In 10 Words or Less
The strange, twisted world of Peter Griffin and friends
Loves: Animation, Un-PC Comedy
Likes: "Family Guy", Lois
Dislikes: Peter, Stewie, Obvious jokes, the cutaways
Hates: Decreasing bonus content
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 infant 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' 12th home-video release. Eschewing traditional season sets for shorter "volume" releases, the first six seasons have made it to DVD, while a collection of series creator Seth MacFarlane's favorite episodes, the so-called "Family Guy" movie and two Star Wars homages all received one-disc releases. DVDTalk has reviews of each release.
It may show something of a boredom with the characters on the part of the creators, but there's an increase in alternate universe stories in this series (The Simpsons have done the same thing at spots through their 20 years on the air.) This set alone has three of them, like "Peter's Progress," which shows the Griffin clan as part of colonial American history. The character traits are still in place, but it puts them in a different time, freshening things up, and opening the opportunity to for some new jokes (though they don't stray from the tried and true too much.)
The same goes for the latest "Road" show, "The Road to the Multiverse." Brian and Stewie travel to alternate worlds and run into different versions of themselves, which results in some inspired animation, including stops in a Disney-like world, the Robot Chicken universe, and a world where dogs and people have switched roles, along with a touch of live-action. The Disney segment is honestly gorgeous, as some freelancers with traditional animation experience stepped in to provide legitimate Disney-style painted imagery, and the result, combined with yet another Walter Murphy musical gem, really sells the punchline, as evil as it may be.
The series has long been dependent on pop-culture references for laughs, often counting on simple recognizability over wit, especially in the cutaways, to the point where the Star Wars specials cross the line of parody into imitation. This set's "Three Kings" dives deeper into this pool, retelling three Stephen King movies with Family Guy characters. The most surprising thing about them is how it work so well, blending the characters and capturing what's great about the original films, while mixing in laughs along the way, even at the expense of the inspiration. On the plus side, these more story-based episodes cut down on the cutaways by a large amount. The Stand By Me segment ends with one of the harshest gags the series ever told, but it only works for fans of the film.
Such hard-edged material is definitely not unusual for the series, as it willingly courts controversy, a fact obvious from this small sample, starting with "Episode 420," an unabashed endorsement for marijuana. Built around an all-out pot-focused musical number extolling how life is better with weed, it's like nothing ever seen on network TV. Nor has any show really approached atheism the way "Not All Dogs Go To Heaven" does, as Meg gives her life over to Jesus Christ (as suggested by Kirk Cameron) and turns the town against Brian, due to his beliefs. And it's not every show that could attack its own network the way Family Guy does in "Fox-y Lady," as Lois becomes a reporter for Fox News, against the concerns of liberal Brian. It's as clear a condemnation as you could have of Fox News' agenda, presented by Fox itself.
Of course, with a show as silly as this, not every episode has any importance, and the plots can go anywhere. So you get stories about Stewie going on steroids (with the accompanying rage), Brian dating reality TV star Lauren Conrad and Quagmire learning he has a kid. For some reason, celebrities are frequently visiting Quahog, Rhode Island in this set, including Conrad, an android Hannah Montana, and Dan Ackroyd and Chevy Chase, who, like Conrad, voice themselves, as real-life spies. They are just a few of the many guest stars to appear on the show in this set, an immense group that includes Seth Rogen, Fred Savage, the main cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation (who are brilliant here), Jimmy Fallon, Craig Ferguson and Jay Leno (in another smart live-action gag,) Richard Dreyfuss (recreating his role from Stand By Me,) Neil Patrick Harris and Gary Cole.
We're up two episodes this time, to 15 episodes, which are spread across three DVDs. Like last time, the three discs are in a clear single-width keepcase with a dual-hubbed tray and wraparound cover, which is held in a cardboard slipcover that repeats the front art. Each DVD has an animated, full-frame main menu that has several bits from the show, along with episode titles and a play-all option, while 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 check out the special features. The audio is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1, while subtitles are in English, Spanish and French. Closed captioning is also available.
The full-frame episodes on this DVD again look great, especially when integrating CG animation, offering up bright, beautiful color and a nice clean image, without any problems with compression, dirt or damage. They talk on the commentaries about an attempt to present a more cinematic look on the show, and they certainly accomplished that. Check out the snow scenes in "Three Kings" for a great example.
The audio is presented with Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, which feature a few impressive sound effects in the sides, and strong delivery on the musical numbers, of which there are many. It all sounds nice and clean though.
The main extras are inside each episode's menu, which include the original TV versions of the episodes and audio commentaries. Why you'd want to watch the censored episodes is unclear, but hey, better to be complete than lacking. Which is exactly the case with the commentaries. Unlike all of the previous releases, not every episode here has a commentary. In fact, four episodes are missing tracks (while "The Road to the Multiverse" has two tracks, with one appropriately featuring animators who worked on this special episode.) At least MacFarlane appears on six of the 12 tracks (with Alex Borstein sitting in on a different pair, and Seth Green and Kevin Michael Richardson joining in on one each.) They are entertaining as usual, especially when MacFarlane or one of the other cast members is on hand, as these groups are very comfortable chatting and have plenty of stories to tell ("Not All Dogs Go To Heaven" has particular fun tales of working with the Star Trek actors) which makes for funny, entertaining tracks.
Though the commentaries have been reduced, at least the deleted scenes have increased in size, checking in with 47 clips (totaling 22 minutes.) There are plenty of tossed cutaways in this set, which makes it easy to enjoy them without context, with the invention of sex possibly being the best of the bunch. There's also a rather ridiculous, yet hilarious bit about text messaging, and a wordplay joke about jam that just barely doesn't work, but would have been great if it did.
After giving us four featurettes and three animatics (each with an audio commentary) on Volume 7, this time out, we get a grand total of one, a 10-minute piece focused on the making of "The Road to the Multiverse." It's not bad, as you get info on all the work that went into this unique episode, but it's still just one. It's joined by "Family Guy Karaoke," a collection of 28 songs from the show, presented with on-screen lyrics. Perhaps you want to sing along with "Prom Night Dumpster Baby" or "Shipoopi," but it comes off as an extra made of clip-show laziness. You can select songs individually or in a big 38-minute sing-along.
Though, as a whole, the extras are disappointingly decreasing with time, there's at least one new bonus, and that's a copy of the script for "The Road to Multiverse," presented as a booklet the size of a DVD case. What's nice is the inclusion of sketches of the various character designs right in amongst the words of the script. For anyone into the production of animation, it's a pretty cool inclusion.
The Bottom Line
The episodes stand on their own, whether you care about the dependence on easy gags and gimmicky concepts or not, because they are simply funny. But fans of "Family Guy," or any of MacFarlane's series for that matter, have to be concerned that the very reason the series continues to air, the DVDs the fans buy, are getting diluted and weakened, especially when you getting less extras, less MacFarlane, and, for the first time, less of the commentaries that give you a peek into the show's creation. Though the shows are the meat, you can watch them on TV or Hulu or wherever. If they want to take back why we bought these sets in the first place, we just have less reason to buy them.
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.