is attempting to tell adults what's good and bad for them, frankly, most adults already have a mother, it's called their wife. Oh, and my mother let me watch WWF at the ripe Ole age of ten. And I turned out Mostly fine fine.

After fighting the evils of conservatism, one would assume Family Guy would have a pass. Free to do what it does best. Make people laugh. That's all the show wants to do, make people laugh. It'll take a laugh wherever it can get it. If that means making people cringe at a musical number about a prom night dumpster baby, then so be it.

So imagine catching flak from one your contemplatives. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park, That's my Bush, and Team America: World Police, apparently had a problem with Family Guy's style of humor. “In the DVD commentary, Trey Parker and Matt Stone state for the record their opinions on Family Guy. They say that although they respect it for its fans and making people laugh, and having some smart humor, they ultimately hate the show itself and have no respect for its writing, especially for its overuse of gag-humor”1. The show South Park over the course of the past 6 or 7 years, has established itself as a work of satire. Priding itself on being able to produce an entire episode in about a week, it allows for cutting edge satire and unprecedented access to current events. Trey and Matt obviously take pride in the fact that their show is no longer seen as the show with the 8 year old kids with potty mouths.

Again, the folk at South Park aren't particularly wrong in their accusations that Family Guy relies on “Gag” humor. It does. It relies on flash backs, and references to things from the past, from history, from pop culture. A typical family guy joke involves someone, Peter, Brian, Stewie, being in a not so fun situation, then saying “This is worse than that time I...” then a cut away to some sort of hilarious gag. Sometimes these are obscure references, other times something to do with a famous movie or old TV show. Star Wars is a primary target, as are 80's cartoons. Family Guy has refined this technique, honing it to a fine, crisp, point.

So then, is Family Guy stupid gag humor? Is it dumb throw away joke after dumb throw away joke? Not in the least. Just because a joke is quick, or a gag, doesn't mean it's not smart. There seems to be a concept that good comedy is subtle, or refined, like Arrested Development or Frasier. I disagree. I'd take a pie in the face any day, thank you, there are days where people want to be enlightened and then there are days when I want to laugh at the blind girl from Little House on the Prairie walking into a ladder. The South Park people say that when they make jokes, they are inherit to the plot, they come from the characters and the situations around them. Funny is funny. It doesn't matter where it comes from. Somewhere along the line, likely the same time the South Park creators spoke up and every college student yearning to belong jumped on their teet, it became a crime to enjoy just silly comedy, specifically Family Guy. Can't someone who thoroughly enjoys “The West Wing” thoroughly enjoy a show such as Family Guy? When did gag humor, or dumb humor, become a cardinal sin of writing? Trey Parker and Matt Stone should say that to Steve Martin, or Bill Murray, who relied on Gags in their earlier comedies, and they were heralded at classics and innovators. Yet here is Family Guy, perfecting the art, and suddenly the guys at the show with the talking Christmas Poop are above it?

So, what is it? Isn't Family Guy just a TV show? Or should we believe what we're told? That Family Guy is an offensive, sexually perverse show, no morals and no scruples. It reveals in the moral decay our country is experiencing, as we do such dangerous things in our society like Decriminalize marijuana and realize that some people are a touch too uptight. How can a show like this exist on television? Even worse, how can this show be the second highest rated Fox Show, and the highest rated TV show on ? A show that has no problem poking fun at the homeless, the rich, the poor, the famous and the infamous, the Blacks, the Whites, the Mexicans and everything in between. A show with no barriers or walls in the way of what's okay and what's not. A show that will take a pot shot at 9/11 as much as it would Hitler. Wait a second? A show breaking down barriers? Saying that you should be able to find the humor in everything? Where have I heard this one before?

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