The SmarK DVD Rant for Family Guy: Volume 7

familyguy_v7

So once again FOX’s bizarre marketing department can’t just do a normal season that would allow people to keep track of which episodes go where. Instead it’s "Volume 7", which contains 13 episodes covering some of season 6 and some of season 7. Thankfully FOX seems to be going with the new-fangled single-disc packaging for all their TV sets now, which I like much better than the thick box sets or the super-crappy cardboard packaging that the last season of The Simpsons came with.

At any rate, as much of a fan of this show as I am, the demands on Seth MacFarlane must be stretching him really thin because this volume really starts to showcase how far this show has fallen lately.

Disc One

– "Back to the Woods". A Barry Manilow concert somehow leads to Peter losing his wallet, as this show often does, and Peter is the victim of identity theft by arch-enemy James Woods. Brian being a dog and running afoul of a magically-shrinking piece of rope is a great piece of business. James Woods teaching Meg how all the Hollywood starlets get thin, via Mr. Pukey, stuck with me for some reason. It’s also apparently that this is the DVD version, because the dialogue is way filthier, in particular James and his uncensored potty mouth.

– "Play It Again, Brian". Man, I’m forgetting the episodes from this season already, because this one disappeared from my mind soon after airing. Brian wins a writing award and takes Lois & Peter on a vacation with him, leaving Herbert to babysit the kids. To this day I don’t get the "Osmond kids wasting water" cutaway gag. The commentary doesn’t shed much light on it, either. Tons of Brian being a dog here, like his confusion when Lois leaves for the market or scratching at the door, and once you get a dog this stuff gets way funnier. The plot, as such, sees Brian finally putting the moves on Lois and getting rejected because Lois was wearing her good sweater. The commentary reveals that this episode was assembled from leftover pieces of a totally different plot, with multiple uses of "The Spirit of Massachusetts" to fill up the leftover time. This is a pretty weak start to the season thus far.

– "The Former Life Of Brian". Brian turns to a magic act to win chicks over, but that goes about as well as you’d expect. It does, however, give us the awesome Stewie v. Matthew McConaughey flashback. The main plot of the show sees Brian meeting his previously-unknown son Dylan. Seth gets his digs at the Family Guy online fanbase with "If you don’t like it, go on the internet and complain" when Stewie points out that 7-year-old Brian has a 13-year-old son. Brian and Dylan bonding over a big bag of pot is pretty great, although it gives us Overbearing Dad Brian. And Al Harrington returns, with crudely painted wooden cut-out art! Some funny stuff added to the DVD version, like Brian harassing Lois about a traffic ticket ("That was six years ago! And I got distracted by you hanging out of the window and barking at a cow." "But you admit you got a ticket, right?"), but the basic premise just isn’t that funny.

– "Long John Peter". So we’re back into Wacky Peter again, which might be much stupider but at least it’s not as pretentious as Brian episodes tend to be. So Peter’s wacky thing this week: Piracy. Like, actually being a pirate. And wouldn’t you know, a British guy is driving around with a shipment of tobacco, sugarcane and spices. Of course, you can’t sustain the entire show off that, so Peter moves onto his next wacky thing while the real story begins: Chris tries to a normal relationship with a normal girl. Peter advises him to treat her like crap ("One man, and one bitch who needs to learn to shut her mouth, please."), and this season continues to suck.

– "Love, Blactually". The Brian & Stewie bit with "ruined" isn’t quite up to the genius of "Cool Whip", but it’s a good start. Brian finally finds a woman who isn’t an idiot, and we even get a quality "Brian being a dog" gag out of it. However, the problem this time is Stewie advising him against going too fast, which results in Cleveland stealing his woman. And boom goes the dynamite. This is the first official appearance of the Swedish baker ("You’re covered in my hot pee!"). This one also examines the question of who can actually understand Stewie (outside the family = full understanding, close to the family = just the gist), and attempts to give the world a catchphrase for the new millennium: "Close the window, you’re letting all the stank out!" I don’t think it worked. Much better than the rest of the season thus far, though.

Disc Two

This disc actually opens with a preview of The Cleveland Show, as the screen opens from standard format into widescreen and we get the theme song. I dunno, man. Seth is stretching himself awfully thin.

– "I Dream of Jesus". So finally we get something approaching the kind of genius comedy that this show had been building towards for the previous seasons. It doesn’t QUITE pull it off, but holy crap the first 12 minutes of this episode are probably the funniest stuff Family Guy has ever done. Many people also absolutely hate this one, but good comedy is dangerous sometimes. So of course, Peter’s wacky thing this week is SURFIN’ BIRD, and he’s not going to stop until everybody’s heard about the bird. The brilliant thing is that they just go completely over the top with Peter’s obsession, carrying the obnoxious joke so long and beyond all sanity that it goes all the way around and becomes hilarious again. Unfortunately the actual premise of the episode, with Peter meeting Jesus in a record store and becoming his best friend, can’t even come close to the Surfin’ Bird portion. Although the extended DVD version of this episode includes a musical number with Peter and Jesus that’s pretty funny and probably should been in the original airing. Clearly the best of the season and one of the most memorable episodes of the show overall.

– "The Road To Germany". Another Brian & Stewie episode, as Mort Goldman accidentally travels back to pre World War II Poland in Stewie’s time machine, which of course is the classic setup for comedy gold. So it’s a road trip through Europe with Brian & Stewie trying to get Mort to England to escape the Nazis, and you know it wouldn’t be Family Guy without a reference to Back to the Future. Not the funniest, but it’s a good enough story that I found myself watching again instead of picking out the gags. The infamous McCain-Palin button probably doesn’t offend me very much because I’m not American, but apparently some people had a problem with the writers insinuating that the Republicans were Nazis or something. Go figure.

– "Baby Not On Board". 10 seconds in and it’s already a BTTF reference. Peter wins free gas for a year, giving us their other specialty, a joke about how useless Aquaman is. The family singing "The Rose" as a driving song is just kind of random and funny. So Stewie is Home Alone, a wholly original idea if there ever was one. The other side of the story sees the family returning home to save him, in a run that’s swiped from Planes Trains and Automobiles. The snarky run about 9/11 is typical of Seth MacFarlane, and whole episode is cookie cutter Family Guy, as they base the plot on better movies and let the manatees do the rest. Stewie learning about the workforce and how much it sucks is a nice bit of real life, though.

– "The Man With Two Brians". In another example of the cutting edge comedy that this show is known for, Peter and the gang do their version of Jackass. Luckily, that’s just the usual setup for the actual plot, which is Brian feeling like he’s getting older. And it’s ANOTHER BTTF reference with Peter’s mind-reading helmet. So Peter gets a New Brian, who knows how to sit up, fetch, and make people feel better about themselves. Bonus scene: Old Brian accidentally walks in on Chris masturbating. The run with Peter talking about going into the woods and just shooting his gun with Brian comes off a lot funnier here after some time away. Another appearance of Buzz Killington here. Very darkly funny ending here, as we learn the dark secret of New Brian and Stewie restores the status quo as a result. Much better on DVD than I remembered it being.

– "Tales Of A Third Grade Nothing". A cutaway with Peter using balloons to carry the house away of course ended up being a much better (and funnier) movie. Two rather weak plots on this one, as Peter tries to become an executive and has to go through third grade, while Brian and Frank Sinatra Jr. buy the nightclub and Stewie turns it into a trendy hotspot. Really, Seth’s snobbery about big band music is just getting tiresome at this point. All real music is dead, we get it already. The Peter stuff is swiped from Billy Madison, and that wasn’t such a funny movie in the first place. Oh yeah, I went there. Happy Gilmore, yeah, fucking hilarious, but Billy Madison can suck it. I should note there’s a Michael Jackson cutaway gag here that’s suddenly 100,000 times less funny now. Maybe that made me grumpy about this one, I dunno. I did appreciate the continuity with Peter blowing up a Children’s Hospital at the beginning and getting arrested for it at the end.

– "Ocean’s Three and a Half". Holy crap, it’s an episode I’ve never seen before. Bonnie finally delivers her baby after seven volumes of DVDs and two standalone mini-movies, and Joe gets into debt with the loan sharks to pay off the hospital bills. Stewie falls in love with the baby, and we get his version of "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" complete with every horrifying music video cliché they can fit into a 3 minute segment. That’s enough to make this one a winner by itself, really.

Disc Three

– "Family Gay". Peter’s first wacky thing this week: He gets a retarded horse. Amazingly, this leads to financial disaster and Peter needs money, so he agrees to medical experiments to pay the bills. None of this is funny yet, in case you’re keeping score. He gets the gay gene and suddenly becomes a giant flaming homo with every stereotype they can squeeze into 20 minutes, and it’s just brutal. The house repair guy going out of business because the house isn’t destroyed by shenanigans on a regular basis is kind of funny, I guess. The rest though, wow, so bad.

– "The Juice Is Loose." And then there’s THIS abortion. The opening with Peter doing a horrible job of babysitting Stewie (complete with an awful baby-shaking gag) is somewhat funny, but it goes off the rails very fast. Oh, and another BTTF reference just in case they haven’t done the entire movie yet. And then in case this couldn’t get any less funny, it’s the unbelievably long Conway Twitty cutaway where they show the ENTIRE SONG and it just sucks the life out of the whole episode. The actual plot sees Peter meeting up with OJ Simpson and HILARITY ENSUES. By the end of the episode, even the commentary is apologizing for this one. Horrible ending to this volume.

Bonus Features

As usual with these sets, you get about 10 minutes of deleted scenes, which represent the usual assortment of random gags that were no more or less funny than anything else that made it in. There’s also animatic versions of "Long John Peter", "Love, Blactually" and "The Man With Two Brians", each with commentary, so that’s basically three bonus commentaries right there. Plus once again, commentaries on every episode from a variety of people, complete with some jokes funnier than the stuff that made it into the show ("We wanted to call Marlee Matlin, but the phone just kept ringing…")

There’s also four featurettes:

– "Take Me Out To pLace Tonight", a 12 minute look at Frank Sinatra Jr’s involvement with the show.

– "Family Guy Cribz", another tour of the offices "for the fans who haven’t seen the other 8 of them on the DVDs" to quote the feature.

– "Family Guy at Comic-Con 2008", a 23 minute Q&A with a panel of writers and actors from the show. John Veiner is a spinoff show waiting to happen, but this is all The Seth & Seth Show. Funny stuff, though, with amazement from the panel at the amount of women in the audience that night and the "rivalry" between Robot Chicken and Family Guy explored. I really hope the original panel was longer than 23 minutes, though, or I would have felt ripped off.

– "Family Guy Art Show". An interesting look at a charity art show by the FG artists, where they would do paintings of their characters in other styles, with proceeds going to a children’s hospital. Very cool.

I’m a little disappointed there isn’t another "Family Guy Live!" feature this time, because that’s been my favorite one on both these and the American Dad sets, but this is a nice mixture of stuff again.

The Pulse

First up, $35 for 13 episodes is ridiculous. That being said, this season is pretty much for the fanboys only and I think they know that anyway. Definitely the worst of the Family Guy sets released thus far, as the show continues to get worse and more juvenile without any real hope of change in sight. Unless they finally go HD and suddenly get good again like The Simpsons, who knows.

Recommended for fans only.

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