Wednesday, 01 June 2011
I don't often admit that I'm wrong. I'm a pretty good judge of character, and historically, any enmities that I foster — whether for discernible reasons or by some secret intuition — turn out to be warranted. Rarely do I renege on prior assessments. But I was wrong about Family Guy.
As recently as 2007, I could be heard disparaging the series with overweening confidence. It seemed to me easy to be funny when structure, plot, and character are thrown out the window and the entirety of your runtime is given to shot-gunning pop culture references. Wouldn't the laughs come from a superficial, insincere place?
The giggly and ADD-addled among TV viewers could rave about it all they liked. Family Guy was just fluff, and its staggering popularity only served to cement the fact. A healthy suspicion of universal acclaim underpinned my deep hostility. Remember, a very wise (and funny) man once said, "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect."
But I was wrong. Family Guy may be fluff, but it's funny fluff. The jokes don't always hit the mark and the pop culture references don't always translate, but they do so more often than not. I still prefer my comedy served with a side of continuity and consequence, but Family Guy has character, and attitude, and a bite that few other shows (aside from its spin-offs and sister shows, including The Cleveland Show and Bob's Burgers) can match. As with all good comedy, nothing is sacred within the confines of Seth McFarlane's creation.
Not even the venerated Star Wars mythos. Family Guy's initial take on the franchise, Blue Harvest, was quite rightly heralded as one of the best Star Wars spoofs ever, in no small part due to Lucasfilm's complete endorsement, and one of the series' best episodes. (It was the season six opener.) The Associated Press called it "a dead-on homage that hilariously picks apart Star Wars, and most of real life." It garnered an Emmy nomination, though it lost to South Park's "Imaginationland," and won the Saturn Award for Best Presentation on Television.
Something, Something, Something Dark Side, whose title ranks as a masterpiece of unwieldy nomenclature, continued that trend. Even more Family Guy characters emerged as inheritors of classic Star Wars roles this time through, with Brian's boss Carl as Yoda, Mort Goldman as Lando Calrissian, and Carter Pewterschmidt as the Emperor. Along with solid jabs at The Empire Strikes Back, the episode also featured some of the best pop culture gags in series history — including entire clips from Rocky IV's Ivan Drago montage (!) and an ending that merrily mirrors Back to the Future Part II's great cliffhanger.
The final installment of the trilogy, It's a Trap!, saw DVD release in 2010, finally airing on TV, albeit in truncated form, in May of this year. And a copy of the box set — lovingly titled Laugh It Up, Fuzzball: The Family Guy Trilogy and featuring all three Star Wars-themed adventures — found its way into my hands in time for my birthday. (Thanks, Mom!)
A tiny preamble to begin with. Numerous online reviews, before assessing the merits of It's a Trap!, first take great pains to classify Return of the Jedi as the runt of the original Star Wars trilogy, a weighty reputation the film and its Ewok inhabitants have had to shoulder these past thirty years. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But their distaste for the Rebellion's final plight against the Empire might make one question the impartiality of their vitriol.
So, here it is, for the record: Return of the Jedi is my favourite of the original Star Wars films. Seriously. And even so, my assessment of Family Guy's It's a Trap! remains equally venomous. This is bad, bad stuff.
It begins on a bad note, with Seth McFarlane writing the following into the lengthy opening crawl:
"Look, just do me a huge favor and lower your expectations, okay? Just this one time. I promise I'll make it up to you. I mean, Star Wars, fine. Empire, still not bad. But on this one we ran out of gas."
Irony of ironies, they most decidedly did run out of gas. If forced to search for some redeeming factors, I suppose it's fair to say that a few of the gags work — Peter's flatulent awakening from his Carbonite shell, for instance, or C-3PO's rendition of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme as sung to a crowd of enthralled Ewoks — but the overwhelming majority of the 'humour' on display misses the mark, oftentimes stupendously so. (Incidentally, damn near all the good bits appear in the two-minute It's a Trap! trailer. Watch that instead. You can thank me for the fifty-seven minutes you'll save as a result.)
Embarrassing video cut-ins by Conway Twitty and Ted Knight, an excruciatingly long 'head-nodding' sequence (that's as stupid as it sounds), a vapid final appearance by John Williams and his orchestra, and toothless jabs at Lost in Space, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, and Star Trek: The Next Generation all come off as filler.
Along with the carbon copy space sequences, which were a great novelty in Blue Harvest but have gradually lost their power to impress, It's a Trap! most definitely ranks as a waste of opportunity, talent, and more importantly, time — for both the people involved and the dedicated genre fans in attendance.