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

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why I Hate Family Guy: Part 3

(Part 1 here and Part 2 here)

Following on from Part 2, why should it matter that the show uses cutaway gags? Whenever I criticise the overreliance on cutaway gags, I'm always shot down with "WHO CARES IT'S FUNNY LOL". But a TV show, movie or book shouldn't strive to be funny at the expense of the plot or characters. Compare the following two films, both released in the last couple of years, both claiming to be comedies:

In case it isn't obvious, one was labeled as the best comedy film in years, the other one of the worst films of all time. It's may seem like a pointless comparison, but much of the comedy in The Hangover came from the interaction and chemistry between the three main characters. Their personalities, their quirks, their reactions to the insane situations they get themselves into is what makes the film so damn funny. Disaster Movie, on the other hand, is an incoherent mess, under the mistaken impression that dropping pop-culture references all over the place is funny. None of the comedy comes from the characters, and it just isn't funny.

Now, not all comedy has to be character-based, but if you're going to have the same characters every single week, most of your comedy should come from the characters. Otherwise, why not just make a sketch show - like Monty Python did? Saying "WHO CARES IT'S FUNNY LOL" is not an excuse for a having an incoherent plot or story.

The cutaways - and many other jokes - in Family Guy also go on way too long. Having a joke that goes on and on can be okay - if used from time to time (Sideshow Bob stepping on rakes, anyone?). Let's have at a clip that Family Guy fans will always point to as being an example of the show's brilliance, the chicken fight:

As far as I'm aware, they've done at least three more of these ridiculous fights, each one getting longer and more elaborate. There's also dozens of times in the show when we're subjected to long, drawn out violent fights, that seem to never end.

Good writing is short and succinct, or, as Shakespeare put it, "brevity is the soul of wit". He did not add "unless you're making a cartoon". It applies to everything, and don't tell me you're arrogant enough to claim to know better than Shakespeare. A joke has a very simple formula: Buildup. Buildup. Buildup. Punchline. Anything that does not in some way build towards the punchline can safely be removed, wouldn't you agree?

"Brevity is the soul of wit"

Sorry, I'm getting sidetracked - we've done comedy. Fans of  Family Guy will often try and tell you how "controversial" and "cutting-edge" the show it, but again the opposite is true. The "offensive" jokes in Family Guy often use easy targets that are sure to get a reaction from conservative folk - jokes about religion, for example. If you think about it, Family Guy's "offensive" jokes don't offend their fanbase; instead the jokes offend the kinds of people who don't watch the show - religious folk, for example. Any real cutting-edge comedy will risk offending people who watch it; but how is a penis joke supposed to offend the average Family Guy viewer?

Compare this to a show like South Park, that really does do things that might offend their viewers. The example that stands out to me is "Go God Go", an episode that showed atheists could be just as idiotic and pigheaded as religious people. I'm willing to bet South Park has got quite a few atheist viewers, yet they went ahead and make the episode anyway. Or even a film like Borat, a film made for Americans that spends almost its entire length mocking America. This is controversial, cutting-edge comedy.
So, folks, my longest rant ever draws to a close. I realise I covered a lot, but there are four main points I want you to take away from these rants:
  1. The show is not funny
  2. The characters are bland
  3. "It's funny" is not an excuse for bad writing
  4. Being controversial means running the risk of offending your viewers too
    If nothing else, remember these four points. I think I'll end this rant with a clip by none other than Seth Macfarlane himself - I find it rather ironic. The clip itself starts at the 23 second mark (there's an ad at the start). Thanks for reading!

    But wait - there's more! In anticipation of all the hate mail I'm about to receive from Family Guy fanboys, I've prepared a handy FAQ!

    "Jeeze man, why do you hate this show? If you didn't just watch clips on YouTube you might see some of the more subtle humour in the show."
    But I have! I used to be a loyal fan of Family Guy - buying the DVDs, watching it late at night whenever it was on, and so on. But as the years dragged on, the quality kept dropping and dropping, until the show was just so terrible I couldn't watch it any more.

    "If you don't like it, don't watch it."
    Like I said, I don't watch it anymore. I am just sick and tired of people telling me that Family Guy is a clever show, when it is in fact one of the worst. I have written this in the hopes that others may realise the show's shortcomings.

    "If you think you're so smart, why don't you launch your own TV series?"
    You're completely missing the point. First of all, I never claimed I could do a better job. I freely admit that I would be a lousy director, screenwriter or producer. But the people who are responsible for Family Guy are professionals, and they have according salaries. Family Guy, in strong contrast to this blog, is a commercial product for which we pay in some fashion. We have a right to criticise it. Wouldn't you want your vacuum cleaner to be fixed if it didn't work half of the time?

    "You've obviously never heard of satire. Stewie being gay, Brian being intelligent - the writers are taking established tropes and cliches and inverting them!"
    I have, in fact, heard of satire. But good satire defies your expectations, or reveals amusing truths. You can say a baby being gay is clever satire, but Stewie never acts like a baby, does he? You can say a dog being the smartest member of the family is satire, but Brian never acts like a dog, does he?

    "People are allowed to watch whatever they want, when they want, and they don't need you telling them they're stupid for doing so, it's just childish. I really don't understand why you're so judgmental of people having personal preferences."
    Believe it or not, I believe people should be able to watch whatever they want. However, as I said above, I'm sick of people telling me that Family Guy is a clever show, when it's not.

    "Arguing whether Family Guy is good or not is retarded. Some people will like it, and others won't. And both sides are correct, since appreciation is entirely subjective."
    Appreciation is subjective, but quality is not. There are probably people out there who think Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie are the greatest comedy films ever, but does that make them good films? No.

    "Who are you to judge? All you have is a shitty blog nobody reads."
    True, but unlike Family Guy fanatics who will just say, "IT'S FUNNY LOL!", I have articulated my points with comparisons to other TV shows and discussions about what does and does not work in fiction. I may not be a TV critic (or a TV writer), but if you're a regular reader of this blog you know I watch a lot of TV, and have quite an extensive knowledge of what makes a good show. 

    "I am a huge animation fan, and you are giving fellow fans like me a bad name if you nitpick a great show to death. Why don't you switch off your computer and go outside! Get a life!"
    How is this related to Family Guy? You are just personally attacking me, instead of sticking to the facts. You call yourself a fan, so don't tell me that you have never discussed the shortcomings or errors of Family Guy. Who do you think you are to accuse me of doing the same in a more comprehensive fashion on a permanent page?

    "You're still wrong. Most people would disagree with you and say that Family Guy is brilliant."
    Really? The majority isn't always right. I've laid out my points and if you can counter any of them, feel free.

    "You're such a loser. Pretty much everyone else agrees that it's the one of the greatest TV shows ever."
    I am far from alone in my opinion of the show. To begin with, there's a Wikipedia page all about the Criticism of Family Guy - no such page exists for The Simpsons, Futurama, South Park or Animaniacs. Or you could just click here, here, here, here or here for some more criticism by different writers. 

    "I don't care what you say, I still think the show's funny and I'm going to continue watching it."
    Sadly, I feel this will be the most common response to this rant. If you're still not convinced, next time you watch Family Guy, have a look at the show, and see how many issues I discussed here appear in the episode. You may be surprised.

    © 2011 by The Free Man

    Acknowledgements: I have to acknowledge a few other writers here, particularly Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw for his rant against Ctrl-Alt-Del, which inspired me to write this whole damn thing; Jaime J. Weinman for his rant against Family Guy, who I stole a number of points from; and for uploading a huge amount of Simpsons and Family Guy clips - thanks guys!

    1 comment:

    1. Brilliant article. You sure must have taken your time to elaborate these points.

      Btw, those hate mail quotes can literally be applied to an op-ed piece in literally any discipline...

      especially politics.. oh boy

      It's probably just human nature to identify subtext in a written piece as some screaming voice that defies one's personal value and belief system. This is probably why there is so much argument over the internet