The SmarK DVD Rant For Family Guy Seasons 1 And 2

The SmarK DVD Rant for Family Guy Seasons 1 and 2

“All right, but no sprinkles. For every sprinkle I find on that ice cream, I shall KILL YOU!”

Family Guy is a show that started for me as something to be easily avoided, but as the show gained its groove, it got under my skin like an infection and turned into one of my favorite cartoons ever. Rarely has anything this gut-bustingly funny been shown on TV, and unfortunately the show proved so hip and edgy that it couldn’t survive in a network TV world. Created by Seth MacFarlane (the voice of Peter, Brian the Dog, Stewie, Quagmire and countless others on the show), who was a writer for Johnny Bravo up until that point, Family Guy is quite possibly the most offensive thing ever shown on Fox, and this is the same network that’s going to be airing “Mr. Personality”. But it’s just so earnestly offensive, firing everything at the viewer in an attempt to make them laugh by any means necessary, that you have to love it. And laugh. A lot.

Unfortunately, the show was cancelled and saved multiple times while becoming a cult favorite of internet geeks, and soon become the trendy “show that no one watches” before ultimately succumbing to the ax in 2002. However, with the release of the DVDs, the show should soon attain the cult classic status that it’s deserved since the first season.

The Film

Taking a basic sitcom premise and throwing it in a blender, Family Guy presents a look at pop culture through the eyes of an idiot. At it’s heart a self-referential cartoon made by Generation X slackers about 70s TV, Family Guy soon perfected guerilla comedy attacks (Hitler working out with a buff Jew, anyone?) and more bizarre non-sequiturs per episode than any other show on TV. In short, it was the kind of deviously brilliant cutting-edge parody of TV in general that the Simpsons hasn’t been since 1996.

The secret of the show is one that other humor writers have discovered since time immemorial — the dumber Peter is written, the funnier the show gets. The show centers around Peter Griffin, a fat, bumbling, Everyman who lacks that little thing in the brain that tells the mouth not to say whatever stupid thing comes to mind. But a show just about Peter would quickly become tiresome and repetitive (Matt Groening, are you listening?) so the true genius of this show comes in the supporting characters: Brian the dog, who talks, smokes and drinks (none of which is particularly strange in their world); and Stewie, their one-year old baby and would-be world conqueror. Taking those elements and adding a willingness on the writers’ part to tackle ANY subject with a joke provides a show with basically no weak spots from start to finish.

This DVD set covers both the brief 7-episode first season and the full 21-episode second season, spread over 4 discs. I really like Fox’s new slimline DVD cases for these sets, by the way.

Although the plots are secondary to the show’s main source of humor (generally one character saying to another “Remember when I ” and going from there with a flashback gag) I’ll go over them anyway, because there’s actually some great stories in here along with the non-stop laughs.

Disc One (Season One):

– Death Has A Shadow. Word of explanation: For the first few episodes they played with the titles, using non-sequitur murder mystery clichés in place of descriptive titles. Of course, this was neither funny nor practical to carry on, so they dropped it after four episodes. Anyway, the pilot sees Peter losing his job at the toy factory after accidentally letting a few dangerous toys through the assembly line and going on welfare. However, a government mix-up sends $150,000 a week his way, and amazingly no one catches on to the deception, even when Michelangelo’s David shows up on the front lawn. This all leads to a courtroom drama with the famous Kool-Aid Man joke that pretty much made the show. I hated this one first time through, but I still crack up at the subplot with Stewie trying to get his mind-control ray away from Lois and it’s become top-notch stuff thanks to time and perspective.

– I Never Met the Dead Man. Peter tries to teach Meg to drive (including the fine art of flipping someone off after losing a race), but they accidentally take out cable for all of Quahog after a crash, and Peter bribes Meg into taking the blame. Peter slowly goes insane without TV before having an epiphany and turning into a perfect father. This one is all about the TV references (William Shatner, baby!) and side-jokes with the news anchors who believe themselves to be broadcasting to an empty audience. It also contains one of the most incredibly offensive (and funny) sight gags ever done, involving a german sausage stand at a fair. Stewie’s grandiose methods of dealing with broccoli steal the show, however.

– Chitty Chitty Death Bang. A fairly standard sitcom plot sees Peter screwing up Stewie’s birthday party reservations by beating up a little kid at Cheesie Charlie’s Pizza, and thus improvising the perfect party by re-rerouting a parade through the front lawn. Meanwhile, Meg decides to skip the party in order to hang out with her new friends in a suicide cult. Like I said, standard sitcom stuff.

– Mind Over Murder. The last death-themed title sees Peter accidentally punching out a pregnant woman (and really, who hasn’t been there?) and getting confined to the house. Lois thinks it’s the perfect time for some marital bonding, but Peter decides to build a bar in the basement instead. Lois in infuriated, until Peter asks her to sing and she becomes the biggest lounge act in town. Meanwhile, Stewie tries to foil the pain of teething by building a time machine. Awwww, kids. Amazingly these two plots connect by the end.

– A Hero Sits Next Door. This one introduces my personal hero, Patrick Warburton, as Joe Swanson, the badass, Steven Seagal-loving cop who lives next door and happens to be in a wheelchair. Peter signs him up for the company softball team as a ringer, and soon gets insanely jealous of the handy-capable Joe. In order to win the respect of the town again, Peter decides to help foil a bank robbery, but of course it goes horribly wrong.

– The Son Also Draws. An insanely offensive episode sees the family getting stuck at an Indian casino on the way to New York and Lois losing the family car due to a gambling problem. Peter figures out that if he were part of the tribe, he’d be entitled to a share of the profits, so he makes up an imaginary past and goes on a vision quest with idiot son Chris (the bizarre but brilliant Seth Green), where he gets inspiration from talking trees and the Fonz. This show is generally remembered most for the “The More You Know” gags at the end where the family members insult every ethnic group possible, and it’s all f*cking hilarious.

– Brian: Portrait of a Dog. The first of many soul-searching episodes for Brian (the most complex character on the show) sees him conspiring with Peter to win $500 for an air conditioner by acting as a ringer at a dog show, until Peter asks him to beg for a dog treat and he snaps and leaves the family. Things get worse for Brian on the streets, as he’s reduced to begging for booze money and gets put on doggy death row until an impassioned speech (and impassioned bribe) from Peter saves him again. Awesome stuff, as most Brian eps are.

Disc Two (Season Two):

– Peter Peter Caviar Eater. Lois’ rich aunt comes for a visit, and in a funny twist, drops dead before saying a word. The family thus inherits a huge mansion as a summer home, and everyone gets right into the swing of being filthy rich (and breaking into musical numbers out of nowhere), especially Stewie. Peter, still hurting from years of abuse at the hands of Lois’ snobbish old money family, transforms himself into a gentlemen but then bids $10 million on a vase and has to figure out a way to convince people that the house is a historical landmark in order to pay off the debt. Stewie telling a butler to cut his milk is worth the price of admission alone.

– Holy Crap. Things get REALLY brilliant starting with this episode, as the writers really hit their stride. In this case, Peter’s fundamentalist father retires and comes to live with the family, bringing plenty of hellfire and brimstone with him. A misunderstanding with Chris about what he’s doing in the bathroom twice a day provides the running gag for the episode, and when it becomes apparent that the only way for Peter to win his father’s respect back involves hijacking the Popemobile well, you know you’re watching Family Guy.

– Da Boom. A weird concept episode sees the Y2K bug striking Quahog, as Peter is the only one paranoid enough to be hiding in the basement when missiles start dropping on January 1. The surviving family decides to head for a neighboring small town to find the Twinkie factory, and ends up populating a new city as a result. The plot is meaningless because you NEED to see this one for the awesome fight between Peter and the giant chicken that opens it, as well as the creepy Randy Newman sequence.

– Brian In Love. My personal favorite episode sees Brian coping with a bladder problem, which leads him to a psychiatrist (“I want to pet you Brian, is that all right? You’re a good dog.”) and a deep-rooted attraction to Lois that he had been repressing. It all leads up to Stewie discovering the crush and playing mindgames with Brian in a weirdly creepy and yet hilarious dinner-table conversation (“Stewie wants up!”) , and then Brian having a heart-to-heart with Lois that is more touching than you’d expect from a discussion between a talking dog and a cartoon character. This one is not only as funny as the rest of the series, but more well-written than most sitcoms.

– Love Thy Trophy. Speaking of horribly offensive, Meg gets a job as a waitress in order to earn money for a new purse, and discovers that her tips increase if she tells customers that she’s the unwed mother of Stewie, a crack-baby with a deadbeat dad. Social Services somehow misinterprets this innocent lie and takes the baby away, placing him in a nightmarish multicultural foster home where all races get along until Stewie provokes them into verbal warfare. The main plot about the neighborhood fighting over a trophy for the best Who’s the Boss theme float flops, but the goody-good foster parents wondering if Stewie’s pancake craving is just street-lingo for crack blows everything else away.

– Death Is A Bitch. Anything with Norm MacDonald can do no wrong in my eyes, and this is no exception. Peter fakes his own death to avoid a hospital bill, drawing the Grim Reaper to his house to claim him. The poor guy trips and sprains his ankle, however, leaving the world without his services for a week or so. Stewie can’t even kill Lois properly! Unfortunately, Death is a lousy houseguest and overstays his welcome, especially when he asks Peter to kill the kids from Dawson’s Creek in order to show that Death still holds sway over the world.

– The King Is Dead. A tour-de-force about the battle between popular culture and “true” art, Lois becomes director of the local theater group and Peter is of course jealous. So she makes the mistake of letting him help with producing “The King And I”, and he begins asserting himself to the point where she’s forced out completely and no one quite knows which revision of the script is the current one — the one where Anna is a plucky steel worker out for a good time on a Saturday night, or the one where it’s a futuristic wasteland and Anna is a cyborg trying to save the king from ninja assassins. I think there’s a comment about the WWE in here somewhere, but I’ll let it go. Peter’s increasing egomaniacal behavior makes the show.

Disc Three:

– I Am Peter, Hear Me Roar. The one you’d knew they’d do sooner or later sees Peter tackling feminism after telling what might be construed as a sexist joke at work. Of course, they go all the way with it and Peter is soon attending a women’s retreat and getting so in touch with his feminine side as a result that everyone is terrified of never getting the real Peter back again. A well-timed catfight saves the day, however. Lesbian jokes abound.

– If I’m Dyin’, I’m Lyin’. Faced with the cancellation of Gumbel 2 Gumbel, the greatest beach-cops show ever put on network TV, Peter decides that the smartest option is to go to a Make-a-Wish foundation and invent a rare disease for Chris to be dying of. When the strategy backfires, Peter decides to escape the lie by telling everyone that he faith-healed Chris, which to his amazement only makes things more complicated. Although the blind worship of his new followers ends up as a nice bonus.

– Running Mates. In order to restore the job of a former teacher who has been hassled into taking sedatives by The Man in order to “take the edge off” of his crazy teaching techniques, Peter decides to run for School Board President. One problem: His only opponent is his wife, so of course there’s only one solution. Sleazy bedroom pictures. Funny, but not as much as others from this season.

– A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Bucks. It’s Seth v. The Art World, as Chris paints a bizarre expression of his feelings (“It’s partly my teenage angst but it’s mostly a moo cow!”) and gets discovered by a famous art dealer as a result. Soon the family is headed to New York, where newly-named Christobell is dating Kate Moss (as long as there’s no breeze) and longing for the attention of his dad. Peter has a backup plan for living vicariously, however — Meg’s birdcalls. The walk-on by Big Bird is the centerpiece here.

– Fifteen Minutes of Shame. One that I missed in the original scheduling madness sees the family turned into the freakshow-of-the-week via a reality TV show. Unfortunately Meg can’t take the spotlight, so she’s replaced with a blonder and perkier actress and sent to live with the neighbors. This one introduces Adam West as the mayor, and features a completely out there introduction that details that story of a magic talking clam that founded the town of Quahog in order to set up a penis joke with Peter. It also introduces a Family Guy convention of having a vacuous conversation going on in the foreground while an entirely separate background gag involving Stewie is happening simultaneously, in this case his adventures in a lobster tank. This one also introduces Stewie’s questionable sexuality, as he ponders life as a homosexual in a moment of confession to the camera. That running joke would soon replace his megalomaniacal tendencies, a change for the better IMO.

– The Road To Rhode Island. My second favorite behind “Brian In Love” sees the two best characters — Stewie and Brian — hitting the road after missing their flight from California due to Brian’s drinking problems. Along the way Brian meets his mother (now doubling as an end-table) and they do a musical number in a freight train. Meanwhile, Peter and Lois decide to work on their relationship with the help of marital counseling videotapes, but Peter discovers that the “for men only” portions are a lot more exciting than he imagined! Pure gold from start to finish.

– Let’s Go To The Hop. Yes, Family Guy tackles the burning issue of the day — toad licking. When teens at the junior high are spending too much time “doing Kermit” (as they say on the street), Peter decides to go undercover as hip youngster Lando Griffin and investigate himself. The jokes, as you’d expect, pretty much write themselves.

Disc Four:

– Dammit, Janet! Fearing that Stewie is too anti-social (perish the thought), Lois decides to leave him in a daycare so he can interact with other children. He soon falls in love with Janet, another one-year old who may just be after his snacks. Meanwhile, Lois gets a job as a flight attendant, which of course leads to Peter exploiting her free flight privileges for every beer that they’re worth. Stewie is brilliant, the rest not so much.

– There’s Something About Paulie. Family Guy takes on the mob, as Peter mistakenly makes a deal for a car insurance scam and gets indebted to the local godfather. All he has to do is hang out with a disgusting pig named Paulie, but when he won’t go away, Peter lays the blame on Lois and ends up unwittingly putting a contract on her. When Paulie is murdered and unable to retract the hit, there’s only one chance — asking the godfather for a favor on this, the day of his daughter’s wedding, when he cannot refuse. Only a complete moron could screw THAT up. So, you know

– He’s Too Sexy For His Fat. A super-creepy and disturbing episode sees Chris taunted for his ample size one time too many, leading to Peter taking him to a plastic surgeon to see about liposuction. And while Chris balks, Peter decides to go for it, resulting in a newly-trim Peter who looks like a serial killer. And when he has muscle implants done, he’s invited to join the Beautiful People’s Club, which of course Chris is not invited to. In the end, Peter learns his lesson. Well, actually, not.

– E Peterbus Unum. The most brilliantly high-concept episode of the season sees Peter trying to build his own pool but discovering that his house, by a bizarre fluke of zoning, is not actually part of the United States. So he secedes and forms Petoria, and things escalate in silliness from there until he’s hosting a party for famous dictators in order to annoy the government. The Iraq jokes give this one a weird, unintentional relevance today.

– The Story On Page One. Meg wants into university, but needs extracurricular activities to do so. The solution? Write for the school paper, and she snags a rare interview with Mayor Adam West as her debut piece. Peter doesn’t think that’s snappy enough, however, and instead crafts a hard-hitting story about how Luke Perry is gay instead. When Perry finds out, Peter crafts an even zanier scheme and decides that if Luke really WAS gay, he couldn’t sue. So he tries to seduce him and get photographic evidence of it. Don’t watch this one if you’re eating, especially when it gets to Peter in the thong.

– Wasted Talent. Two funny gag ideas meet in the middle, as Peter wins a tour of the mysterious Pawtucket Pat brewery and a Willy Wonka spoof ensues. When he’s kicked out, his only consolation is in discovering that he’s a brilliant piano prodigy, but only while drunk. That doesn’t stop Lois from using him to beat her arch-rival at a teaching contest, if only she can keep him loaded long enough for him to win the trophy. The two plots feel like they’re attached with a rivet gun, but this show isn’t about the plot anyway.

– Fore, Father. Peter attempts to be the perfect father to Chris by getting him a job at a local driving range, and ends up coaching Cleveland’s son instead (“Can you call me Mr. Drummond?”). Meanwhile, Brian finally gets his revenge on Stewie, after his first booster shots leave him paranoid and Brian takes advantage by convincing him that the government is injecting him with mind-control drugs as part of a giant conspiracy. Cute moments but the stuff outside of the continuing dog v. baby war was pretty weak.

As noted, amazingly funny from start to finish, and the plot recaps don’t do justice to the real meat of the show — the balls-out offend-everyone attitude and the throwaway flashback jokes. If you missed it during the initial run (and you probably did) and haven’t had the impetus to download the episodes off the internet (and shame on you if you did, especially if Fox executives are reading this) then this is the perfect opportunity to discover what everyone else found out in the all-too-brief life of the show: This is pure genius in animated form and the show the Simpsons wishes it could be these days.

The Video:

As with Futurama, colors are bright and clean and beautiful and everything is better than broadcast quality. There are faults with the video that look like compression problems, but the commentaries reveal that in fact it’s the source material causing it. Great looking DVDs all around.

The Audio:

Not quite to the same greatness as the video. It’s Dolby Surround, but the surrounds are rarely used and it’s basically mono because it’s all talking. In short, your basic TV audio transfer.

The Extras:

Couple of things here, but not as stacked as other Fox releases.

– First, you get commentaries for about ¼ of the episodes with Seth and various voice talents and writers. Unfortunately, they’re terrible commentaries for the most part, with lots of dead air due to everyone watching the show. Understandable, but there’s very little insight here. However, listen to the one for the pilot so you can hear them exploiting the “18 and older” disclaimer by going onto profane rants in the voices of the major characters.

– You get short promos from Fox.com with clips of the then-upcoming pilot episode. Some of the animation here is REALLY rough stuff and they change the audio around to make specific jokes fit the animation given, which is weird.

– Finally, a short featurette on the making of the show. Standard EPK stuff which is worth watching to see Seth morph his voice from Stewie to Brian to Peter and back.

I wish there were more (and better) commentaries, but Volume 2 is due in September, so there’s always next time.

Final Ratings:

The Film: *****
The Video: *****
The Audio: **
The Extras: **