In 10 Words or Less
Peter Griffin's on the comeback trail
It's now a well-established (and reviled) tradition in the world of DVDs to re-release a title on disc in the name of promotion, if a related film is released in theaters. Now, TV is not immune from this trend, as the imminent return of "Family Guy" and introduction of "American Dad" have led Fox to go to the Seth MacFarlane well again, and put out a DVD of his five favorite episodes, along with some promotion bits as well. Fortunately, Fox didn't just slap a couple of old episodes on a disc (see "The Extras") and instead put out a package that has several interesting bits for those who already own the show on DVD.
For those who don't know, "Family Guy" is about the Griffins, a Rhode Island family headed by Peter, your usual overbearing and moronic TV dad. Lois, the put-upon mom, has to deal with three kids, Chris, the awkward teen son, Meg, the well, awkward teen daughter, and Stewie, a baby bent on world domination. There's also the matter of their talking dog, Brian. The show pushes the envelope in terms of political correctness, while filling the show with hilariously random cut-away scenes and pop-culture references. If you can deal with scatological comedy and boundary busting, this is a very funny series.
It's hard to argue with MacFarlane's choices for his top five "Family Guy" episodes, what with him creating the show and all, but I don't know if I would have included "Road to Rhode Island." I understand the censoring of the episode led to its inclusion here, but there are funnier episodes, namely "Death is a Bitch" and "Wasted Talent." None of these episodes are bad, but there are better ones out there.
Number five is "Lethal Weapons," which features Lois learning a martial art, and the effect it has on her family. The comment the episode makes about violence and America is not lost under the tremendous amount of slapstick in the show. Being a New Yorker, I can appreciate the subplot about "Leafers" who crowd New England to see the Fall, though it's hardly a subtle package of New York jokes. This episode featured some of Lois' best moments in the series, a great "Peanuts" joke and a battle-royale finale that is pure cartoon mayhem.
Something of a satire of feminism and masculinity, "I Am Peter, Hear Me Roar" has Peter getting in touch with his feminine side after being sued for sexual harassment, much to Lois' chagrin. The cut-away jokes in this episode are some of the best the show ever produced, including bits about the Griffins' wedding video, Huck Finn and peeping in the locker room. There may be more jokes in here than any other episodes, including a rather disturbing breastfeeding gag, despite two scenes that contain no dialogue. This is one of the best of the run.
The South gets the "Family Guy" treatment in "To Love and Die in Dixie." Chris witnesses a robbery and fingers the criminal, only to be revealed through Peter's stupidity. As a result, the family has to go into the witness protection program, where Chris' sexual identity comes into question, and every Southern Fried stereotype is trotted out. The show's portrayal of the rural South is hardly friendly, as everyone has three or fewer teeth and an IQ beneath that of a pig (a situation illustrated clearly during this episode.) There are some great moments, including a perverted old man, a sneak-attack raccoon and a young mother that's just great. Those below the Mason-Dixon line might be offended, but it's a great show.
"Road to Rhode Island" is probably one of my least favorite episodes, if only because it focuses on Brian and Stewie, instead of the rest of the family. It's not entirely without merit in my mind, as there are some good jokes, but it's not really here for the comedic content. When the show aired originally, almost two years before 9/11, a joke about Osama Bin Laden slipping through airport security probably made people say "Who's Osama Bin Laden?" But after the attacks, the joke was removed out of sensitivity toward the victims and their families. Interestingly, MacFarlane was scheduled to be on one of the flights that hit the towers, so any sensitivity makes plenty of sense. But now, on this DVD, the short joke is back in the show, which is a positive move in my opinion, as history shouldn't be changed to avoid offending people.
Making a second unaltered appearance is the formerly-banned episode "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein." Peter thinks by hiring a Jewish accountant, all his troubles will be solved. Amazingly, after a prayer/musical fantasy involving a space dreidel, the scheme works, so he decides to convert Chris to Judaism, to give him a better life. Well, as can be expected, this religion-based episode caused some controversy, and it was not shown on Fox. Truthfully, it's not very offensive. If anything, it contends that Jews are very successful people, which is hardly the worst stereotype. As for the whole "good with money" thing, well, that's another issue. The jokes are almost entirely of the Jewish variety, which can get tiring, but it's a funny one nonetheless.
These five episodes are a nice cross-section of the series, showing all the reasons why this show was so popular, and serve as an excellent introduction for anyone not indoctrinated into the world of "Family Guy."
MacFarlane's favorites come on one DVD, packed in a keepcase, with no insert. Unlike the original DVD sets, the menus for this disc are static with no music. The menus follow the same format as the first two volumes of "Family Guy," broken down by episode and scene selections. The special features are available on an separate page. The five episodes are presented in their original full-screen format with English and Spanish subtitles available, along with English and Spanish 3-channel Dolby Surround tracks and a French stereo track.
It doesn't seem like these transfers differ in any way from the original releases. The colors are still bright and solid and the character outlines are still jagged at times. Fortunately, the footage that has been restored to "Road to Rhode Island" doesn't stand out from the rest of the episode. These episodes look many times better than what's shown on TV now. The audio is excellent, presented in 3-channel Dolby Surround, which puts sound effects and music to the sides, making the soundtrack into something more than it originally sounded like. Dialogue is crisp, but you'll still be able to argue for "laugh and cry" or "effin' cry."
There are four commentaries on this disc, none of which were included on the first two "Family Guy" collections. The most interesting (and entertaining) has to be the track for "Road to Rhode Island," which features Seth MacFarlane in character as Brian and Stewie. The two snipe at each other, swear like sailors, dish gossip on their fictional castmates, share memories of the episode's "shooting" and generally have fun. A discussion about Stewie's sexuality often dominates the chat, which sounds like the ultimate "real" commentary. According to MacFarlane, a Brian and Stewie track was cut from the original DVDs, and this seems to be it, since Stewie mentions the show being "over," while it's now in production on the fourth season.
The remaining three commentaries, found on "To Love and Die in Dixie," "I Am Peter, Hear Me Roar," and "Lethal Weapons," are fun and informative, but mainly they represent the writers having fun being unrestrained, with their enthusiasm for the series fully evident. If you enjoyed the original commentaries, this is more of the same. The focus is a bit tighter, sticking mainly to memories of the specific episodes and some reminiscing. The commentators include MacFarlane, Dan Palladino, Steve Callaghan, Danny Smith, Mike Henry, Chris Sheridan, Alex Borstein (also the voice of Lois), Craig Hoffman and Garret Donavan. The question remains as to why a new track for "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein" couldn't have been recorded, or why the track from "Family Guy" Volume 2 wasn't included.
In the extras, you'll also find an introduction to the five episodes, presented by MacFarlane. Though it's listed as a look at the fourth season of "Family Guy," he mainly talks about why he chose each episode on this DVD, with some personal anecdotes thrown in. Eventually, he gets around to talking about the show's return to TV, but it's very brief, without any new animation to show. It's the rare supplement that explains why a group of episodes should be considered "the best of," which makes its inclusion quite welcome, but isn't really "A Look At 'Family Guy' Season 4."
In addition to promoting the upcoming return of Peter and his family, the disc serves as a promo for MacFarlane's other new project, "American Dad." Done in the same style as "Family Guy," albeit with more detail, "American Dad" follows Seth Smith, a CIA agent with a liberal hippie daughter, a fish with a German guy's brain and an alien houseguest who sounds like Paul Lynde. A short preview of the show, with a generic title screen, is included here, and after watching it, I am much less excited about the show than I once was. The pop-culture comedy that powered "Family Guy" seems to be missing, while that show's visual gags are almost non-existent. I didn't expect "American Dad" to be a complete clone, but taking the best concepts along would have been a good start. If you love homeland security jokes though, make sure you tune in. MacFarlane returns again to talk about Seth and his clan, but he's hard-pressed to sell it following the underwhelming preview.
The Bottom Line
For the "Family Guy" fanatic, this is an absolute must-have, with the uncensored version of "Road to Rhode Island," four new commentaries, including one in character, plus the advance look at "American Dad," for what it's worth. If you never bought the first two volumes, this isn't a bad introduction to the show either. If you have the first two sets, but don't watch them much, this is a toss-up. It all depends on how much you need to see an animated Osama Bin Laden and whether you like commentaries. This disc is a nice mix of new content, rarities and network whoring, which will be welcomed by any big fan of the Griffins and a good rental for everyone else.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.