Sundays with Seth: A Quiet Anniversary Celebration
by Jason Hughes, posted May 3rd 2010 9:37AM
One hundred and fifty episodes is an impressive achievement, but it's particularly gratifying for Seth MacFarlane's 'Family Guy.' Once canceled by FOX, and revived due to fan response to DVD sales and airings on cable, MacFarlane is now the king of FOX Sunday nights. So how did he choose to celebrate his perseverance?
'Family Guy' is known for elaborate musical numbers, innumerable cutaway gags, and sheer nonsense sequences like a giant chicken fight that lasts for minutes and minutes. Quite literally, anything was a possibility, so what a surprise that MacFarlane chose to have two of the show's most popular characters have a conversation. And that's it.
The tail end of the hour-long episode was a clip compilation of some of those musical numbers. But the bulk of the episode had Stewie and Brian, locked in a bank vault for two days, just talking to one another. No cutaways, no broad humor, though I won't say there wasn't toilet humor.
I was more than a little disturbed about how much time we spent with the Stewie's soiled diaper gag at the beginning, but this is Seth MacFarlane we're talking about. The man loves his vomit -- and yes, he worked that into the sequence as well -- so it shouldn't be a surprise that the whole first act involved Stewie convincing Brian to eat his poo.
That Brian did it brings things back to one of my favorite facets about these anthropomorphic characters (I'm including Stewie and Rallo of 'The Cleveland Show' in this assessment because they act far older than they truly are) is that despite their intelligence they are still the creatures that they are. Brian enjoys the things that dogs do, even if he knows they're inexplicable and disgusting.
On 'Cleveland' tonight, Rallo tried to play it cool with an older girl he liked, but found he couldn't resist the euphoric joy of being an airplane when she swung him around in a circle. It's as if they're frustrated by their nature, which makes their reluctant susceptibility to it all the more entertaining.
Once we got past the poop talk, Brian and Stewie got drunk, vented their frustrations out on on another, and by the end of the episode had affirmed the closeness of their relationship. In it's own MacFarlane-esque way, it was actually a rather poignant and beautiful story.
Brian's revelation that he has suicidal thoughts and has basically prepared a suicide kit in his safety deposit box is both haunting and yet so appropriate for the character type MacFarlane has established for him. He's a writer who doesn't write, someone who wants to be more than what he is but lacks the motivation and drive to achieve his dreams. So he has frustration and self-loathing because of it. It's sad, but it's an authentic character trait for him to have.
I didn't laugh much at 'Brian and Stewie,' but I found myself absolutely captured by their discussion throughout the episode. I don't think 'Family Guy' could get away with this kind of thing very often, if ever again, but I was certainly impressed with the ambition of trying it, and the fact that they pulled it off. In a way, the achievement was lessened by the random musical numbers tacked onto the end.
Plus, you have to give a shout-out to Seth MacFarlane himself for excellent voiceover work as both Brian and Stewie. He had to carry an entire episode of little more than talking heads, and he pulled it off brilliantly.
'The Cleveland Show' surprised me as well by pushing Cleveland Jr. into a realm of confidence I didn't know he had. Sure, he had Rallo helping guide him in how to talk to a girl -- at least until he got jealous and tried to sabotage it -- but it was Jr. who followed through and actually scored some quality alone time with a hot girl.
But he really earned some respect when the impromptu rap battle broke out and he absolutely schooled Kanye West (as local rap star Kenny West). It was nice to see Kanye playing well with others, and taking his lumps like a big boy, though MacFarlane went pretty easy on him considering the mess of trouble West has gotten his public image into.
A little more odd was Cleveland suddenly starts pimping Terry out to various women's parties. The opening salvo of this particular misadventure was funny enough, with the boys being mistaken for male strippers. Cleveland took it pretty well when he found out his body wasn't exactly desirable by enthusiastically taking on the role of Terry's pimp.
In fact, it was their laughing joy and acceptance through every step of the bizarre situation that made it funny. Even when Terry admitted that it was getting too much for him emotionally and he wanted to quit, they laughed it off and said they had a good time with it. If Cleveland had gotten too aggressively into his role, the comedy might not have worked, but impressively MacFarlane knew when to pull it back and let the situation itself be the joke.
[Check out clips and full episodes of 'The Cleveland Show,' and 'Family Guy' with our friends at SlashControl.]