In 10 Words or Less
Back from the dead...or worse, cancellation
Likes: "Family Guy", the evil monkey, Lois
Hates: Herbert, the creepy old man
The Story So Far...
"Family Guy" is the animated story of the Griffins, a suburban Rhode Island family. Peter is the standard stupid TV dad, while his hot wife Lois is the only thing holding the family together. Their kids, Chris and Meg, have the usual teenage problems, while their younger brother Stewie is attempting to take over the world. Of course, Brian, the family dog, views the whole thing with detached humor as he sips his martinis and lusts after Lois. The show has one of the most unique stories in TV history, as it was cancelled and then brought back thanks to overwhelming DVD sales and the help of TV animation's patron saint, Cartoon Network.
This DVD set is the series' fifth home-video release. The first three seasons were released in two box sets (with the first and second seasons combined), while a collection of series creator Seth MacFarlane's favorite episodes and the so-called "Family Guy" movie received one-disc releases. DVDTalk has reviews of all four:
Volume One | Volume Two
Family Guy - The Freakin' Sweet Collection: Francis Rizzo | Aaron Beierle
Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin - The Untold Story: Francis Rizzo | Aaron Beierle
Back on the air after an unprecedented un-cancellation, "Family Guy" had a slight bit of leeway in its return. Fans were rabid for some new episodes, while the network that had cancelled it once wasn't likely to do so again and risk being considered foolish twice-over. As a result, there was a chance to experiment and try something new, and expand the horizons of the show. Or, they could choose to keep doing the same thing they did before, which is exactly the choice they made.
In a way, it was the smart choice. Why mess with a good thing, when you could keep making the kind of show the fans fell in love with and bought rapidly on DVD? Well, because when you keep doing the same thing over and over, it runs the risk of getting stale. I wouldn't go so far as saying this series did, but it's certainly not as fresh as it was when it first hit the air.
The un-PC content is still in place, along with the pop-culture references, cut-aways and nonsensical characters, but there's nothing really new. Sure it's kind of cute to see a G.I. Joe appear out of a bathroom stall and deliver one of the old "Knowing is half the battle" morals to Chris and his friends, but there was no joke. It was just a straight reference. This happened again and again, where references substituted for jokes, but unfortunately familiarity doesn't breed comedy.
Call-backs to old favorites, like Herbert the old molester and the evil monkey were good, but the shows tended to settle into ruts. A love of musicals is appreciated, but is it funny every time a character breaks into song, as in "Jungle Love?" And how many episodes has the show done on Lois' dissatisfaction with her role in life, including the two consecutive stories in this set, including "Model Misbehavior?"
They may be repetitive, but at least they have some entertainment value. Among the more frustrating trends in the series is its willingness to stretch an unfunny joke to its very limits. When Stewie berated Brian for not finishing his novel for nearly two minutes, not once, but twice, in "Brian the Bachelor," it tested my patience severely, and didn't even make me smile. Nor did the over telegraphed patience-tester in "Jungle Love."
Lest you think this an anti-"Family Guy" review by some strident "The Simpsons" fan, I will say there are some very good episodes in this set, starting with "Petarded," which sees Peter declared mentally retarded. The ways he takes advantage of this status is classic "Family Guy" material, while the musical montage here, involving phone calls all over town, is actually quite funny. Plus, the appearance of the Naked, Greased-Up Deaf Guy gave hope that the creators still had that sense of the bizarre in them.
But if any moment stands out among this run, it's the supermarket scene in "Breaking Out is Hard to Do." When Chris is pulled into the "Take On Me" video by A-Ha, it's a perfect blend of what this show does best, combining nonsense, the '80s and some neat animation. The lead-in, the punchline and the execution of the whole scene is handled so well that it might be one of the show's most memorable ever.
If there's a real reason for fans of the show to own this set, it's provided in the extras. According to the commentaries, there are scenes included that were produced for the show that the creators knew would be cut, but did them with the intent of including them on DVD. I'm not certain what scenes were added, but there are several lines that would have been questionable for network TV. Also included are uncensored audio tracks that were bleeped on TV. It's certainly a welcome change having the series presented as they were intended, instead of chopped up as so many shows are on DVD.
The existence of this DVD collection proves that networks can admit when they are wrong...as long as it gets them a big pile of money to do so. As this series is aimed directly at a demographic made up of males who grew up in the '80s, it was tailor-made for DVD, the medium of choice for that same demographic, and was not surprisingly snatched up by them when made available. But, with no new episodes to grab that cash with, Fox put the show back into production, with an eye on pushing more of those profitable silver platters.
How else can one explain why the show's fans will be paying around $26 for not even half a season's worth of episodes (this after shelling out over half that price for just three episodes a few months back.) Fox knows fanatics when they see them, and aim right for them, until the fans catch on and revolt. Will they catch on? Likely. Revolt? Doubtful. After all, Paramount's still sticking it to Star Trek fans decades later.
Volume 3 of "Family Guy" presents the first 13 episodes of the show's fourth season, which are spread across three DVDs. Oddly, the episodes are split four, four and five, with the third disc holding the most episodes and the bulk of the special features. It is the only dual-layer disc in the set, but it still seems weird, since there's not even 90 minutes of video on each of the first two discs. The extras could have been spread out a bit.
The discs are packed in three black ThinPaks, each with a cover that has episode descriptions, commentary information and air dates, while the ThinPaks are held in a cardboard slipcover. Each DVD has an animated, anamorphic widescreen main menu that has several bits from the show, along with episode titles and a play-all option. The third disc also has a special features option.
After selecting an episode, a static episode menu appears, offering options to play the episode, select chapters, adjust languages and choose a commentary track, if available. The audio is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1, with censored or uncensored tracks when applicable, while subtitles are in English, Spanish and French (the subtitles reflect the censored tracks only.) Closed captioning is also available.
Here is the episode breakdown, with uncensored audio tracks indicated:
North by North Quahog
Fast Time at Buddy Cianci Jr. High
Don't Make Me Over
The Cleveland-Loretta Quagmire (uncensored)
Brian the Bachelor
8 Simple Rules for Buying my Teenage Daughter
Breaking Out is Hard to Do
Model Misbehavior (uncensored)
Peter's Got Woods (uncensored)
While the "Family Guy" movie looked sharper, these full-frame episodes are back to a slightly-better level than the original season sets, though still suffering from the jagged black lines that are seen often in DVD cartoons. Other than that pixilation, the set look great, with beautiful, solid color and a nice clear image.
The audio got an upgrade this time around, going from a 2.0 Stereo mix to full-blow Dolby Digital 5.1. The mix lives up to the format, pushing sound effects to the sides and rear, while enhancing the music as well. Occasionally, the mix gets more dynamic, moving from front to back, but for the most part, the effect is more about being atmospheric than aggressive.
The biggest chunk of the extras is made up of the episode-length audio commentaries, of which there are 10. Why they wouldn't do commentaries for the other three episodes is questionable, but the tracks here are worth listening too. The only disappointment is the lack of participation from Alex Borstein, who was always interesting to hear. On the plus side, they managed to get James Woods to sit in for his episode, creating a rather raucous and fun track, while Seth Green and Mila Kunis get involved for a handful of tracks also.
Here's the rundown on the episodes and participants:
- "North by North Quahog" - Creator Seth MacFarlane, producer/writer David Goodman, producer Chris Sheridan, actor Seth Green and director Peter Shin
- "Blind Ambition" - MacFarlane, Goodman, Sheridan, and writers Steve Callaghan and Chuck Klein
- "The Cleveland-Loretta Quagmire" - MacFarlane, Goodman, Sheridan, and writers James Purdum and Mike Henry
- "Petarded" - MacFarlane, Goodman, Sheridan, and writers Alex Sulkin and Wellesley Wild
- "Brian the Bachelor" - MacFarlane, Goodman, Sheridan, Green and writer Mark Hentemann
- "8 Simple Rules for Buying my Teenage Daughter" - MacFarlane, actress Mila Kunis, artist Greg Colton, writer Patrick Meighan, Goodman and Sheridan
- "Breaking Out is Hard to Do" - MacFarlane, Goodman, Sheridan, and writers Tom Devanney, Kurt Dumas and Wild
- "Peter's Got Woods" - MacFarlane, Goodman, Sheridan, actor James Woods, and wtiters Danny Smith and Klein
- "Perfect Castaway" - MacFarlane, Smith, Mike Henry, Hentemann, Purdum and Kunis
- "Jungle Love" - MacFarlane, Goodman, Sheridan, Green, Sulkin, Wild and Hentemann.
The third disc holds the rest of the extras, starting with "World Domination: The 'Family Guy' Phenomenon." This 24-minute featurette looks at the resurrection of the series, from its cancellation, to its growth on cable, to it's return and the cast and crew's feelings along the way. Though a bit sloppy in terms of how it was put together, the content is very good and does well in terms of filling the audience in on what happened between Seasons Three and Four.
Deleted Scene Animatics is a bit bold for a title, as all it is, is just over two minutes of a song cut from "Fast Times at Buddy Cianci Jr. High," with animatics cut in occasionally, in split-screen format. It's similar to the three eight-minute comparisons of animatics and animation, which are provided in split-screen. This is for the animation geeks mainly.
"Score! The Music of 'Family Guy'" is much better, as it spends eight minutes looking at the show's soundtrack, including the orchestra work, through footage of the scoring sessions. That they make this kind of effort makes me appreciate the series that much more.
Also interesting is the mis-labeled "Multi-Angle Table Read." Three scenes from the show are seen from the table-read perspective, as the voice actors sit around a read their lines. The featurette doesn't allow you to use the angle feature, but instead puts the scene from the read on-screen with the final scene to show the faces behind the voices. It's odd to see voices that don't match the bodies, and how much effort some make, like MacFarlane, while Kunis uses her real voice.
The disc wraps up with a preview of the "American Dad" DVD.
The Bottom Line
The first part of the fourth season doesn't live up to the series' earlier episodes, but it's still better than most comedies on TV. That doesn't excuse the show from not pushing itself to reclaim its glory. The DVDs look nice and sound terrific, thanks to the enhanced audio, while the extras do a good job of complementing the shows. Hardcore fans will want to own this set for its DVD exclusives, while those just looking to catch up can settle for a rental.
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 follow him on Twitter
*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.