In 10 Words or Less
Back for more of Quahog's worst family
Loves: Animation, Un-PC Comedy
Likes: "Family Guy", Lois
Dislikes: Peter, Stewie, Obvious jokes, the cutaways
Hates: Decreasing bonus content
The Story So Far...
Seth MacFarlane's "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' 15th home-video release. Eschewing traditional season sets for shorter "volume" releases, the first eight seasons have made it to DVD, while several one-disc releases collect special and un-aired episodes. DVDTalk has reviews of each release.
With the show's run stretching on and on, there's only so many ways to make Peter look stupid, so you end up with episodes that parody the Star Wars films and more of the theme episodes that the series is known for, like the "Road to..." shows or yet another Stewie time travel story. But the show's status as one of FOX' flagship franchises and its very loyal fanbase, not to mention the mindset of those steering the ship, lets it take risks other shows might not attempt. One would be "Brian and Stewie," the series' 150th episode, and a complete rejection of the show's formula. Trapped in a bank vault for a weekend, Brian and Stewie get into some extremely deep conversation about their purposes in life and Brian's contemplation of suicide. Focusing solely on the two characters, the episode features not a single one of the show's trademark cutaway gags and only a few legitimate jokes in all, betraying its roots only in two disgusting bits of bathroom humor at the beginning. For a fan of the show, it's a bit of a shock to watch the episode unfold, and points to a series that knows how to entertain, even if it's not doing it by referencing an obscure '80s sitcom.
If further proof is needed as to the series' ability to succeed without its usual crutches, it can be found in "And Then There Were Fewer..." a mystery in Family Guy clothing. Series semi-regular James Woods gathers the town people for dinner, hoping to atone for his past wrongs, but someone starts bumping them off, leaving the group to figure out who the killer is and escape with their lives. Though the cutaways are present, they are worked into a genuine storyline, that's both well-crafted and funny, feeling like a quality parody of the Agatha Christie school of mysteries. It may be close to blasphemy to say so, but there's definitely a touch of Clue to the proceedings. The quality story is matched step-by-step by the animation (in the series' first widescreen episode) and music, both of which may be the best the show's ever produced (which is no feint praise.) The series may find itself in a rut at times, going to the same comedy well again and again, but when inspiration strikes, they take the show to another level.
As is often the case with this series, there's always an attempt to push the envelope, including episodes focusing on suicide and sex changes, but "Extra Large Medium" is one of the show's most controversial to reach airwaves, and it's mainly due to a throwaway joke. Following a life-changing event, Chris (Seth Green) decides to finally ask out a girl he likes, and it so happens that she has Down's syndrome. This leads to one of the finest songs the show's produced to date in "Down's Syndrome Girl," as well as a line where the girl notes that he mom was the former governor of Alaska. It's hard to figure out what the joke really is (it's not really making fun of anyone, be it Palin or people with Down's) but it pissed off a lot of people. Fortunately, the rest of the episode, especially that song, makes the headaches worth it, as Chris struggles with his feelings for his special gal and Brian's attempts to break Lois of her belief in psychics accidentally convinces Peter he actually is psychic.
Though the series proudly sees the world from a liberal point-of-view, savaging republicans and conservatives at every chance, "Excellence in Broadcasting" stands as an unusual team-up, with Rush Limbaugh giving voice to himself, as he visits Quahog and gets what could be considered a friendly reception (at least by Family Guy standards.) Yes, there are jokes about the Republicans and Limbaugh himself, but he doesn't get it too rough, and if anyone comes off badly, it's Brian, who is easily swayed by Limbaugh into selling out his own convictions. It's rather odd to see, and makes one wonder what went on behind the scenes to make it happen, as MacFarlane doesn't seem the type to play nice, and the idea of Limbaugh working in tandem with an atheist pot advocate is mind-bending.
Back down to 13 episodes for volume nine, which are spread over three DVDs, split five, six and three episodes per platter. They are delivered in a clear single-width keepcase with a dual-hubbed tray and wraparound cover, which is held in a die-cut cardboard slipcover that plays along with the theme of the collection's signature murder-mystery episode. Each DVD has an animated, anamorphic widescreen main menu offering a play-all option, episode selections and the opportunity to check out any non-commentary extras.
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 (which is the only way to access the commentaries in the menus.) The audio is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 and French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, while subtitles are in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese (though there's no mention of that one on the box.) Closed captioning is also available.
This volume includes the series' first three episodes in the transition to 16:9 widerscreen, following 10 episodes presented in full-frame. They all look good, presenting the quality animation the show has honed over the years, with its bright, lush color and clean image, especially the CG animation the show has incorporated with increasing frequency, but the widescreen episodes represent a new Family Guy that looks fantastic, delivering on the show's goal to utilize a more cinematic style. With no problems with digital distractions, there's no reason to complain about the visuals here.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks follow the same pattern as previous releases, keeping the dialogue clean and clear, while offering up some neat atmospheric sound effects in the surrounds, as well as enhanced music cues, which creates a impressive aural feel, climbing above the average sitcom and living up to the show's ambitious music usage.
For the first time in Family Guy DVD history, the original aired versions of each episode are not included, so you only get the cable-ready uncensored shows. It never made a lot of sense to offers fans of a show like Family Guy a watered-down version of their series, and now that's not a consideration. Also missing are the wealth of audio commentaries, and if you like hearing from MacFarlane, you're going to have to go back to your previous sets, as he is missing in action on the scant five commentaries included here (less than half of what the previous set offered.) In fact, not a single core member of the cast is included on these commentaries. Those who did participate offer the same engaging tracks as seen on previous sets, talking about the production and offering lots of tidbits and secrets about the shows. After so much practice, they've really nailed how to do these tracks, coming prepared with notes and questions to spur discussion, while staying loose and fun in their chatting.
Here's a breakdown of the commentaries, which cover most of the big episodes in this set, though you would have expected one on "Extra Large Medium" or "Excellence in Broadcasting," as both seem ripe for insider insight:
The number of deleted scenes is down as well, with 34 in all, and some of them are just awful, and had little chance to make it into the final episode, existing mainly to tell some bad joke, like one about milk, lemonade and fudge. Fortunately, everything else has received a bump up, starting with three side-by-side animatics (for "Brian Griffin's House of Payne," "Brian and Stewie" and "Quagmire's Dad".) For animation fans, it's fun to see the episodes' development this way.
- "Brian Griffin's House of Payne" - Alec Sulkin, Shannon Smith, Spencer Porter, Jerry Langford
- "Brian and Stewie" - David A. Goodman, Kara Vallow, Gary Janetti, Dominic Bianchi
- "Quagmire's Dad" - Chris Sheridan, Danny Smith, Tom Devanney, Pete Michels, Bao Nguyen, Deborah Cone
- "The Splendid Source" - Mark Hentemann, Danny Smith, Shannon Smith, Peter Shin
- "And Then There Were Fewer" - Hentemann, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, Dominic Polcino, Walter Murphy
A "missing scene" is included in the form of "The Comical Adventures of Family Guy - Brian and Stewie: The Lost Phone Call," motion comic-esque animation of a scene that didn't happen, presented here in a more cost-efficient manner, which works for a bit of content lacking in real value (though the animation is neat.) There's more low-cost material in the form of "The History of the World - According to Family Guy," which is essentially a 20-minute clip show, using scenes from the show tied to world history to create a faux-documentary of Earth. It's a bit interesting to see how many history gags the show's done, but since you've seem them before, it has as much worth as any clip show these days.
A pair of fun featurettes carry the slack for the rest of the set, starting with "Who Done It? The Making of 'And Then There Were Fewer'." which spends over 13 minutes on the production of one of the series' most ambitious episodes, with plenty of cast and crew interviews on the challenge of doing a murder-mystery in the Family Guy world.
Then you get the half-hour "Family Guy at Comic-Con 2010," which presents the show's panel from the annual geek get-together, this time featuring MacFarlane, Green, Alex Borstein and Patrick Warburton, while MacFarlane impressively performs "Down Syndrome Girl" live. The questions from the audience are a bit weak, but with this group, it's a fun time.
The extras wrap with an unconnected, but not extra, as you get "The Way the Cookie Crumbles," an episode of The Cleveland Show. It's not just the episode though, as Mike Henry does a cute on-camera intro, showing off the range of voices he does for both Family Guy and The Cleveland Show.
The Bottom Line
As the series continues on, now into its 10th season, keeping things fresh is always a concern, one even the creative staff gives voice to. So it's a positive to see them try new things, even if the show, on the whole, is as rooted in formula as ever. However this set is less encouraging, as the supplemental material, always one of the drawing points, has taken another downturn, with MacFarlane barely present. The shows may be the reason you come, but all those extras are the reason you stayed.
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.