Let's discuss Avengers: Infinity War -- a movie BOUND to make you feel so good!

November 15, 2013

Let's discuss Family Guy (Part 2).

You know what?  I’m glad I’ve got something like I Hraet You.

I’m not going to pretend like it’s the greatest thing out there -- because it isn’t -- but I do enjoy it.  I enjoy writing it, and I’ve found that I enjoy reading earlier chapters a lot more than I expect I would.  I’d certainly rather read one of those than, say, some of the prototype stories I’ve scribbled in notebooks.  (Note to self: make sure those notebooks have been burned and scattered into the four winds.)  Whatever the case -- or quality -- the story may be far from done, but even now I think I can see some of my ideas and opinions taking form.  It’s proof of what I think a good story can, could, or even should offer.  Well, maybe not the whole wombat thing.

I’m not so cocky to declare that everything I do is right, and everything that I do should be done by others.  I have my style and opinions, and others have theirs.  All I ask is that, if I’m doomed to languish in obscurity forever (or at least for a little while longer), then others who are holding all the creative power should put up a smart effort.  They should respect and wisely use the power they hold.  They should show their audiences, the lowly peasants that scrabble at their heels, that they deserve trust and admiration.  They should put their all into everything they release, IN SPITE of the wealth and fame they’ve gathered.

They should.  But that’s all in theory.  In practice, we have a show like Family Guy.    

3) All of you can just go away.  Please, just go away.
Can we all just agree right now that without good characters, it’s impossible to have a good story?  Can we?  It feels like (among other things) I keep saying that over and over.  I mean, at this point it should pretty much be implied.  Whether you’re a visitor of this site or not, whether you’re a scribbler of tales or not, it’s a truth that influences nearly every story ever written.

Characters create opportunities.  It’s the meeting, agreement, and clashing of different characters that helps define a story, whether it’s a comedy, a drama, or even a big whompin’ action movie.  The better the characters -- the better they’re used and explored -- the better off the story will be when all’s said and done.  They’re the ones worth remembering, and can easily become a focal point of a show.

This is what I’ve been trying to get done with I Hraet You.  Setting aside leading man Lloyd (because that’s part of an entirely different conversation), it’s the nature and interplay between each character that I’m striving to have defined and ready to transform an okay story into a great one.  Friendships, rivalries, relationships, and more -- seeing those things appear in the story’s unrealistic, over-the-top fashion is better than any random gag, because they create gags in their own right.  

Even if each character can sound like the product of a drunken game of Mad Libs (shotgun-toting grandma, anyone?), it’s not enough to create a wacky character.  Something has to be done with them.  And indeed, something WILL be done with them if I have anything to say about it.  An upcoming character -- a major rival character -- is more or less a fusion of Bang Shishigami, Jotaro Kujo, and the late Bob Ross.  With a little Cody Travers for good measure.

But what does all this have to do with Family Guy, besides trying to create the most elaborate exit strategy on the internet?  Simple: for years now, Family Guy has been spinning its wheels when it comes to its characters.  The reason why it has to resort to awful, pointless cutaway gags and awful, mean-spirited shots at real-world people/things is because it refuses to do anything with its characters.  With a cast that has to be a few dozen strong, the show consistently refuses to do anything with them besides A) their character-defining bit, or B) waste time.  With a cast that has to be at least a few dozen strong, the majority of them -- outside of their character-defining bit -- is stupid or an asshole.  And before you ask, no, not in the funny way.

Let me use The Simpsons as a comparison.  Its cast is also in the dozens, if not a solid hundred by now.  But time and time again, I’ve been rewarded for watching the show and seeing these characters go at it, be it with themselves, their circumstances, or one another.  On top of that, The Simpsons actually does something with its cast, be it give them an episode or two in the sun, a part in the episode of the week, or just a good gag that can actually add a little insight into the character. 

Off the top of my head, I could probably write a few paragraphs -- maybe even a short post -- on characters like Grandpa Abe Simpson, Mr. Burns, Principal Skinner, Groundskeeper Willy, Ned Flanders, Nelson Muntz, Apu, Chief Wiggum, Ralph Wiggum, Edna Krabappel (rest in peace, Marcia Wallace), Milhouse, Milhouse’s mom, Milhouse’s dad, Dr. Hibbert, Snake, Smithers, Patty and Selma, Krusty the Klown, Sideshow Mel, Sideshow Bob, Hans Moleman, Moe, Barney, Rev. Lovejoy, Gil, Lenny and Carl, and maybe even Duffman.  And there’s probably even more than that.  Even if there aren’t, there’s a wealth of information and merit to each character, and it’s only been added to as the years go on.  I can buy, and even enjoy, Carl’s backstory being revealed; it’s something that’s new, something that’s exciting, and something that’s funny, but it ALSO calls into question the relationship between him and his drinking buddies as well as the nature of (and his presence in) the entire show.

Obviously The Simpsons has the advantage in that it’s been running almost nonstop for nearly three decades, as compared to the stop-and-go twelve-ish seasons of Family Guy.  But even then, that is a huge amount of time for us to get to know these characters.  To see what goes beyond their one bit.  Yes, I know The Simpsons ALSO has its one-bit characters -- Luigi, Professor Frink, Disco Stu, and more -- but they’ve offered either permutations of their gags or insights into their very cores.  (Disco Stu might have more layers than one would expect, even beyond what Lisa noted in his taxicab confession.)  In contrast, I have my doubts that more than a couple of characters could sustain an entire episode of Family Guy -- at least, they can’t sustain an episode and be funny simultaneously.       

Off the top of my head, the only characters that have really gotten any focus in a full-on episode are Quagmire, Joe, Cleveland, Tom Tucker, Herbert, and Carter Pewterschmidt.  Maybe Dr. Hartman if you’re charitable.  Not even those characters if you’re not charitable, considering that Tucker’s episodes largely focused on Peter, and Herbert’s episode largely focused on Chris.  In all fairness, I’m not saying that in order for FG to be good it has to follow The Simpsons’ example beat-for-beat.  It just has to offer up something as good or greater on its own terms.  FG has its core six characters in the Griffins, so being good is just as easy as making them fun to follow in their “ordinary” lives.

Or -- and hear me out on this -- or the show can do the opposite and make virtually everyone bitter, self-destructive chucklefucks.  That works too.  It’s proven that so many times already in the past.

These characters -- the Griffins especially, but I’ll get to them later -- have all started bleeding into one another, to the point where outside of their looks and signature bits I’m having a hard time picking them apart from one another.  When and why did Mort turn into such an aggressive miser?  When and why did Carter turn into an older, richer version of Peter, the series’ number one manchild?  The only time Dr. Hartman is of any use to anyone is when the plot needs to advance.  Bonnie very nearly has an affair for reasons just barely set up in any prior episode.  No one in the show (or out of it) can ever decide what the rules are for understanding baby Stewie, reacting to talking dog Brian, or most grievously knowing that Peter is not someone you should allow to do anything…which you’d think a show as “self-aware” as FG would talk about at one point, but alas.  And for whatever reason -- probably a “Cleveland got a spinoff” related reason -- Quagmire, of all people, is the most level-headed member of the cast.  At least when he didn’t want to bone Meg.  Because, hey, she is eighteen now.

If FG was funny, it could do whatever it wanted.  If every gag -- cutaway or otherwise -- was spot-on, it could do anything without a word from me or anyone else.  But it’s not funny.  These characters’ stupidity isn’t funny, nor is their constant attempts to be edgy or hostile or whatever adjective you want to throw into the mix.  Yes, you can have stupid characters.  Yes, you can have asshole characters.  But you can’t make every character one, the other, or a heaping helping of both.  Otherwise, it’s just telling the same joke over and over again with slightly different words.  Or in the case of Consuela, not even that.

By the way, fun fact: if you check the FG wiki, you’ll note that Consuela is listed as a “major character”.  Draw from that what you will.  I know I did.

And now let’s move onto this guy.

My knee-jerk reaction to Carl was that he was another bit character, only his entire existence was for the sake of referencing movies.  Having reviewed a couple of clips (and effectively stabbing myself in the soul), I can see that he isn’t necessarily there to have drawn-out conversations about movies; the movies are just a way to move into different topics of discussion, like Seinfeld.  Except, you know, significantly less entertaining.

I can’t say I can blame myself for making such a hasty claim.  References are -- among other things, as discussed earlier -- the low-hanging fruit when it comes to comedy.  I speak from experience; the temptation to overload my writing with video game references is very nearly enough to snap my heart in twain.  I’ve gotten better about it, but it’s still something I have to be mindful of.  Moderation is essential.  Balancing out your elements makes for a better story.  And most of all, add your own original touch instead of cribbing off of things that already exist; that is, don’t draw attention to someone else’s work when your own can shine so brightly.

Ah, would that FG could learn such a simple lesson.  Here they are taking a shot at Robot Chicken, because of course they are. 

Uh…huh.  Hmmm.  Ummmmmm…hey, Family Guy?  You know what else references things from the eighties?


There was a G.I. Joe gag when the series first returned.  There was a He-Man gag a few episodes later.  There was a Thundercats cutaway in one episode (that in essence wasn’t that different from a Superfriends cutaway in a separate episode).  Before the revival there was a quick gag that had Jewish Optimus Prime, and post-revival Stewie played with a few Transformers, Starscream chief among them.  (I’d ask why a baby is being allowed to play with a toy as hazardous as a Transformer, but considering that these days Lois probably couldn’t give an eighth of a shit about her family, that’s a pretty likely reason.) 

Let’s be real here.  Obviously, it’s okay to use references; just having them doesn’t automatically make a story worse (assuming that they’re used appropriately in the first place).  But like every other chance it has to be even remotely watchable, FG squanders it by going to extremes.  Again, the show refuses to use its own assets -- its characters, its plots, its situations -- and would rather draw attention to something else that might get a laugh, but probably won’t.  Recreating a scene from Back to the Future isn’t going to get me stiff in the trousers anytime soon; I’m watching the show out of charity because I want to watch FG, not Back to the Future.  Do something with that.  Don’t stop everything to make a reference to something else, especially something so obscure I’d practically need a wiki in my lap just to suspect when something wildly out-of-place is actually flagging some other, better product.

Well, usually better.

5) Is the episode over yet?  How about now?  How about now?  How about now?  How about now?  How about now?  How about now?  How about now?  How about now?  How about now?  How about now?  How about REFERENCES?
I would just like to remind people that this was a thing that happened a while back.

Notice how Stewie justifiably snaps after his partner repeatedly and stupidly calls out “jackal” over and over again.  The baby has a point; why should the guy think that success will come just because he repeated the same thing over and over?  Truly, there’s a lesson in there somewhere for us all.  Or at the very least, a lesson for FG.  Incidentally, it’s a lesson that the show once taught us -- and a lesson the show itself has forgotten.

If that was the sole example in the show, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.  Funny, even.  But again, FG has to take every good thing it has going for it and run it into the ground.  Seriously, would you just LOOK at this TV Tropes pageFG’s list of overly long gags is massive, doing just as much arm as the cutaways -- demolishing the comedic flow, and making sure that a regularly bare-bones plot can’t even support a hundredth of its weight.  So to recap: in a twenty-two minute episode, we’ve got cutaway gags of varying length and frequency, but more than enough to tip the scales.  We’ve got references that are either the focus of a cutaway, or just a random aside that, again, tip the scales.  And when FG does decide to hunker down and give us in-universe, in-context jokes and progression, we get gags that stopped being funny a few seconds in. 

You know what, though?  I get it.  I actually get it.  The longer the show goes on, the more obvious it becomes that FG doesn’t want to show off a spiffy new episode.  It wants to escape from it.

FG will do anything to pad its run time.  Anything.  That’s the only possible explanation.  But whereas The Simpsons will create one of the most enduring and beloved gags ever spawned when it has to pad for time, FG will scrape whatever barrel it has on hand, up to and including showing entire, unrelated music videos in the middle of an episode.  They did it with Conway Twitty, but as it turns out his song wasn’t the only one.  The episode “Foreign Affairs” actually showed off Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s “Dancing in the Street”, which Peter declares “the gayest music video of all time.”  Because that’s what I like to see and hear.  It’s not like I wanted to see an episode of FG, and certainly not one trying to deal with a topic like Bonnie planning to have an affair in Paris.   No, let’s piss away more time on terrible jokes.

It’s almost as if the show is…is…wait a second.  A scattershot approach on all accounts?  Hoping for the best with the sloppiest moves imaginable?  Randomness that misses more than it hits?  An absolute refusal to learn from past mistakes or improve itself in any way possible, be it for the sake of others or its own personal pride?  Trying to coast its way to victory with its half-assed nature, but completely dominated and scorned by those with superior reason and skill?

You know what?  Family Guy is the animated version of a Flowchart Ken.

6) God does not play dice.  Blackjack, maybe.
It’s easy to call FG random, and in a lot of ways that’s very true.  It is random, and its lack of focus on anything besides a stretched-out gag is clear from one episode to the next.  But at the same time, FG is often painfully predictable.  Setting aside the fact that it uses what’s effectively the same joke from earlier episodes, seasons, or even pre-revival moments (only, you know, worse), there are a lot of times when the show falls back on old habits.  Really old habits.

So let’s go ahead and list some of them…with the proper music, of course.

--Starting an episode with the family (or parts of it) watching TV.

--Starting an episode with the TV setting up a non-sequitur…which is to say, another cutaway gag.

--50-80% of the run time before the first commercial being devoted to something with no relevance to the plot of the episode.

--A fart joke.  Seriously, there has to be one per episode, at least.

--Taking any opportunity to snipe at Meg, even if she’s not even in the scene.

--Taking any opportunity to add Stewie into a scene, however briefly.

--Taking any opportunity to have the camera focus solely on Stewie -- zoomed in so he takes up the majority of the screen -- as he delivers a “funny” line.

--Taking any opportunity to have Brian -- with full sway over the camera -- spell out the political/religious failings of the strawman du jour.

--Trying to simulate realistic speech by adding the stuttering of words.

--Trying to simulate realistic conversations by having characters talk over each other.

--Someone abruptly dropping into the “Standard Family Guy Fall-Down Position” -- facing away from the camera, one arm stretched upward past the head, the other folded behind the back; one leg bent, the other straight.  It’s seen so consistently I wonder if that’s the only position characters ever fall into.

--In recent seasons, they’ve actually started changing camera angles a bit and adding shadows…except now they’ve done it so many times that that’s played out, too.  Two characters on-screen, one with his/her back to the camera with some shading, taking up the majority of the screen’s real estate; the other in the typical FG perspective chatting it up.

--In recent seasons, they’ve added needlessly brutal and graphic violence.  Because when I think “comedy”, I think “squirrel getting smashed into roadkill before our eyes”.

--Half-assed apology/attempt at heartwarming moment in the last third or so of an episode, flying in the face of all the bullshit antics done without remorse prior to it.  Bonus points for adding a slow zoom; 2x multiplier for schmaltzy music.

I know FG is technically the production of a crew that is decently-sized at the smallest (and even that might number well in the dozens).  But even if that’s the case, it doesn’t have to be so mechanical about its proceedings.  It’s bad enough that there’s no comedic flow.  It’s bad enough that every opportunity it has for a good joke gets thrown out.  It’s bad enough that what it chooses to offer comes off as the backwards-speak of a bitter, grumpy old man trying to be “ironic” like the kiddies these days.  But even with all that in mind, it can at least try to act like it’s got some self-respect, and prove that it’s more than just a money-maker.  

But I guess that’s too much to ask.  The show would much rather dangle a Star Wars reference in front of your face. 

And then there’s that.

Okay, I’m stopping here for now.  I think that’s the extent of what my soul can take for one day.  Check back soon; next time, I intend to get into the real problems of the show.

Yep.  It gets worse.  It always gets worse.


  1. I love how Bob Ross is included next to Jotaro Kujo, Bang Shishigami and Cody Travers. But yeah. "Characters create opportunities." It can also be said that stories aren't about situations. they're about characters. I think die hard fans would argue that Peter is always having marital troubles or whatever, but it seems like a pale shadow of the relationship of Homer and Marge.

    The thing is, Lois is sort of an asshole too. The whole show is full of them. To compare with the Simpsons for a moment. You have to realize a grim fact. If there hadn't been a 'Bart' Homer and Marge wouldn't have stayed together, point blank. Family Guy doesn't have that substance under the covers.

    On a side note. What does the "V" on Lloyd's super hero costume stand for?

  2. Yeah, for some weird reason, every time I try to put multiple pictures next to each other, it always turns into this struggle to get them in the right place. It's like they're all trying to repel each other onto opposite sides of the page. So I spent like a minute trying to get Bob Ross to cooperate; he's a vexing one, without a doubt.

    "The thing is, Lois is sort of an asshole too."

    Very true. My plan with the next post is to talk about the Griffins (most of them, anyway), and I'm predicting that either Lois or Meg will be the first that I'll tackle. That's not to say they're the worst the show has to offer, though. But I'll get to that. Anyway, you have a point there with the relationship the Simpsons have -- and I should probably mention them at one point -- but if my understanding of FG is right, in a lot of ways Peter is the Bart of the family. The dynamic's different, yeah, but in a sort of sick way I'd like to think that Peter's holding the family together for all the wrong reasons.

    Then again, I haven't thought THAT far ahead, so I could be talking out of my ass right now. We'll see in a week or two.

    But enough of that. I have to admit, you kind of threw me for a loop when you mentioned "Lloyd's super hero costume" -- but then I realized what you were talking about, and, well, I guess that was a slip-up on my part. That wasn't Lloyd at all, but a completely different character (incidentally, one that predates Lloyd by several years). I probably should have made that clear, but then again that would have forced me to reveal my hand. That, and have a bit of foresight.

    If Lloyd were to have a superhero costume -- or wrestling costume, because of course he would -- then it'd probably be something along the lines of El Fuerte's costume. Only with more peacock feathers. Maybe. I haven't decided yet.

  3. Well... as awkward as it is, I'm convinced my own fanfiction is better written than this show.

    And this may be a dumb question, but does anyone age in this show? Wouldn't Stewie be a homicidal elementary school student with multiple explosions from threatening to kill everyone? How come the dog doesn't have a cane? My Cocker Spaniel barely made it to twelve, so what's this show's excuse? If you want everyone to be perpetually ageless, then that's a blatantly obvious sign of rigidity. Has anyone died on this show? How come? What is the point of the universe existing? How is the "comedic" land full of Tuck Everlastings so special and different from ours? What direction is this show going in? What topics does it want to discuss? How long can they focus on one topic? Is there any substance to be found in any other kinds of comedy? Do no other forms of comedy exist in the world of eternal agelessness?

    See why I hate these kinds of shows? It's just a one trick pony that only works for a limited time unless it tickles your fancy. And it clearly has done nothing for me or you.

    Just... get out of this alive, man.

    "In recent seasons, they’ve added needlessly brutal and graphic violence. Because when I think “comedy”, I think “squirrel getting smashed into roadkill before our eyes”."

    Well, if it's Super Meat Boy, then yes, it's funny watching a squirrel suffer. Thing is though, that game has a bunch of references to older video games and the cutscenes have no dialogue. Some dark stuff either happens so quick your brain almost misses it, or it closes away from something morbid to the level complete screen. The formula and execution is something Super Meat Boy has over... this... mess...

  4. Funnily enough, the characters actually do age in this show. I don't know exactly how old Meg was at the start of the show, but in one episode she's explicitly stated to be turning 17 (she had to tell her family after they forgot her age, because of course they did). And the plot of another episode revolved around her turning 18. Pre-revival, Peter is 42, but in a later episode he's mentioned to be 43. Brian goes from 7 to at least 8. Chris started high school. I don't know Lois' age off the top of my head (she's supposed to be 2 years younger than Peter), but the fact that she calls out another female character for being in her 40s smacks of inconsistency, or just swiping at that low-hanging fruit.

    Wait. Why do I know so much about Family Guy? SON OF A --

    So yeah, the progression on this show is kind of messed up. Things happen, I guess, but the actual importance of said events is...questionable. Several characters died in a two-part mystery plot, but by and large they were expendable. Said episode featured guest star/recurring arch nemesis James Woods biting it, but I've heard from The AV Club that he actually comes back with just a hand-waved explanation. So your summary is exactly right -- FG has no direction. It just does whatever it wants from week-to-week, hoping something will stick onto the wall. Problem is, they've been pitching at thin air for years now.

    Now then. If you'll excuse me, I have to go slam my head against something as hard as I can so I can forget everything FG-related. Toilet bowl, don't fail me now!

  5. NO! Those are precious brain cells you're killing! Think of how much creativity you're throwing away! Pathways that unlock new shortcuts to unleashing your inner writing hero! You've got to hang on, man! HANG ON!!!!!! *sobs*

  6. Hey, hey, don't worry about me. FG may be be bad, but not bad enough to break me down. It can always get worse, but trust me -- I wouldn't be doing this little miniseries if I didn't have a reason for it. I'm not just out to vent and complain; I'm building up to something here...assuming my execution is on-point.

    It'd take a thousand years of head-bashing to even put a dent in my mind, or my mind's eye. Plus I've got even less reason to than before. FG may get me down, but for now I'll say this: I may have stumbled upon something rather wonderful.

    And that's how you handle foreshadowing. *moonwalks across the ocean*

  7. Family G-rrrrrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaUUUUGGGH!

    I know I should be more appalled by the writing, but the animation always gets to me. This is a world with the harshness of Spawn and the ugliness of Rugrats side by fucking side.