[The following is a review of Family Guy Season 14, Episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
Older fans of The Simpsons can often be caught reminiscing about the days when the Fox staple was edgy, controversial and hilarious. Is it time for Family Guy fans to start their own reminiscing? Now creeping into its fourteenth season, Seth MacFarlane’s cartoon empire is starting to show signs of wear. Not only was “Pilling Them Softly” not particularly funny, it didn’t really have anything to say either.
Like South Park, MacFarlane’s various shows (American Dad and The Cleveland Show as well as Family Guy) have always been about something important. Behind all the gross-out jokes, super-long chicken fights and cutaways was a show with a message. But there was a cleverness to how he approached his message, using shock and humor to try and make people think. Parker and Stone are still killing it on South Park, but Family Guy appears to have lost its way.
All long-running shows hit slumps, and now that Guy is settling into the middle years of its second decade on the air, it was perhaps inevitable. There were genuine moments of awkward silence throughout the episode, and plenty of cutaways without an ounce of comedic value. It was as if the writers and animators knew there just wasn’t much funny to work with here. The poster child for losing its edge over the years, The Simpsons, is even bringing it more consistently these days.
The “issue”tackled in the premiere was our modern society’s tendency to over-medicate our children, to make them more “convenient” for the adults in their lives. It’s a real issue, but was handled in a rather ham-fisted manner. Stewie was put on ADHD medication which left him in a near stupor, while Brian took the medication in hopes of being able to focus and finally finish his book. The funniest moments in the show came when the two of them — both fully drugged out of their minds — attempted to communicate with one another. Everything else that happened in this premiere was a bit of a snooze.
You can usually count on the gang of idiots to bring it when they get into their shenanigans, but this week’s cooking show premise seemed to lack inspiration. It was as if the writers came up with a premise they thought was ripe with potential and then just failed to come up with enough good jokes to fulfill any of that potential. And there was potential, as we saw glimmers of it when Peter was the wacky co-host on Quagmire’s cooking show. A true chef with a passion for the culinary arts, it was inevitable that Quagmire would grow tired of Peter’s idiocy, but the weird Iron Chef escalation of their feud was ultimately disappointing.
The whole Family Guy season 14 premiere left me in a very weird state of mind. On paper, these ideas should have worked. And put through the Family Guy machine of around season seven, they probably would have come out ridiculous and hilarious. Instead, there was a decided lack of inspiration that seeped through almost every frame.
It’s not to say there weren’t enjoyable elements in the episode, there just weren’t enough. I could have watched Brian and Stewie talk to one another for at least ten more minutes. Stewie describing how Chris lies down on his back during showers was almost worth the price of admission alone. But I remember a time when my jaw would drop at cutaways on Family Guy and I would be dying laughing whenever Stewie and Brian shared a storyline. Instead, I was mildly amused by their banter, and almost nothing else in the episode worked.
The beautiful thing about shows like this, though, is that they can bounce back from a bad episode, It’s a little disconcerting that the season premiere was so underwhelming, but that doesn’t mean the whole season is a wash. And even if it is, that may not mean much either. Family Guy isn’t quite the cultural institution its animated predecessor The Simpsons is, but it’s getting pretty close to earning that status.
And just maybe it’s been on long enough that its younger fans won’t even realize that the show has lost so much of its edge. After all, it has now been ten years since Fox revived the show … how many young people even know it was cancelled for three years? Like The Simpsons, the best years of Family Guy may well be the years you grew up with. So the kids growing up with the show now might just love what they’re getting.
Family Guy continues next Sunday with “The Funeral” at 9pm on Fox.