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..."
Coming up in Part 3: The thrilling conclusion!
© 2011 by The Free Man