In 10 Words or Less
More of the same...and that's not good
Loves: Animation, Un-PC Comedy
Likes: "Family Guy", the evil monkey, Lois
Dislikes: Peter, Stewie, Repetitive jokes
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 frequent repeats on Cartoon Network.
This DVD set is the series' sixth 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 five:
Volume One | Volume Two | Volume Three
Family Guy - The Freakin' Sweet Collection: Francis Rizzo | Aaron Beierle
Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin - The Untold Story: Francis Rizzo | Aaron Beierle
Ah, "Family Guy," the idol of show's cancelled before their time, defender of the '80s and purveyor of offensive comedy. The show's loyal fans brought the show back from the dead and preach its gospel in a never ending war with the fans of "The Simpsons," in what amounts to the old guard versus a new generation of animated family sitcoms.
"Family Guy" became a hit because of three reasons: 1) Anything went, as every topic was fair game, 2) The '80s references connected with an audience raised during the decade of Saturday morning cartoons, and 3) The show existed in a world of randomness that made the show fresh and original. Now, years later, the show will still do anything for a laugh, but the other two factors don't work as well.
The '80s references are a big part of the series, from the mainstream bits like "The A-Team," which inspired an entire episode ("Brian Goes Back to College"), to obscure things like "The Great Space Coaster," the show revels in reminding the audience of the relics of its youth. Unfortunately, the show makes these references without making jokes. Sure, it's kind of funny to see a Transformer just show up, or have Stewie get annoyed and sing the "Mr. Belvedere" theme song loudly, but when they are just thrown together on after another after another, they lose their impact, a problem that affects the tremendous amount of cut-aways that make up a huge percentage of the show. At times, it feels like they are a step away from transitioning
The same goes for the many musical moments that litter this volume, including the disturbing Herbert song in "The Courtship of Stewie's Father" and the excessive "The Music Man" redux in "Patriot Games." It often feels like the show does these numbers simply because it can, and not because it's funny. (See "Patriot Games.") Thus you get plenty of moments where a more merciful God would have smited the editor much sooner. There's a difference between a beat past the limit (a technique used well on "The Office") and just letting it ride. Too often "Family Guy" goes with the idea of "more is more." For a perfect example, check out "The Fat Guy Strangler," where a meeting of the NAAFP (National Association for the Advancement of Fat People) stretches well pas the point of laughter to get closer to boredom.
Though the show settles into formula in some ways, a fact "South Park" pointed out extremely well, there's still a lot to like about the show. The quality of the references, especially the frequent Lord of the Rings gags in this set, is very high, as is the level of guest stars the show manages to attract. Frequently, the voices you'd think were imitations, like an evil Jay Leno or a boxing Carol Channing, are actually the real people. Plus, the fact that the show utilizes a symphony to create those many musical numbers is admirable.
Among the 14 episodes in this set is a number of funny moments, normally involving either Lois or Chris, though neither enjoys a spotlight episode. Instead, Peter powers a couple of inspired shows, starting with "PTV," a sharp rebuttal of the FCC's assault on broadcast standards. As a fan of entertainment for adults, the crippling of language by the government certainly needs to be skewered. Peter's revolutionary instincts crop up again in "The Father, the Son and the Holy Fonz." It delivers an entertaining parody of religion, as Peter forms a faith based around Henry Winkler's "Happy Days" character, with about as valid a basis as most religions.
Though I found things I didn't like with most of the set, there's just one episode that I couldn't stand, which made perfect sense, since I hated the episode that led to it, "Emission Impossible." My problem with the show lies with two annoying characters: Stewie and Bertram. Now, while I enjoy Wallace Shawn's acting, putting his voice in a character similar to Stewie was a recipe for an episode I just couldn't enjoy. But if you like Stewie, it's a gift from Seth MacFarlane.
Episodes 14-27 (that's 14 episodes) of Season Four are spread over three DVDs, this time with a better balance than Volume Three, as Discs One and Two have five episodes each, while the third has four episodes and the non-episode specific bonus features. The discs are packed in three clear ThinPaks, each with a cover that has episode descriptions, extras information and air dates, while the ThinPaks are held in a cardboard slipcover. Inside the ThinPaks, the art on the disc combines with the inside cover for a censorship joke. 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:
Brian Goes Back to College (uncensored)
The Courtship of Stewie's Father
The Fat Guy Strangler (uncensored)
The Father, the Son and the Holy Fonz
Brian Sings and Swings (uncensored)
I Take Thee Quagmire
You May Now Kiss the...uh...Guy Who Receives (uncensored)
The Griffin Family History
The full-frame episodes on this DVD looks good all around, though the jagged thin black lines that crop up in cartoons on DVD are seen here in places. Other than that proble, the set looks solid, with vivid color and a nice clean image.
The audio is present in Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Though the sound isn't an all-out dynamic presentation, some sound effects are pumped into the sides and rear, and the music gets some boosts from the surrounds as well. The episodes feature a nice full sound, especially during the musical numbers, while the dialogue is very clear.
If there's one thing about "Family Guy" you can't say anything bad about, it's the effort that goes into the extras on the DVDs. This time around, every episode has an episode-length audio commentary, with MacFarlane on every show, joined by a variety of cast and crew, including an appearance by Frank Sinatra, Jr. The variety of participants keeps the tracks lively and prevents them from getting repetitive. Especially fun are tracks with Mila Kunis, Seth Green and the previously MIA Alex Borstein, who seem to really enjoy being a part of the show.
Along with uncensored audio tracks on the episodes marked above, multi-angle scenes are available on "PTV," "Brian Goes Back to College," "Patriot Games" and "Sibling Rivalry." These use picture in picture and side-by-side presentations to compare animatics with the final scene. Animation buffs might find them interesting, but the casual viewer will probably be bored by it.
Disc Four contains the rest of the extras, including 43 deleted scenes, adding up to over 14 minutes of extra comedy. There's some good stuff in here, culled from the 14 episodes, including some subplots that were cut. They are joined by three featurettes that look behind the scenes of the show. The first is a simple one, as supervising director Peter Shin shows how to draw Stewie. Straightforward, but a bit interesting. "A Director's Life: Debunking the Myth" spends almost 15 minutes looking at the job of the directors on the show, explaining in detail what they do to make the series go. It's rather good and shows how much goes into making animation.
The seven-minute "Behind the Scenes: A Glimpse into the 'Family Guy' Office" could have been another tour of an animation studio, showing the wacky people behind all the drawings, but by tagging along with one of the show's guest stars, the legendary Adam West, it takes on a bit more value. West is an odd duck, but he's fun to follow around as he is shown where the magic happens. His inclusion was a smart move on the part of the producers.
Pop this disc into your DVD-Rom drive, and install the Hot Llama software, and you can check out animatics for several episodes, along with some links to Family Guy web sites.
The Bottom Line
While I still enjoy sitting down with a set of "Family Guy" episodes, thanks to the voices and rather lush animation, the show seems to have stalled a bit creatively on the comedy and story sides, relying too much on cutaways and musical numbers, and less on the off-color, bizarre rapid-fire gags that made the show so popular. But when the show sets its sights on a real topic or concept, it still works great, and there are some really good examples in this set. The DVD presentation is very nice, and there seem to be more extras included than on any of the previous releases, making it worth fans' while to check out, as there's actually something new here for every episode. Fans of the series will definitely want to pick this set up, but if you're just a casual observer, a rental should satisfy your needs.
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.