Funless Family Guy

On February 26, 2012

The numbers from Family Guy's last few season premiers have a very unfortunate, but understandable trend.

Season 10's premier, "Lottery Fever," had only 7.69 million U.S. viewers when the episode aired last September. This was the lowest audience it had since the show was revived from cancelation, despite the fact that these numbers have been continually dropping in the last three seasons.

Ratings don't always correlate with quality, but I'd have to argue that's the case for Family Guy.

Other critics would argue that Family Guy's quality has been low since its revival in 2005. That's false, as there are some classic moments to be found in the later seasons – the critique of the FCC ("PTV"), Stewie beating down Brian for his money ("Patriot Games"), and the excellent "Road to…" episodes.

However, those highlights are from seasons four through six. The truly brilliant moments that made Family Guy one of the best animated series of all time become scarce as it gets to the later seasons.

Perhaps the decline can be placed on the show's new emphasis on plot and social commentary. The focus would've been all well and good if it was actually well-executed. Instead, we get unoriginal, predictable episodes.

Let's take "Lottery Fever," for instance. The episode has Peter winning the lottery and losing his fortune after bouts of binge spending and obnoxious behavior.

Sounds familiar? Peter was in a very similar situation in Season two's "Peter, Peter, Caviar Eater," where his family inherits a mansion and, of course, loses it all due Peter's typical buffoonery.

It's clear that "Lottery Fever's" plot was derivative, but it's important to note that it was executed much better in season two. "Peter, Peter, Caviar Eater" had some genuinely funny moments (the "This House is Freakin' Sweet" musical segment is a classic) while "Lottery Fever" was just stale. The effects of Quagmire's penis enlargement pump are far more grotesque than actually humorous.

Plus, as soon as Peter got the lottery jackpot, the audience should already know what Peter's foolish characteristics would get him. This brings about another problem with the current Family Guy – the characterization.

Seth McFarlane's creation has been on air for more than 10 years, so America already knows what to expect from these characters. Consequently, when the show starts to rely on character-based jokes, it always falls flat.

Meg, the butt of all the family's jokes, is a prime example. The series constantly reiterates how much of the outcast she is. But the constant Meg jokes just do not get any funnier. When she finally retaliates in this season's "Seahorse Seashell Party," you get the mundane "it's about time" feeling rather than the shock the scene was supposed to invoke.

Then there's Stewie's transformation from a murderous child to a slightly violent homosexual. The character change was one of the main criticisms for pre-cancelation fans, but it works in some cases (season eight's "Brian & Stewie" and season nine's "The Big Bang Theory").

But at the same time, the shift in Stewie's character provides some of the series' most wasteful moments. The Stewie-centric "Baby Not on Board" is one of Family Guy's worst episodes because it ruins an opportunity to put one of the series' most recognized character in some truly funny moments and shows 22 minutes of senseless, unimaginative dialogue.

However, the biggest problem with Family Guy is its humor. There are some laughs to be had here and there, but a number of the jokes are uninspired. There used to be a time where the jokes would be joyfully discussed the day after the airing of each episode, but those days are gone.

Maybe Family Guy has passed its prime after 10 seasons, much like other shows (The Simpsons) have done in the past. I doubt this is the case. There are more avenues this series can explore. It's just a matter of exploring the right ones.


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