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"When You Wish Upon a Weinstein," "Road to Rhode Island," "To Live and Die in Dixie," "I Am Peter, Hear Me Roar," "Lethal Weapons"
by Walter Chaw Possibly the most consistently appalling television show in the history of network television, Seth MacFarlane's "Family Guy" has a scary intelligence and a willingness to go places that most popular entertainment fears to tread. It's inspiring, is what I'm saying, and I put it on whenever I feel afraid to take my shots at the inexplicable sacred cow of the moment. I'm not sure how "Family Guy" survived for three seasons on Fox (actually, it sort of didn't: Bombarded with hate and diapers following the alleged series finale, the net allowed a selectively censored third season), but a precedent-setting fourth season, which will begin airing on Fox in May of this year, serves as a reminder that however many people have a conniption over Janet's tit, there are two million fewer of us who flinch at the moment of crisis, too, but in anticipation of the backlash instead of at the event itself. For what it's worth, "Family Guy" has picked up the baton from "The Simpsons" as the most relevant and daring adult entertainment. Take it with a healthy dose of "The Daily Show" and you're well on your way to developing pathos and irony.
"'Family Guy': The Freakin' Sweet Collection" (whose Dolby Surround audio mix and fullscreen video transfer are up to the high standards of the previously-released DVD volumes) is ostensibly a collection of MacFarlane's five favourite episodes but, realistically, serves as an affordable way to get neophytes hooked on the show. Though it comes packed with special features (including a short preview of the new MacFarlane project "American Dad", plus fresh commentaries for four of the five episodes) and the unexpurgated version of "Road to Rhode Island" (with Osama Bin Laden joke intact), the delight of the disc remains the episodes themselves. Consider the first instalment on offer, "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein," which Fox declined to air for its supposed anti-Semitism--meaning its constant litany of Catholic, bestiality, homosexuality, and African-American jokes apparently were not cause for concern. The original commentary for this episode found on "'Family Guy': Volume Two" talks about that; no commentary adorns this incarnation, probably because Fox has since aired the episode in a special trumpeting its own blinkered intolerance. Shame. The episode itself sees titular family guy Peter placing his fate in the "magical" qualities of a Jewish accountant much like Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List, though in a quarter of the time with an nth of the pretense. When Peter ascends to the heavens on a mystical flying Dreidel, echoes of the obsolescence of the cufflink speech come unbidden to the mind.
"Road to Rhode Island" does the Hope/Crosby thing with family dog Brian and family baby Stewie en route to discover the fate of Brian's puppy mill mama. Brian's alcoholism comes to the fore, as does as an unusual tenderness for evil genius toddler Stewie. (It's not one of my favourites, but it's one of the favourites.) "Brian" and "Stewie" say "fuck" a lot in a gag commentary while revealing, like all of the yak-tracks, a disturbing amount of homophobia. Because of the tenor of the show, however, I'm willing to give the boys the benefit of a doubt. (It does walk the line.) The best episode of this collection, however, is "To Live and Die in Dixie," a relentless, fevered attack on Deep South stereotypes that features Waylon Jennings reprising his "Dukes of Hazzard" narrator in one of his final roles, as well as a Monty Python-esque series of absurd visual jokes involving a raccoon and weak floorboards. MacFarlane and writers/voice actors Daniel Palladino, Steve Callaghan, Danny Smith, and Mike Henry supply commentary that, although not terrifically informative, trumps the box sets' yakkers by having little in the way of downtime. I did like the revelation that real children were often asked to recite some of the really offensive stuff the kids on this show tend to say.
"I Am Peter, Hear Me Roar" and "Lethal Weapons" both address the dinosaur feminist movement and the feminizing of American men more incisively and, again, precisely than, say, James Brooks does in Spanglish. In the former, Peter, the prototypical chauvinist pig, goes to sensitivity training and returns to wreak perhaps the funniest forty seconds of silent comedy on the American viewing public since Chaplin's heyday (he nurses Stewie), while in the latter, Peter confesses after an evening of lovemaking that last night, his wife Lois--who's been taking martial arts classes--"was the man." MacFarlane, Chris Sheridan, Alex Borstein (Lois), and Craig Hoffman supply commentary, with Borstein interested in her own performance for the most part, revealing that Jennifer Tilly came to her voiceover sessions and proceeded to strip down, and offering one of the lewder comments on any yak-track for the series. Personally, I enjoyed how they slipped the name of the Candice Bergen-voiced feminazi "Ms. Ironbox" past the censors by changing the spelling of it in the script submitted for approval to "Ironbachs." The commentary for "Lethal Weapons" is comprised of MacFarlane, Sheridan, Garrett Donovan, and Callaghan with less insight but a lot of bonhomie.
"American Dad" (6 mins.) is an extended preview clip of MacFarlane's new animated show. By the looks of things, it's a little bit "X Files", a little bit "Family Guy", and not terribly funny. "Seth MacFarlane Talks About 'American Dad'" (7 mins.) is self-described (MacFarlane comparing/contrasting his new Fox show to his old one), as is "Seth MacFarlane Talks about 'Family Guy' Season 4" (15 mins.): there's really nothing here to sink the teeth into besides the revelation that the show is returning. Incidentally, that none of the commentaries allude to the possibility of another season suggests they were recorded some time ago. By no means indispensable, Family Guy: The Freakin' Sweet Collection is nevertheless a good introduction to the series (destined to be a benchmark series along with other truncated modern classics "Futurama", "Upright Citizen's Brigade", "Strangers with Candy", and "TV Funhouse") and a nice post-script for the fanatic. Originally published: January 18, 2005.