The world is full of idiots, and someone needs to point it out to them or they will never know.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why I Hate Family Guy: Part 2

(Part 1 here and Part 3 here)

Next up, the characters. Now, I've mentioned a few times before that characters are the most important part in any piece of fiction, but why do I say this? It seems obvious, but if a show doesn't have relatable characters in it, more often than not it will wither and die. Take any reality show - what makes them popular is that they have real, relatable people in them. When we watch The Amazing Race, Masterchef or The Biggest Loser, we enjoy the shows because we can picture ourselves reacting the same way in that situation, whether it be scaling a mountain, cooking a dinner or losing weight.

The best non-reality shows do this as well - Lost can probably attribute much of its early success due to the fact it featured a plane crash, something we all can picture happening to ourselves since 9/11. The Simpsons was so hugely popular in the nineties because it featured a characters we could all relate to - Bart, the underachiever; Lisa, the unpopular nerd; Maggie, the silent and repressed voice; Marge, the stressful mother; and of course Homer, who almost every father in America could relate to.

But Peter Griffin is nothing more than an irredeemable jerk.

It's clear Peter is supposed to be an everyman, but comes off as anything but. He lies, he cheats, he steals, he's lazy, he gets into fights and he's incredibly ignorant. The ultimate irony is that Peter is anything but a family guy. I can hear you now, "BUT HOMER SIMPSON IS LIKE THAT TOO LOL!" True, Homer may be all of these things as well, but at least Homer has some redeeming qualities. Homer loves Marge. He loves his kids. Sure, he may be rude to them from time to time, and get them into trouble, but when it comes down to it, he'll do anything to protect his family (this was pretty much the entire plot of The Simpsons Movie).

The source of Homer's charm is his complete love and loyalty to his family, even if the main way he shows it is by fixing problems he causes himself. This is hardly new - Hal in Malcolm in the Middle, Ray in Everybody Loves Raymond, Tim in Home Improvement and Phil in Modern Family all fit this trope perfectly (as well as dozens more). Peter, on the other hand, is a selfish asshole. He's rude to his wife. He hates his kids (Meg in particular). He may eventually do the right think, but only if it benefits him in some way. This is not a clever subversion of this character archetype - Peter is a jerk, and I am unable to relate to someone who is this obnoxious, this stupid, and this uncaring. Take this clip as an example:

Nothing funnier than picking on handicapped people, am I right? You know, there's a term for people who pick on those smaller than them...

Anyway, as you can see, Peter comes off as anything but a nice person. Now, I know what you're thinking, "NOT EVERYONE ON TV HAS TO BE A PARAGON OF VIRTUE LOL", and I quite agree. Greg House in House is a complete prick, but he genuinely believes that when he exposes someone's lie, makes someone realise what a failure they are, he's doing it for that person's own good. Brain from Pinky and the Brain wanted to take over the world not because he was evil, but because he believed the world would be a better place with him in charge.

The point I'm making here is that the best villains, jerks and bad guys never consider themselves villains, jerks or bad guy. Hannibal Lecter only ate uncivilised people. Nurse Ratched wanted her patients to get better. HAL just wanted to complete the mission.

Peter? He just acts like an jerk BECAUSE IT'S FUNNY LOL! (And hey, wouldn't you know it, it's not!)

Phew. Alright. Onto the other characters, though at a much faster pace:

  • Meg: A boring, one dimensional character. Depressingly, she started out as one of the more original characters - an unpopular, awkward teenage schoolgirl is hardly new, but in western animation it had mostly been an unpopular, awkward teenage schoolboy. Sadly, when the show returned after cancellation, the writers apparently decided it'd be funnier for her family to bully her. Yes, nothing funnier than child abuse, hmm?
  • Chris: Yawn. Does he do much these days, apart from act even stupider than Peter and make references to the evil monkey? Apparently not.
  • Lois: Another character that was, initially, somewhat original, she's turned into little more than a sex, alcohol and drug addict. She used to be a nice contrast to, say, Marge Simpson, as she was a little more open with her sexuality, which was a nice change of pace to mothers on television who used sex as a weapon. Now, the jokes aren't even subtle (or funny). She's a nymphomaniac housewife, oh ho ho ho. My thighs are now thoroughly tenderised from all the slapping.
  • Stewie: Again, another character who's changed. Matricidal Stewie was reasonably clever (and even relatable!) - after all, we could all identify with a child who wants to kill his parents. When you're a kid, your worst enemy is sometimes your parents. Now, the writers seem to think it's the height of cleverness to have a character sometimes say and do stereotypical "gay" things. Straight men in gay situations is a comedy staple (think Klinger in M*A*S*H), but the gay jokes about Stewie aren't subtle or clever, all they do is scream "GAY PEOPLE ARE FUNNY LOL!"
  • Brian: Why don't we just call this character Seth and cut out the middle man, eh? Brian/Seth's lectures on politics are so blatant it makes Captain Planet look like a thoughtful and unbiased program, where children are free to make up their own mind about oil companies.

Folks, what bothers me most about the rest of the characters is that they are so damn boring! They're one-dimensional, a collection stereotypes we've all seen before, and because of this, there is no humor to be gotten from the characters. That's why there's so many stupid cutaway gags - the writers can't make the scene interesting or funny with their current characters, so they throw together a location, an activity, a pop culture reference and then have a character say either:
  • "You think that's bad? Remember the time..."
  • "Face it Peter, you've never been very good at..."
  • "This is worse than the time..."
Or some variant thereof. This is not good writing. In good fiction, the drama (and the jokes) flow from the characters. But because the characters in Family Guy are so bland, the writers have to write around the characters. And that, dear reader, is not good.

Coming up in Part 3: The thrilling conclusion!

© 2011 by The Free Man

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why I Hate Family Guy: Part 1

(Part 2 here and Part 3 here)

I've bitched about Twilight. Complained about Underbelly. Analysed Stargate Universe. Torn The Cleveland Show to shreds before a single episode aired. Now, it's time for a rant that I've had brewing for a very long time: my rant against Family Guy.

Why do I hate Family Guy? It's difficult to know where to begin, but let's start by looking at this clip from season four (don't let the date fool you, it's quite typical of the show):

UPDATE (September 2015): Hulu has since made their Family Guy and Simpsons clips private (clearly they were getting too much bad press from my blog). Hopefully they'll return some day. Sorry, but that's the web for ya! I would upload them myself, but that would mean watching more Family Guy, something I always try to avoid. The rant should still make sense even without the clips... hopefully.

 Incredibly, this video has over five million views on YouTube (at the time of writing). But anyway, here's another clip where the humour is derived from drug use, this time from season seven of The Simpsons:

Both shows identify the humour in the situation (that people act bizarrely and do annoying things under the influence of drugs), but while The Simpsons saved the best joke for last (the fact that Burns was so drugged up he was willing to commit murder), the Family Guy clip doesn't really have a punchline, does it? Instead, it goes for the old and tired gag of getting Peter naked. Yup, nothing funnier than a naked fat guy, right?

See folks, this is my main gripe about Family Guy - for a comedy show, it doesn't seem to know how to tell a joke. A joke should be build up your expectations, then defy them. Take any newspaper comic, for example. Look at this classic Calvin and Hobbes strip:

You see how it works? The first three panels build up the expectation (that we're in space) and the final panel reveals it's all a fantasy of Calvin's. Family Guy ignores this, it's so excited about the gag that it blurts it out right away (PETER'S ON DRUGS LOL!) , leaving a minute or so for us to sit around and watch essentially the same joke, with no punchline at the end. (For further examples of this lazy writing see here and here, as you can see, this is merely the tip of the iceberg).

Now, a punchline should be the strongest part of your gag. That's why it's called a punch-line. You deliver it and run. You do not hang around and repeat the punchline for the next minute. Essentially: leave with the audience laughing! Am I wrong in thinking this is how a joke should be structured?

Apparently so. Whenever I criticise the humour in Family Guy I'm shot down by people who yell "WHO CARES IT'S FUNNY LOL!" Now, I realise humour can be very subjective, but if you find Family Guy funny you are categorically wrong. Far too often Family Guy goes for:
  • Shock humour (violence, rape, vomit or other bodily fluids)
  • Pop-culture references (the freakin' Star Wars specials being the worst example)
Now, admittedly, there is humour to be found in shock value, but in the internet age it's getting a lot harder to shock your audience. Like it or not, people are desensitised to much of the bad stuff in the world. So what do the Family Guy writers do? Make a rape joke. A rape joke, for Christ's sake. I wouldn't have minded if it was just dark humour ("What do nine out of ten people enjoy?" "Gang rape!") because at least a joke like that is subverting my expectations. Again, there's no punchline in the gag, just: 1. Naked fat man (again, naked fat people are funny, right?). 2. Woman rapes a man. Whoa, hold on to your sides to stop them from splitting!

I'm not objecting to dark humour or shock value, just how Family Guy tries to do it. For example, if you take the joke, "What's the difference between a Ferrari and 1000 dead babies? A Ferrari's not in my garage", the Family Guy writers would probably put that on screen as, "Why do I have 1000 dead babies in my garage? BECAUSE DEAD BABIES ARE FUNNY LOL!" Then Peter would get naked for some reason.

And, of course, we have the pop-culture references. Now, I enjoy references to books, films, art, video games, politics etc. in works of fiction, but if you're going to do it, there has to be a point to it. Have a look at this clip from The Simpsons, parodying 2001: A Space Odyssey:

Now look at this clip from Family Guy, parodying Dukes of Hazzard:

I swear, I'm not even trying to come up with examples that end with the gag "Peter naked", it seems that every single Family Guy video on YouTube ends this way. But anyway, see the difference here? Much of the humour in the Simpsons clip comes from Homer eating in zero gravity, the ants talking amongst themselves and Buzz Aldrin's comment, not explicit references to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Family Guy, on the other hand, just has Stewie say, "That's more disgusting than when Peter went through that Daisy Dukes phase", then show us Peter in women's clothing (cross-dressing jokes? Seriously?). What is the humour in this joke? Is it parodying a scene in Dukes of Hazzard? A cliche of the show, a plot hole even? Nope, it's just name dropping. I haven't seen a single episode of Dukes of Hazzard, but even if I'd seen all 145 episodes plus the movie, I sincerely doubt I would have enjoyed that clip any more.

Oy vey. We're over eight hundred words and I've barely scratched the surface. Coming up in Part 2: the characters.

© 2011 by The Free Man