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September 1, 2014

Sundays With Seth: 'The Cleveland Show,' 'Family Guy' and 'American Dad Recaps

by Jason Hughes, posted Nov 22nd 2010 6:30AM
'Family Guy' - 'Brian Writes a Bestseller'['The Cleveland Show' - 'Fat and Wet']
['Family Guy' - 'Brian Writes a Bestseller']
['American Dad' - 'White Rice']


When you're thinking about a show that deals in such crude toilet humor like Seth MacFarlane's FOX triumvirate, I find they're at their best when dealing in satire and exploring genuine messages that relate to our lives. More significantly, they work because they can use the cover of being a silly cartoon to push buttons and make us face things that may otherwise be a little uncomfortable.

That's why I was so pleased to see that Uncle Seth imbued all three episodes with valid and controversial messages this week. Through the characters of Cleveland, Jr. and Kendra Krinklesac, MacFarlane had the perfect venue to explore the exploding obesity epidemic in America. 'Family Guy' dove headfirst into exploring these so-called inspirational self-help books that seem to dominate the sales charts.

'American Dad' didn't delve as deeply into its controversial subject matter of racial stereotypes on television, as the episode was focused more on the importance of communication in a successful marriage. Unless, of course, you have Jason Alexander ('Seinfeld') on hand to help your wife repress all those nagging things she's been complaining about each year like Stan does. Then you can just erase all those uncomfortable topics from her memory and go on with your merry life.

With Kendra being so morbidly obese she tools around in a cart like you see at some grocery stores, it was inevitable that MacFarlane was going to take a serious look at the obesity issues in this country. With her character and Junior, he's been poking fun at them for more than a season now, and that's not even including all the fat jokes that have permeated 'Family Guy' over the past eight-plus seasons.

'The Cleveland Show' - 'Fat and Wet'What I didn't expect was the clever misdirection he gave us. Through the first part of the episode, while the pair were putting together their bill for equal treatment for heterosexual obese people (a nice little dig at the anti-gay sentiment still dominating much of our current legislation), it seemed to be firmly falling on the side of the overweight. There was sympathy for the constant ridicule they face.

Then they got slapped fully in the face when they saw that Lester, Kendra's husband, and Cleveland voted down their bill. Things got a little hazy when they found their way to Wisconsin, which appeared to be a haven for obesity with some of the most disturbingly entertaining imagery I've seen yet. After realizing that eating everything they could see didn't make any of their problems go away, MacFarlane was ready to present his message.

He didn't sugarcoat it or even have a character say it, because he clearly wanted to make sure we heard it loud and clear. White text on a black background loud and clear. "Come on America. Stop being so fat." Cleveland explained to his son that being fat is a choice, so just choose not to be.

If his first show was about telling us to make better lifestyle choices to not be fat, his second was advising us to not look at books like 'The Secret' and 'The Chicken Soup' series to help us along the way. After Brian received the hundreds of cases of his unsold book, he spent barely three-and-a-half hours cranking out a terrible self-help book just to prove how easy it was to pander to the lowest common denominator.

His book, entitled 'Wish It. Want It. Do It.' wound up as a bestseller, and Brian found himself as a guest on the live-action 'Real Time with Bill Maher,' featuring Maher, Dana Gould and Arianna Huffington. Through this venue, and through Maher, the point was driven home that these kinds of books exploit the downtrodden and offer solutions that only those with the financial, educational and social means can possibly achieve. They offer a quick fix instead of real solutions, and they prey on the weak who could better use that money.

This strong message was filtered through Brian becoming an egotistical monster based on the success of his book, despite knowing in his heart that it was just some garbage he spewed out in an afternoon. Wrapping the message in humor is a clever way to maybe get people to think about it. Some of the best bits included both appearances by the "Penguin" of Penguin Books, as well as Brian's anger that all the M&M's were gray in a colorful dish of them in his dressing room.

'American Dad' - 'White Rice''American Dad' spent most of its time dealing with all of Francine's repressed memories coming back after twenty years of Stan never offering to bring a sandwich back for the therapist he's been taking her to for annual "tune-ups." The most notable of those was her passion for stand-up comedy, which saw her relying heavily on material making fun of Asian-Americans, which she can do because her adoptive parents are Asian.

From there, she wound up with a show on FOX which also stooped to every stereotypical Asian joke. While not the "point" of the episode -- that was for Stan to learn that Francine just wants to talk with him about her ideas and not necessarily act on all of them so he needn't be afraid of them -- the Asian jokes were laid on pretty thick.

In the end, FOX yanked the show after the first joke because it was offensive, replacing it with the intellectually offensive 'Hole in the Wall,' but the dumbing down of American television to appeal to ... who knows? ... is another topic altogether. Maybe in a future episode. Or maybe you think these shows are an example of that dumbing down?

Do you think MacFarlane presented his cases well for the issues of offensive racial stereotypes in entertainment, self-help books and the obesity movement for better treatment? He certainly took a specific side in all of them, which should thus infuriate those with opposing opinions.

But MacFarlane has never shied away from presenting his views on his shows before, and he's certainly not the only mainstream entertainer to pepper a show with his/her viewpoint. If you've got a platform this big, how could you resist? Should you resist?

'The Cleveland Show,' 'Family Guy' and 'American Dad' air Sundays, from 8:30PM ET on FOX.

[Follow Jason @ultraversion21 on Twitter.]

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alex

My husband is 70 and I'm 67...we love seths' scatological humor in family guy and certainly don't want him to stop. It's the only program on TV we lol at!
Some self-help books based on cognitive therapy canbe helpful to some people who are fearful & negative about everything in life. He makes a good point that some of these books are expensive and totally useless. However...the amount of commercials on the program are becomming extraordinarily annoying and they need to back off some or we'll stop watching

November 22 2010 at 7:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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