Back for more of Quahog's worst family
The Story So Far...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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