Volume Seven of Family Guy has a handful of indispensible jokes, a lot of moderate laughs, and a number of entirely skippable episodes. This set features the last four episodes of Season Six, and first nine of Season Seven. For those who want to catch up, here are my colleagues' reviews of previous Family Guy releases:
Volume One | Volume Two | Volume Three
I have never been a dedicated fan of Family Guy, but because it is now an inescapable part of the programming schedules of several cable channels as well as its home network, Fox, I have seen innumerable episodes over its ongoing eight-year run. The show is often very funny. But it is usually a meandering mess founded upon empty shock jokes and the generally unlikable characters that make up the Griffin family.
Family Guy does a few things very well. One of those is drawing a joke out over an extended period of time, although this trick is not immune to backfiring. The first half of the episode "I Dream of Jesus" revolves almost exclusively around Peter's obsession with the song "Surfin' Bird," and it works well. There's also an extended segue in one episode where Stewie repeatedly insults Matthew McConaughey, but fails to get a rise out of the affable star.
Enormous quantities of the jokes on Family Guy are based on cultural references. Every single episode makes both obvious and obscure references to various movies, sometimes resorting to outright recreations of entire scenes. These don't work for me, and usually end up playing out as extended non-sequiturs that don't help the plot, are not appropriate to the characters, and worse, are just not funny. Peter's recitation of John Candy's sorrowful speech from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for no apparent reason isn't funny, neither conceptually, nor in the context of the particular episode.
Another problem I have with the show is that it too often gives viewers the illusion of being edgy without earning it. People can watch the show and be tempted to think they're watching something smart or dangerous or "inside" or otherwise outside the bounds of the mainstream, without ever being challenged by the subject matter that the jokes pretend to deal with. What I mean is, if there's a joke about Carl Sagan or the Magna Carta or Richard Nixon's "Checkers" speech, it often ends with someone being pooped or barfed on. You've been tricked into thinking there's a smart reference to a historical figure or philosophical precept, but actually the reference is just a vessel that the Family Guy writers fill with poop and barf. Poop jokes are fine with me. They don't cause me to blush or think poorly of a film or television show. But Family Guy dresses up its poop jokes with the pointless pretense of educated respectability.
Maybe South Park ruined it for me. That show's two-part "Cartoon Wars" episode skewered Family Guy in such a definitive way that it's hard to watch it now without being reminded of a tank of manatees bouncing "joke balls" into the writers' room, creating a disconnected, narrative-less stew of quips, cutaways, and segues.
I don't want to get too far away from this set's merits though, because it does have them. There are a number of solid episodes here, especially "Long John Peter," "I Dream of Jesus," and "Baby Not on Board," all of which are consistently funny and are more plot-driven than the average episode. The standout of this set is "The Road to Germany," which combines solid writing with some noteworthy design work from the animation team. Overall, this set is on par with what we've seen from Family Guy before. It's worth pointing out that, even with the show's faults, it has not significantly changed in content, style, or quality since its premiere over ten years ago.
Each episode is accompanied by an optional commentary track, featuring various members of the production crew and cast. Creator Seth MacFarlane appears in a handful of these. These tracks are amiable and conversational, and are spiced with good behind-the-scenes information and the usual anecdotes about guest stars and joke origins.
The remaining features are found on Disc 3, starting off with 30 deleted scenes (11:14). Most of these are very brief, consisting of cut scene extensions.
There are three animatics, the "rough draft" versions of the show featuring still black-and-white sketch art and the actors' voice-overs. We have animatics for "Love Blactually" (21:32), "Long John Peter" (24:06), and "The Man with Two Brians" (22:32). Each is accompanied by an optional commentary track featuring the animators and production crew.
Take Me Out to pLace Tonight is a 12-minute featurette that aptly covers the episode "Tales of a Third Grade Nothing," focusing on Frank Sinatra Jr.'s appearance (his second for the series) and the central role of music in the episode.
Family Guy Cribz is a skippable 16-minute featurette in which executive producer Danny Smith takes us on a tour of the show's offices in Los Angeles.
Comic Con 2008 is a panel discussion about the show featuring Seth MacFarlane, Seth Green, and other production staff, in which they discuss many of the episodes in this set (none of which had yet aired at the time this panel talk was taped).
Finally, Family Guy Art Show takes 5 minutes to detail the in-house art show held at the show's production offices four times a year.
The best thing I can say about Family Guy is that it is consistently hit-and- miss. Although there is good stuff in Volume Seven, too much of it either tries too hard or misses the mark. The show has a lot of fans for whom buying this set will be automatic - you know, like that time that guy rang a bell and a dog drooled. But for me and for the uninitiated, I'd say rent it.