Falling somewhere in the middle between The Simpsons and South Park, Family Guy was sadly too short lived during its three season run on Fox, but fan demand brought it back and now the eleventh DVD collection (which actually contains the twenty-three episodes that make up season ten) is upon us. For those who haven't seen it, the series revolved around the misadventures of the Griffin family who reside in the town of Quahog, Rhode Island. Peter is the kinda-sorta-well-intentioned but misguided father, Lois the perfect housewife, Meg the unpopular angst-ridden teenager and Chris the sweet but slow son. And then there's Stewie, their infant boy who in the early years was bent on global domination but lately seems more interested in time travel and harassing the family's dog, a quick witted hard drinking pooch named Brian. Like The Simpsons, or King Of The Hill, the neighbors also play a big part in the series. Sexually obsessed Glenn Quagmire and wheelchair bound tough guy cop Joe round out the core characters nicely and give the Griffins a decent crew to play off of.
At this point in the show's history, it's got a pretty loyal fan base and an equally vocal group of dissenters. The show polarizes viewers not only because of its tendencies to push buttons (a complaint often levied against the show is that it's mean spirited and sometimes it does come across that way) but also because it doesn't really have much of a plot. Continuity is thrown out the window in favor of pop culture references and sight gags galore and those who have seen the series know that it's not at all uncommon for the show to throw in a musical song and dance number, a disturbingly long but oh so sweet cameo from the late, great Conway Twitty, or a prolonged fight scene involving a giant talking chicken. We get just as much, if not more, of that type of humor in this latest batch as we have before. The series runs the gamut from taking unabashed cheap shots at minority groups to delivering some truly scathing and often times brilliant satire with frequent stops everywhere in between resulting in a show that really stands out as much for its humor as it does for its irreverence.
Here's what you'll find spread across the three discs in the set that make up Family Guy Volume Twelve (which is basically the twenty-two episodes that make up Season Eleven for those who keep track of such things):
Into Fat Air / Ratings Guy / The Old Man And The Big ‘C' / Yug Ylimaf / Joe's Revenge / Lois Comes Out Of Her Shell / Friends Without Benefits
Jesus, Mary And Joseph! / Space Cadet / Brian's Play / The Giggity Wife / Valentine's Day In Quahog / Chris Cross / Call Girl / Turban Cowboy
12 An A Half Angry Men / Bigfat / Total Recall / Save The Clam / Farmer Guy / Roads To Vegas / No Country Club For Old Men
So how does this season hold up? In a lot of ways, it's more of the same, but at the same time, by being more of the same there's a certain expectation of unpredictability that this collection consistently meets and occasionally exceeds. You get to a point in the show where you expect the unexpected, and there's a whole lot of unexpected to appreciate this time around. The season starts off strong with Into Fat Air where Lois runs into an ex-boyfriend who boasts about his family's accomplishments. This gets Lois feeling competitive and before you know it, the Griffins are climbing Mount Everest. Shades of Alive run deep in this particularly perverse episode. The show takes on the Nielson Ratings in Ratings Guy. When the Griffins are selected to a Nielson family, Peter goes for a blatant abuse of his power to shape TV to his liking but is then tasked with trying to set things right. It's actually a pretty amusing take at the fickle viewing habits of the general public. The health care industry and its corporate ties are taken on in The Big C when Peter finds out that his father in law has been keeping the cure for cancer his corporation has discovered secret in the name of making more profits off of treatment. As irreverent as this series gets, this episode will at least get you thinking…
The seemingly obligatory time travel episode in this season is Yug Ylimaf and once again Stewie and Brian cruise back in time and goof off. It's old hat at this point but there's comfort in familiarity. We get to learn more about Joe's disability when the man who shot him and confined him to a live in a wheelchair goes on the lam and Peter, Joe and Quaigmire hunt him down to get revenge. The Jesus, Mary and Joseph! episode lets Peter tell us his own version of the Nativity Story in what is essentially a Christmas episode gone awry. Nothing is sacred, fans know that by now. Quagmire is the focus of The Giggity Wife, an episode that shows what happens when Glenn marries a skaggy old hooker on a trip with Peter and Joe. He realizes quickly that this was a horrible idea but she won't grant him a divorce. Glenn tries to convince her that he's actually gay, with Peter's help. In Chris Cross the elder Griffin son swipes some money from his parents to go out and buy some cool new sneakers. When Meg finds out, she blackmails him but Chris quickly has his fill and decides to go live down the street with everyone's favorite pedophile, his old friend Herbert. Meanwhile, Stewie convinces Brian to help him track down Canadian songstress Anne Murray. In Call Girl Lois uses her voice to make some extra money as a phone sex operator and in Turban Cowboy Peter befriends a Muslim and then converts to Islam. Phone sex might not be so topical these days, but the Islam episodes pushes some buttons in some clever ways.
As the season comes to a close, in the Bigfat episode we find out what happens when Peter, Joe and Quagmire go on a trip to Canada. Peter goes missing for months and when they finally find him, he's lost the ability to communicate like a ‘normal person.' Total Recall is another ‘Rupert' inspired episode where Stewie and Brian try to get the teddy bear back after a recall is done. Peter and friends try to save their favorite bar in Save The Clam while Peter takes up farming in Farmer Guy, but soon gives that up in favor of dealing meth. Road To Vegas sees Brian and Stewie clone themselves and head to Vegas where they have completely opposite experiences from one another and last but not least, No Country Club For Old Men gets the Griffin's into a posh country club when Christ strikes up a romance with a girl who comes from the wealthiest family around. This doesn't sit well with Carter, who winds up getting the boot.
It's all pretty much non-stop insanity but hey, it wouldn't be Family Guy if there weren't a lot of guest voices, right? Right! Popping up throughout this collection are such luminaries as Elizabeth Banks, Ryan Reynolds, Sofía Vergara, Giovanni Ribisi, Jessica Biel, Drew Barrymore, Will Sasso, Emma Roberts, J.J. Abrams, Sandra Bernhard, Cheryl Tiegs, Anne Murray, Bill Maher, Sharon Osbourne and quite a few others. And we'd be remiss not to mention the mighty Robert Loggia shows up here too. There's a lot of fun to be had in this set so long as you go in with an open mind and remember that pretty much every one from every walk of life is fair game. It should be noted that all of the episodes in this collection are presented uncut, so expect some foul to hear some foul language that you didn't hear when these were originally shown Sunday night's on Fox.
This latest season was broadcast in HD in 1.78.1 widescreen which, and that's the aspect ratio that is used for this DVD release. As has been the norm with the Family Guy sets so far from Fox, the video presentation is very good. The colors look nice and bright, the image is strong, vibrant and clean, and there are no problems with print damage. There aren't any issues at all with mpeg compression throughout the set during playback, though there is some mild line shimmering and light edge enhancement detectable in a few spots that, while not distracting or overbearing, is definitely there. Overall though, this is a very nice presentation in terms of video quality and each and every one of the episodes in this set look better on these DVDs than they do in reruns on TV, especially in terms of color reproduction. Everything looks brighter and more vibrant which adds to the fun of the series' screwy look and style.
The English language track on this DVD is presented in a very nicely handled Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix. These tracks don't go completely overboard with background or ambient noise and instead use the rears to enhance what's already there in the first place with gives the soundstage a more lifelike feel. While there are instances where sound effects will come at you unexpectedly, in terms of channel separation and speaker use, there's nothing funky going on here, it all works and it all sounds pretty natural. Dialogue is crisp, clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. The opening theme song sounds incredibly lively as it plays before each episode and the background music used throughout the shows is strong but not overpowering or domineering. Optional audio tracks are provided in Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo options while subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Extras are spread across the discs in the set as follows:
As is the norm with Family Guy DVD releases, this disc includes some deleted scenes for each of the episodes on the disc, some of which are fairly amusing. We also get a featurette called 200 Episodes Later that runs just over twenty-one minutes and is made up of interviews with most of the principal voice actors involved in the show and a few of the producers. It's a fun retrospective piece that examines some of the controversy that has followed the show throughout the years, some of the recurring themes and ideas that have come to be staples of the series and more. Accompanying this is the 200th Episode Table Read in which we spend thirty-seven minutes with the cast as they work their way through a practice session of the bi-centennial episode. This disc also includes a scene animatic from Into Fat Air that runs for four minutes and which features commentary from director Joseph Lee and colorist Bike Kinzle.
On top of that we get an audio commentary track on the Yug Ylimaf episode (with executive producer/writer Mark Hentemann, editor Mike Elias, director John Holmquist, assistant director Rick Del Carmen, and production mixer Patrick Clark).
This disc also includes a selection of episode specific deleted scenes but in addition to that also contains a full episode animatic for the Space Cadet episode. It plays out full length and with the regular episode's audio underneath.
Once again, we also get audio commentary tracks on the following episodes: Jesus, Mary And Joseph! (with Patrick Warburton, executive producer Steve Callaghan, co-executive producer/writer Tom Devanney, director Julius Wu, character designer Mick Cassidy, and production coordinator Nicholas Cofancesco), Brian's Play (with Mark Hentemann, co-executive producer/writer Gary Janetti, co-executive producer Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, director Joseph Lee and animation associate producer Brent Crowe), Valentine's Day In Quahog (with Mark Hentemann, writer Daniel Palladino, director Bob Bowen and assistant director Jacob Hair) and Chris Cross (with Steve Callaghan, writer Anthony Blasucci, writer Mike Desilets, director Jerry Langford and assistant director Michael Rundle).
Disc three also contains a collection of deleted scenes for each episode as well as a single scene animatic from the Total Recall episode that contains commentary from director Joseph Lee and assistant director Wincat Alcala. Also look for the 2012 Comic-Con Panel that runs just short of half an hour. Participants in the panel include executive producers Steve Callaghan and Mark Hentemann, voice actors Mike Henry, Alex Borstein, Seth Green and Mila Kunis, and of course, Seth MacFarlane himself. It's an amusing discussion of the series and its history.
And yep, you guessed it, we get audio commentary tracks on the following two episodes: Farmer Guy (with Steve Callaghan, co-executive producer/writer Patrick Meighan, director Mike Kim and assistant director Tim Parsons) and Roads To Vegas (with Steve Callaghan, director Greg Colton, producer Shannon Smith, background designer David Beall and color designer Yelena Tokman).
Each disc includes menus and chapter selection. The DVDs in the set each fit inside a standard size DVD case which in turn tucks away into a slipcover featuring alternate artwork. Inside the case is a flyer advertising new episodes of the series.
Family Guy Series Twelve is a pretty solid collection of animated comedy from McFarlane and company. It isn't going to win over the non-believers or make fans out of those who don't appreciate the series' irreverence or complete disregard for logic but if you're a fan, you'll appreciate the zany creativity, wit and overall tone of inspired insanity that continues to make the series as much fun as it is. The DVD looks and sounds as good as it's going to in standard definition and it contains a pretty solid smattering of supplements that are both amusing and informative. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.