In 10 Words or Less
Loves: Animation, Un-PC Comedy
Likes: "Family Guy", the evil monkey, Lois
Dislikes: Peter, Stewie, Obvious 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' seventh home-video release. Eschewing traditional season sets for shorter "volume" releases, the first four seasons have made it to DVD, 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 six:
Volume One | Volume Two | Volume Three | Volume Four
Family Guy - The Freakin' Sweet Collection: Francis Rizzo | Aaron Beierle
Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin - The Untold Story: Francis Rizzo | Aaron Beierle
Once upon a time, you'd watch "Family Guy" because you had no idea what
was coming next, as the show's use of surreal flashbacks, asides and amusing cultural reference broke up the traditional sitcom rhythm. Now, you watch "Family Guy" because you know what's
coming, and you want to see what references will be made and how offensive and inappropriate the will be.
As a result, the energy the series had in previous seasons has waned, and it
relies more on shock comedy, rather than go for an honest laugh.
Despite how formulaic or predictable the show has become, it's still easy as pie to sit and watch five or six episodes, as the episodes keep it light and continuously moving, serving as the perfect show for the ADHD afflicted. The animation remains excellent, and has actually improved in places, integrating computer animation to make action scenes smoother and doing some different things, like the somewhat lazy Anchors Aweigh redux in the season's obligatory "Road to" episode, "Road to Rupert" and the lazy, but amusing Conway Twitty inserts in "Bill and Peter's Bogus Journey." They aren't breaking new grand with the dead-on "parodies" of closing credit sequences like "All in the Family" and "Little House on the Prairie," but they do show some technical effort and attention to detail in the many references the show makes to other shows and movies.
At this point in the series, the beginning of the fifth season, the show has settled into being a showcase for Peter's stupidity (much like the way "The Simpsons" became "Dumb Homer and Friends"), throwing a bone (no pun intended) to Brian and Stewie once in a while, and occasionally Lois and family. Only four of the 13 episodes aren't focused on the head of the family, and unsurprisingly, the two of those four that aren't Brian and Stewie stories are two of the best in the volume, "Prick Up Your Ears" and "Barely Legal." Like the character himself, the Peter episodes are loud and crass, and are telegraphed from miles away. If you don't immediately know how his claims of rape will be resolved in "Stewie Loves Lois," you have a few decades of TV to catch up with. Throw in cutaway lead-ins that are so obvious and forced that even their creators will admit it (see The Extras), and you have a series that needs a wake-up call in order to stay fresh and relevant.
While it's easy to see where an episode can go, one of the show's biggest strengths is its willingness to do anything to get there, even if it won't make it to TV, because they know that there will be a DVD release. Thus, you have jokes that would never get past standards and practices, and a reason for the show's fans to check out the DVDs, as the episodes are expanded and uncensored. It has to be incredibly freeing to have almost no boundaries, and the writers take full advantage of it. One scene in "Stewie Loves Lois," in which Peter doesn't realize that Stewie has crawled into his bed, is so genuinely shocking that I completely forgot I was watching a DVD and wondered how they got it on TV. It's in this relatively free medium that a character like Quagmire, who has no filter and is obsessed with sex, can really shine. His behavior in "Bill and Peter's Bogus Journey" is actually very funny simply because of how utterly obscene he can be on DVD.
As noted before, "Prick Up Your Ears" and "Barely Legal" are two of the best episodes in this collection, both of which feature the Griffins' daughter Meg, voiced by Mila Kunis ("That '70s Show".) Meg's character has grown up a bit, though she remains an awkward teen, and these two episodes focus on her explorations into love and lust. "Prick Up Your Ears" is a smart jab at the conservative Christian approach to sex education, and the effect it has on Meg, as well as Peter, is great, while "Barely Legal" show's Meg's crazier side, as she falls in love with Brian after they make out at her prom. A joke that's born out of Meg's insanity and efforts to woo Brian is among the series' funniest, and again, one you only get on DVD. Also worth checking out is the B-story of "Mother Tucker," in which Brian and Stewie host a morning zoo radio show. It's a perfect parody of everything that's wrong in radio.
The show's guest-star list continues to be surprising in both its depth and quality, including Phyllis Diller (as Peter's mom), Gore Vidal, Samm Levine, Carrie Fisher, Drew Barrymore (playing Jillian, Brian's hot, but dumb girlfriend in several episodes), David Cross, Rob Lowe, Hugh Hefner and Roy Scheider. That the series can get a Gore Vidal to play himself getting shot in the mouth with a hot dog (it's actually a funny scene, but not for that reason) is impressive.
After getting it right in Volume Four, the producers have messed with the set's format once again, with the first 13 episodes of Season Five held on just two discs, and a third disc limited to only the extras. It sure seems like a waste of disc space. The DVDs 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 puts the show's characters into a nightclub setting, with a joke that's revealed when you take the disc out. 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 has the special features options.
After selecting an episode, a static episode menu appears, offering options to play the episode, select chapters, adjust languages and choose a commentary track. 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.
The full-frame episodes on this DVD look as good as they ever have, but the jagged thin black lines that affects most outlined cartoon art on DVD are evident on these discs. That's the only negative mark, as the set looks solid, with bright color. a nice clean image and no obvious digital artifacts, though the opening titles are showing their age.
The audio is delivered in Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, but as expected, the sound isn't too taxing on your system. Some sound effects can be heard in the side and rear speakers, and the music gets emphasis from the surrounds as well. The episodes' dialogue and musical numbers are very clear and free of any distortion.
The one place the show never slacks off in is the bonus material, though it seems each volume has slightly less content than the previous one. Once again, every episode has an audio commentary, featuring a mix of cast and crew on each track. Series creator Seth MacFarlane appears on all 13 commentaries, which feature mostly behind-the-scenes staff, as Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Kunis and Barrymore make one appearance each, and unfortunately none of them are together. The tracks are very conversational, and focus a lot on material that was cut and the production effort, with plenty of praise to go around, along with revelations about the "inspiration" for many of the series' references and admissions of guilt when it comes to some of the lesser material. At one point, one participant asks if a joke was a late-night rewrite, essentially saying it sucks, and a writer sheepishly takes the blame for it. When the tracks are being honest and loose they are a good listen.
The remainder of the extras are on the third disc, which starts with 38 deleted scenes, which run over 16 minutes in length, and can be viewed all at once or separately. Considering that the episodes in the set are uncut, it's a bit odd that there's deleted material, as you'd think that this means this material is so bad it couldn't even make it into an extended episode. Unfortunately, that's pretty much the case, with such gems as Stewie jumping into a photo and a pointless assault on Quagmire by Chris that doesn't even have a punchline. Only the final scene, cut from "Airport '07" is interesting, as it's a classic way-too-long joke.
Three episodes, "Stewie Loves Lois," "Prick Up Your Ears," and "Chick Cancer," are included as animatics, or animated storyboards, each with an audio commentary by some of the animators. These are similar in tone to the commentaries on the regular episodes, but with a bit more info about the animation itself. These are different than the episodes on the first two discs, as they feature material that was never animated, showing how they first started off, giving you a chance to compare with the final episode.
"Drawing Peter" is another short 5-minute featurette with director Peter Shin, who shows how to draw the family's patriarch, like he did last time with Stewie. It's followed by another featurette, "Toys, Toys Galore," which spends 16 minutes looking at the toys based on the series, created by Mezco Toys. Though I expected a commercial for the toys, the piece is more in-depth than that, following the creative process that goes into the action figures and the collaboration between the animators and the toy company to create the finished product. The disc wraps up with a commercial for "The Freakin' Sweet Collection" DVD.
The Bottom Line
There are several points to criticize when it comes to this set, including a series that's losing some of its steam and relying on comedic crutches and an oddly constructed episode structure, but in the end, the series is fun to watch, which is all you really ask for from a cartoon sitcom. Everything else is pretty much gravy, though there's less of the brown liquid to go around this time. On the other hand, the collection looks and sounds good, and the extras are up to the usual standard for "Family Guy." Fans of the series will be able to overlook the lesser portions, but this set of episodes doesn't stack up as well to previous volumes. Even so, it's worth at least a rental, and more to the show's loyal fans.
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.