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Jul
15

An interesting review of Family Guy from down under

   Posted by:    in Reviews

This is from the Sydney Morning Herald:

Metaphorically, it seems all cartoon writers with prime-time aspirations are Groenings now: which is to say, it’s near impossible to imagine any new mass-market cartoon emerging that didn’t boast some Simpsons-esque combination of hapless heroes, pop-culture-centred wisecracks and apropos-of-nothing tangents.

In the case of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, the debt is even more obvious than usual.

Who is the archetype of foolish masculinity who falls for chick flicks tonight and decides to make his own entry in the genre, entitled Steel Vaginas?

The answer is MacFarlane’s Peter Griffin, though of course you could easily have imagined Matt Groening’s Homer Simpson behind the camera. (That said, Homer wouldn’t have come up with quite so crude a title.)

For the viewer, Family Guy has one key advantage over The Simpsons: while watching the former, you’re not distracted by the nagging thought that the series’ best days have passed.

The present episodes of Family Guy veritably bounce with energy, as if the writers regarded their ideas like soft drink – in immediate danger of going flat. One minute, baby Stewie might be plotting revenge against a former flame; the next minute, the writers might veer off into an extended riff on Luke Skywalker’s lack of sensitivity, or a rant against infamous sitcom catchphrases of the 1980s, or an exposition of the making of Steel Vaginas.

In short, Family Guy’s scene-by-scene ingenuity and uncouth antics are quite a joy. Over the course of a few episodes, however, it’s not hard to see that Family Guy is missing one of The Simpsons‘ key qualities: namely, heart. A sort of nihilistic misanthropy is Family Guy’s stock in trade.

Pessimism about man’s capacity to live with man helps Family Guy’s writers score some effortless laughs (Exhibit A tonight: Peter’s graceless encounter with Sideways’ Sandra Oh), but the cynicism occasionally declines into flat condescension, especially towards the female characters. The Griffin family matriarch Lois is sassy, but the rest of the women tend to be either losers (like daughter Meg), serpents (like Stewie’s former flame, Olivia) or hot but witless dolts (like Brian’s girlfriend Jillian, voiced by Drew Barrymore).

Inevitably, these female others are painted less sympathetically than the MacFarlane-voiced trio of Peter, Brian and Stewie. If there is a whiff of misogyny in all this, then that is perhaps unsurprising: after all, it was America’s fratboy crowd that lapped up Family Guy episodes on cable and DVD after Fox initially cancelled the cartoon in the US, and thereby catalysed Fox’s renewal of the show. On balance, I’m grateful to the fratboys for helping to revive Family Guy.

But I can’t help but think that their beloved show too often flatters rather than challenges the prejudices held by some of their number. The Simpsons, it must be said, has rarely been guilty of the same crime: all prime-time cartoon writers may be Groenings now, but some Groenings are better than others.


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