ABW’s TV Corner – Family Guy

I like blogging about TV, I’ve discovered, and I’ll probably do it once a week or so as time goes by. I’m just doing a bunch at once because, as I said, I felt like a little break would be fun. Then again, this one is filled with a lot of anger…

Family Guy used to be one of my absolute favorite shows. I remember the annoyance when it was cancelled, the joy when the reruns showed on Adult Swim, and the triumph when Fox said they’d greenlight its return. Few shows get that kind of second life, and I felt Family Guy definitely deserved it.

What went wrong, then? Well, I should say that I don’t hate Family Guy now. I still watch, it still has the ability to make me laugh. But. But, but, but.

The main problem that the show suffers from is getting too comfortable with its types and ‘same joke over and over’ syndrome. Early in the show, someone might have made fun of Meg for being fat, but it didn’t happen all that often – mainly because Meg isn’t fat. Also early in the show, Peter and Lois loved both of the kids, though Peter clearly preferred Chris and Lois Meg. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, made sense. Now Meg is just fucking hated by her whole family. You can’t go a whole episode without a fat joke, or an ugly joke, or having the family completely diss her in some horrible way. Meg went from being a plain girl to the ugliest troll on the face of the earth (in the eyes of her family and peers) without undergoing any change in her appearance. Chris became the favored child even though he remains stupid and borderline retarded except when the writers break his character and make him the only person in the room making any sense. ??

So far I haven’t mentioned Stewie, my favorite character, because Lois and Peter pretty much ignore him unless there’s a need for them to deal with him plot-wise. Stewie is essentially Brian, the dog’s, kid. Or his best friend. Whatever, Brian is the only one who deals with Stewie on a regular basis, he’s the one who raises the kid and teaches him life lessons.

Brian is another problematic character. He started out as just a dog who talked, often showing himself to be the only one making sense. Then he sort of morphed into a person in dog form and that’s where he is now. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but I feel like the show stretches this far too much. In one early episode, Brian gets it on with a pedigree dog (not anthropomorphic) who he says he’ll marry and raise kids with. Then he was shown falling for human women, who fell for him right back. Now he’s in a relationship with a cliché (a beautiful woman who is chronically stupid/childlike).

Brian’s characterization often goes too far into ‘same joke over and over’ waters. Especially as concerns this weird crush/lust/obsession he has for Lois. That joke was funny once, sort of funny the next time, and then stretched to the limit in The Perfect Castaway. The whole sexual tension bull isn’t as interesting as the writers seem to think it is. They bring it up every three episodes or so.

Lois morphed from a caring wife and mom into a selfish bitch who seems to do nothing all day but sit around and deal with everyone else’s problems. She used to have a job – piano teacher – which disappeared at some point, never to return. It’s clear that Lois is repressing a lot of rage (or something) because every opportunity she’s given to act ‘bad’ she takes and runs with. The writers seem to enjoy portraying Lois as a skanky slut waiting to emerge. She’s kept in check by her father, then her husband, and somewhat by her role as a mom. If any of those slip, it’s crazytown.

And finally there’s Peter. I complained to some friends just yesterday that I was tired of the cliché of a stupid, fat man with a loving, beautiful wife (who’s completely loyal to him). You’d never see the reverse – there are no fat women with hot, stud-like men. But beautiful women are totally willing to put up with fat bastards like Peter, Homer Simpson, The King of Queens, Fred Flintstone, Ralph Kramden, Ray Romano, Stan Smith… need I go on? It can certainly be said that Family Guy is satirizing the formula, but it’s not subverting it. After a while, it really seems like any woman who would put up with Peter is either seriously fucked up herself or so suppressed that she doesn’t even know it. And, after a while, Peter’s complete uselessness becomes less and less funny. He’s the same joke over and over.

Meg from Family GuyOf all the same lame jokes over and over, I think I’m particularly annoyed by the show’s treatment of Meg. There’s a point where comedy rolls over into offensiveness, and we’ve definitely reached that point with Meg. I knew I’d reached my limit when they had an episode where Meg gets a makeover and is suddenly pretty. What changed about her? She didn’t get liposuction, a nose job, or any kind of surgery. She just dyed her hair blond, got extensions, put on makeup and wore a halter top. That’s it. In the world of this episode (and you really do have to go ep to ep) the only thing wrong with Meg was a lack of makeup and nice hair. And slutty clothes.

I was almost ready to never watch an episode again when they did one where Bill Clinton hangs out with Peter. All through it, Bill is shown lusting after fat women. Like, huge fat women. (In one scene he judges a ‘cankle’ contest – a cankle being a leg where you can’t tell where the calf fat ends and the ankle fat begins.) But when Meg strips to her underwear and says “You can have me,” Bill’s response is “Ewwwwwwww.” What. The. Fuck.

Beyond the annoying lame joke done too much quality, it has a deeper impact. No matter what people may say about the show being comedy or just a cartoon, this bullshit about some girl with a normal body being fat and ugly needs to stop. It’s not healthy coming from Family Guy the same way it’s not healthy coming from Vogue or America’s Top Model or anywhere else. I am so tired of them picking on Meg I’m ready to ask for Fox to cancel the show all over again. Jokes are meant to be funny, but this crap is just downright mean. Plus, it’s not even clever anymore. If you’re going to be offensive-funny, you need to be more clever than “OMG Meg you’re so FAT! Hahahahahahahahahaha.”

The only reason I still watch is Stewie. It’s kind of funny that the one character on the show that hasn’t had any kind of aging (everyone else has had a birthday or two, moved on to different stages in life, etc.) has grown the most. He’s a lot like Brian in that, even though he’s a 1 year old, he does a lot of things adults do. It’s never consistent, though. Sometimes Stewie is shown driving a car, sometimes sitting in a baby seat. He eats regular food and gets drunk in one episode, in another he’s still breastfeeding.

In many ways, he’s the most interesting character because his stereotype isn’t so limiting. Meg is the fat, plain daughter, Chris is the stupid son, Lois is the loving wife and mother, Peter is the bastard father, and Stewie is… a baby who seeks to take over the world and kill his hated mother. That’s brilliant! It doesn’t limit him the way the other character’s stereotypes limit them. Though I should say, if the writers were cleverer there wouldn’t be those limitations to begin with. Still, with Stewie they clearly shine, allowing him to take on several different types of roles.

There are times when Stewie is worth wading through all the other shit. But, I gotta say, those times are getting fewer and fewer.

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17 Responses

  1. OMG! GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!

    It’s creepy how much I completely agree with everything you just said! What did you think about:

    Most unfunny episode(s): “Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story”

    Episode that actually made me change the channel: The one where they open a restaurant (that cripple-bot = totally tasteless)

    Most disturbing episode: The one where Brian takes Meg to the prom

  2. I read your piece with interest, as someone who doesn’t watch “Family Guy” (I was too turned off by the promos).

    This is a minor thing, but when you use terms like “skanky slut”, “selfish bitch”, etc., it appears as if you’re endorsing these terms. And it distracted my attention from the points you were making. At least for this one reader.

    Excellent piece. And so soon after the Doctor Who one.

  3. Damn, Angel, I really am in your head. Didn’t like the Stewie movie all that much (mostly I hated the last two parts of it), I also felt the cripple bot was tasteless, and I will not watch the Brian takes Meg to the prom episode ever again. Ever. It was very disturbing and annoying.

    Melinda – sorry those terms distracted you. I was trying to use the language they use in the show to make the point. This isn’t just how I’m reading things, this is what they actually say. It’s definitely problematic.

  4. Wow – weird – I just commented on a FG thread at Racialicious.

    I can’t watch it anymore. That “Asian reporter Trisha Takanawa” bit from the beginning of the FG movie killed it for me. Too many racial stereotypes, too much “ooh are we being racist or just edgy?” jokes…

  5. I did used to find it really interesting how Stewie is often coded as gay, vs. Brian’s straightness…

    You are so right on about the abuse heaped on the Meg character, for no apparent reason. Her situation reminds me a little of Kerry Kenny’s character on Reno 911 – everyone on that show hates her, even talking about how they want to beat her up or kill her – for no reason that I could tell.

  6. Reno 911 has that problem, but not to the same extreme, I think. Trudy is pretty damn dumb sometimes, but lately she’s shown flashes of greater intelligence. I think pregnancy is making her smarter ;) But the whole business about her being completely unattractive/undesireable is really annoying. Kerry Kenny isn’t a supermodel, but she’s NOT unattractive. I think she’s quite pretty, myself.

    I’ve always wondered how it feels to be an actress playing a character the people in a show/movie constantly call ugly. Not like Ugly Betty, who puts on a lot of hardware to be ‘ugly’, more like Dorothy from Golden Girls. It hurts me to watch that in a show, doesn’t it hurt the actress? Should they have to develop a thick skin to that kind of thing?

  7. “I’ve always wondered how it feels to be an actress playing a character the people in a show/movie constantly call ugly. ”

    Well, it gave Tracy Gold an eating disorder. (Yes I watched a lot of “Growing Pains” as a child. Moving on…) There are a lot of factors that go into something like that, but the huge volume of jokes that Mike made about Carole’s appearance, specifically her weight, did not help matters one bit.

  8. Agreed – I have no idea what’s up with all the Meg hate going on in that show, and find it really irritating and pointless…and not funny at all. I wonder if it’s just lazy writing, or they actually really think it’s funny or if they’re just pandering to the 18-34 year old misogynists.

    I still love Stewie, but was very disappointed with the “Road to Rupert” episode which couldn’t hold a candle to “Road to Rhode Island” or “Road to Europe”. Bummer.

  9. “Stewie is… a baby who seeks to take over the world and kill his hated mother.”

    How is that not excessively misogynist? I mean, a boy who wants to kill his mother….
    Can we say “Eminem”?

    Besides all that I agree with a lot of what you just said. And you hit the nail on the head when you made a distinction between “satire” and “subversion.” In the case of Family Guy it’s just shallow satire. There are too many pedophilia/molestation moments in the movie version (about Stewie) to ignore the sexism in the show. They make it all light-hearted when it’s a real problem that women face.
    When a show is so ambiguously “satirical” that it could possibly be interpreted as literally reinforcing sexist and racist ideas or stereotypes it’s time to shut the tube off. Too many people are too comfortable with that show for it to be subversive.

  10. I disagree with most of what you just said.

    I admit by the first few episodes that same of the jokes were running a bit thin but by now I’ve grown to love them all over again.

    As a grown audience we retain a higher capacity to remember jokes, gags and what nots from previous episodes and are able to recollect them when another episode recalls an old joke. Some play this too a serious plot degree such as when Stewie beat up Brian, afterwards Brian lets terrible things happen to Stewie because of it. Other examples of jokes include the Chicken Fight ( twice now ), the Vodville piano brothers, and the Barnaby weightlifters. These jokes only are tasteless when you didn’t really enjoy them the first time and if your like me and enjoyed them, then you are satisfied and laugh as soon as the character appears again.

    Also on another note about replaying gags, the creators often add in a bit to try and keep it fresh or end it for those who hate it. Example, Stewie shoots the barnaby brothers, The Barnabies get a role as the trainers in the gym, and the Chicken stops fighting Peter over the coupon and now it’s about offending the Chicken’s wife.

    New gags also that are new season oriented such as Bruce “The Performist Artist” voice being used for his character, Jaws, a huge Bee and the what like is something we’ll probably see very often, but is hysterical to me every second.

    I admit the Stewie Griffin movie was slightly a let down and should’ve been coded as 3 episodes strung together but I thought Road to Rupert was hilarious and it’s reference to the old dancing bit with the mouse replaced by Stewie was a welcome twist mid-way.

    I find most of what you wrote in this article to be a matter of opinion, and so thus my statement back is made of such, opinions.I find that with an adult audience most of the edgy racist jokes, fat meg jokes, and repeated gags are what make Family Guy essentially one of the funniest tv series of all time, because it expects the viewers to be intelligent enough and smart enough to realize that it’s just a cartoon.

    I laughed my ass off when Bill Clinton said ‘Eww’ to Meg and when people keep poking and prodding at her. I admit that a couple times I find it a bit reaching but she does fight back a few times and it’s developed her character into an edgy one with the newly found pot jokes, sexually repressed attitude and so on. Which actually made her loved by more viewers.

    If you hear any of the commentaries or take anything more from Meg’s character, the creators of Family Guy agree that she’s not an ugly, fat or hideous character at all, it’s just for fun, and if you the viewer can’t handle edgy jokes of any nature, then you probably shouldn’t be watching a show that’s labelled at the ‘Edgiest’ show in Television history.

    Above all just remember:
    – It’s A Cartoon
    – It’s Rated 18+
    – For every stupid gag, there’s a reference to something pop culture or historic that’s actually intellectually funny
    – If you don’t like it anymore, but the old seasons and don’t watch the new stuff.

    Later Days

  11. I find that with an adult audience most of the edgy racist jokes…are what make Family Guy essentially one of the funniest tv series of all time…

    Because racism is ever so funny.

    If you don’t like it anymore, but the old seasons and don’t watch the new stuff.

    Why would we support something that we don’t like by buying it’s products?

    By the way, I’m always hoping for better from the show. However, not 5 minutes into the episode, the guys are in the bar watching the TV as Tom Tucker reports on a group of Spring Break vacations found murdered, mutilated, and “sexually violated”. Peter responds:

    “It’s seems like everybody is getting laid but me.”

    W…T….F….

    That went beyond tasteless, that was outright disgusting. And I also want to know why none of the female staff spoke up about that line.

    Interesting note: In the original tale of Hua Mulan, when the other soldiers grow suspicious of the soldier, they grab her/him, rip force her clothes off, and that’s how they discover Mulan’s true identity. When the female staff at Disney discovered this, they begged the writers and director not to let this happen in the film. (Source is a “Making Of” documentary, I can’t remember where I saw it.) I am not only pissed off that they put that line on the show, but that none of the female writers spoke up – or made a big enough stink about it – before it went to air.

  12. David,
    You are so oblivious to the ways that these jokes hurt those who are not heterosexual white males that you can’t even see beyond your own little bubble of male privilege.

    “I laughed my ass off when Bill Clinton said ‘Eww’ to Meg and when people keep poking and prodding at her. I admit that a couple times I find it a bit reaching but she does fight back a few times and it’s developed her character into an edgy one with the newly found pot jokes, sexually repressed attitude and so on. Which actually made her loved by more viewers.”
    People like Meg because she conforms to every stereotype of the “unfeminine” female: sexually-repressed and doing “masculine” things like smoking bud. Gee, it’s so goddamned funny when men make fun of women for being “fat” or “ugly.” Do YOU know what it’s like to be taunted like that, for your body to be hated and desired so much all at the same time that you are dehumanized? Do YOU know what it’s like to have people laugh at the fact that you could be raped and murdered simply because you’re a fucking female? Do YOU have any clue of how freaking calloused you are? And what the hell is your point about angry black woman’s discussion being “simply an opinion”? Are you some sort of “objective” know-it-all? Even though you claim that your stupid piece was “just opinion” you write in it as if we ladies and minorities are just irrational overemotional freaks who take things too seriously. Get a clue! This racist sexist crap is not some disconnected abstract concept, it has real tangible consequences on the lives of those who are not white and male and seemingly heterosexual and middle-upper class.
    That’s the problem with people like you, you’re a “hipster”. You think we’re so freaking beyond “the old days” of sexism and racism that making those kinds of jokes comes from nothing in particular, and has no consequences. The only reason people would make sexist and racist jokes or laugh at them is because they ARE sexist and racist! How is being sexist and racist “edgy”? When was it “in” to be truly feminist or anti-racist? The fact that you see racist and sexist attitudes as “going against the grain” is the exact problem!
    And if the messages are not a big deal because “it is just a cartoon” than why did you rant and rave just before that it is this cartoon show that is intellectually stimulating? Sheesh, get a reality check. I don’t typically go off like this on people at blogs but oblivious writing like yours just irritates the crap out of me.

  13. What Angel and Lara said.

  14. “Stewie is… a baby who seeks to take over the world and kill his hated mother.”

    How is that not excessively misogynist? I mean, a boy who wants to kill his mother….
    Can we say “Eminem”?

    I don’t know if I feel this is specifically misogynist. There are definitely times when Lois is treated in an extremely misogynistic way – lately both Chris and Peter have said things to her like “Let’s buy a bolt and shut your trap” or “How about doing some damn laundry around here?” and when Lois says “What?” like she didn’t hear/understand her, they say “What?” right back and suddenly it’s over. That always makes me go WTF.

    But with Stewie… I can see why you feel that way, it just never struck the Eminem kill my mom! chord with me. I don’t know why. maybe because I always felt Stewie’s hatred of Lois was because he is a genius trapped in baby’s body and he’s frustrated with everyone. But your reading could be more apropos.

  15. Yeah, Stewie is certainly smarter than Eminem…..
    But who said “geniuses” cannot be sexist? Heh. Ah, I haven’t watched the show in a while, sounds like it’s been getting worse. And the sad thing is I don’t think many people are intelligent enough to watch that and criticize the sexism or racism of the characters, so if anyone is claiming that Family Guy is challenging any stereotypes or harmful ideas, I think that’s pretty counter-intuitive when most people don’t get it, you know?

  16. I know I’m rly late here :( I just wanted to say I rly like what you wrote and I rly agree with it :D I’ve had the same thoughts for a while but I always think I must be alone b/c everywhere ppl talk about how brilliant and funny Family Guy is and that it’s the only show on TV that is ALWAYS funny >.>;;

    I esp agree with you about how each character’s degenerated into a stereotype except Stewie (who is the only great part about that show nemore >.>)

    And I rly do hate what they do with Meg. :( For ppl who say it’s harmless, just look at youtube and how ppl make montages of Meg being “owned” and the comments about ppl talking about how ugly she is, how much they hate her, and how much they hate ugly “fat” girls in general. :(

    The problem is that a lot of ppl aren’t getting the idea (prolly b/c Family Guy doesn’t make any effort to encourage this idea) that they might be satirizing ppl who make fun of “ugly” women or that everything in Family Guy is supposed to be surreal. What they do get is that Family Guy is “funny” and debasing a girl for being “unattractive” if hilarious!

    I kinda also see this happen with the Simpsons in that in the first 8 seasons, Homer and Marge genuinely cared about their family and Homer was a well meaning father who was slow-witted so even tho he thought he was doing the right thing, he wasn’t, but he tried to correct it. >.>

    Then it turned into “Homer is insane and stupid and never goes to work, Bart is mean and evil, Lisa is a bookworm, Marge is a repressed housewife” >.> But they never went to the depths that Family Guy went to.

    I completely agree with you that humour has to be more than “haha ur ugly!” Sadly, it seems that being malicious or mean these days can be easily camoflaged under “humour”. :\

  17. I thought that I was the only one who hated how they constantly make fun of meg all the time! I mean, it was funny the first few times, but now it’s painful to watch, because no one wants to hear someone constantly being made fun of over and over again….

    It sucks how much they changed the characters!

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