Things I Don’t Like About Television, Episode 24: Seth MacFarlane

…Comedies.

As many of us know, Seth MacFarlane was behind three animated comedies on FOX that all had varied levels of success: Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show. Of the three, The Cleveland Show was canceled, but the other two have been on for at least five seasons. At one point, these three shows were all featured on FOX’s “Animation Domination” lineup, making for a mini MacFarlane takeover.

For this post, I will give a general rundown of each show. And although I haven’t seen all the episodes, I have seen enough to know what I do and don’t like about each program. I especially wanted to revisit this topic because of Family Guy’s rapid and rough decline.


Family Guy

Seth MacFarlane, Family Guy, animated comedy

I’m gonna be honest here. I never caught the original airings of Family Guy in the first two seasons. I can faintly remember hearing about it, but the animation never really attracted me to the show.

I began to take interest in the show when it began airing on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. However, I did not like most of the characters at first. I hated Stewie as the evil baby, I did not think much of Peter, Lois, or Chris, and I hated how Meg whined. Brian may have emerged as my easy favorite due to how grounded he seemed. My opinions would change over time.

As I saw more of the show — and particularly after I saw a promo in which Seth MacFarlane made an appearance — I wanted to see more. Of course, the prospect of FOX renewing the show and showing new episodes was welcome.

I dug much of the humor, mostly because the writers were fully aware of their audience. Lightning-quick jokes would hit viewers constantly and there were plenty of pop culture references that viewers were familiar with. Some of the cutaway scenes would poke fun of the absurdities of older programs and show outcomes we all wish we could see (ex: Wiley E. Coyote killing the Roadrunner). One of my favorite episodes was “Ready, Willing, and Disabled” from Season 3, especially the part when Peter’s angel shoots his devil then holds Peter up with a gun. “Get your fat ass to Joe’s!”

Since 2012, the animated comedy started showing signs of wear and tear. Some of the cutaways seemed shoehorned in and some of the jokes have gone on longer than they should.

There have also been drastic character shifts:

  • Peter went from a loving husband and father who was still pretty damn stupid, to a destructive, mean-spirited, borderline retarded man who has become less likeable with each passing season.
  • Chris turned from a lovable idiot into a self-centered jerk.
  • Stewie went from psychotic to almost being a pansy. I like him more now, though, and his moments with Brian are mostly a delight.
  • Quagmire’s insatiable sex drive was amusing and downright funny but it disturbs me now. Quagmire’s “All Right” is completely gone now, replaced by “Giggity” (which I do like, but this, too, has changed the tone of the character).
  • Joe and his wife, Bonnie, became less likeable with each passing season. Whereas Joe was once a relatively nice and determined man and Bonnie was his understanding wife, he became more depressed and angry and she became unfaithful.
  • Hartman went from being a fairly competent physician to an unqualified boob.
  • Diane — who was a racist bitch, but still likeable on some level — took a sharp, dangerous turn before being killed off. The news segments have never been the same. I liked the type of chemistry she had with Tom Tucker.

The worst two character shifts have to be what happened to Lois and Brian.

In Episode 22 in the series, I went over some reasons why Brian Griffin got on my nerves without going into depth about the series as a whole. I would like to add that Brian went from being the straight man to the highly opinionated, racist, pretentious liberal. And when the writers were called out on him being used as the author avatar, it’s as if they decided to magnify his worst qualities.

I suspect the writers may have made Lois worse also to take some heat off Brian. She went from being a loving mother and wife, who just kiss Meg out of the blue and give her moral support….to a mean-spirited bitch. Lois is a terrible wife and mother and she has problems with other women. I would like to add that the combination of Peter’s increased recklessness and Lois’ development have effectively taken the heart out of the show.

And don’t get me started on Meg. She has been the butt monkey of the series from Day 1, but her treatment has gotten considerably worse each season. It’s to the point that no one in her family will allow her to have any bit of happiness. Meg once had a new boyfriend then Lois tried to seduce him. Meg was once used to make tasteless jokes about sex slavery, but was bought for an Arabian prince who would have loved, respected and taken good care of her. That was ruined by Brian and especially Stewie.

Many of the later episodes of the series were serious but unsettling in a bad way. “Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q.” (Season 10) was one of if not the worst episodes ever made in the series. It was known that Brenda was being abused by her boyfriend, Jeff, before and it wasn’t funny then, either. I did not appreciate the ending of “Seahorse Seashell Party” (also from Season 10), where Meg finally told off her family only to take it back in the end. There are other episodes that hit sour notes in later seasons. Just recently, there was an episode where Stewie had Brian’s babies. That was beyond cringeworthy.


American Dad!

Seth MacFarlane, American Dad!, animated comedy

After a number of episodes, I actually began to like this show more than Family Guy. I think that’s still true, but it has also declined in quality.

One reason I liked American Dad! more is that I collectively liked the main characters on the considerably more. Stan Smith is a pigheaded asshole, but it is clear that he loves his country and his family and wants what’s best for them. I like Francine more than Lois since the former’s spunk is not often misplaced. I prefer Haylie and Steve to Meg or Chris. I like the humor more on “American Dad!” as well. While I have always hated Roger and I am neutral to Klaus, I could tolerate these two — at first.

I also liked some of the side characters. This includes Steve’s friends (especially Schmuely, aka Snot), Jeff, and Avery Bullock (voiced by Patrick Stewart).

Overall, I think that the show’s strength is in how the episodes are formatted. Unlike Family Guy, there is no reliance on cutaways. The episodes and plots are often self-contained, although there are some continuing threads.

I like the political humor. It is not in your face and the portrayal of Stan is not your ordinary caricature of a conservative. He is able to maintain his characterization while being able to learn from some of his mistakes.

I do have some complaints about this show, however. One is of the continuing thread with Roger’s golden, bejeweled turd. Roger himself has earned my ire. He was tolerable at first but quickly became the worst character on the show. Not only does he demean various other characters, he’s willing to kill and destroy over trivial matters. While Stan can ultimately be more dangerous as a CIA agent, the lengths Roger will go to are ridiculous in their own right.

I will include other complaints near the end.


The Cleveland Show

Seth MacFarlane, The Cleveland Show, animated comedy

Like I did with American Dad! I had grown to love this series more than Family Guy.

There was a solid core of main characters in Cleveland’s new family. The titular character was now fully fleshed out, although I liked the earlier version, as well. (The secret is Mike Henry’s voice acting.) Cleveland Jr. was drastically different (as he went from a small, hyperactive kid to a timid, fat one), but he is more likeable now. Donna is brilliant. I think she is the most realistic female character on the show and she has a great comedic range. Sanaa Lathan’s voice works perfectly for her. I am neutral towards Roberta, but I like her interactions with Federline and her brother. I almost immediately loved Rallo, and that may be to Mike Henry’s voice acting, as well as the situations that Rallo found himself in. He is a cool young kid. Regardless of what one thinks of Arianna Huffington, I think she did a pretty good job of voicing the bear who bore her first name.

Cleveland really emerged as a fantastic lead. While he could be a real jerk to his family and his friends at times, he was an asset to them. He was often uncool, especially in the presence of his father and Robert Tubbs (Donna’s first husband and the father of her children), but he held a high opinion of himself. That might have been the main draw of the program.

The episode formatting on this show was also an improvement over Family Guy. There were no cutaways and the plots were relatively original. It was clear that most of the characters had a deep history with one another and that is how much of the humor was mined.

I don’t have many complaints about the show. One thing I didn’t like was Lester. He was the stereotypical racist southerner…but he did value Cleveland’s friendship on some level.

The Cleveland Show was prematurely cancelled imho. It might have been due to ratings, but it was clearly better than Family Guy. However, had it run longer, it likely would have decreased in quality, too.


What You’ll Find in All These Shows

There are a few things that have bothered me about Seth MacFarlane’s shows from time to time. These elements are all seen on at least the first two shows, and one is a tired running joke:

Three-quarters stances: The longer you watch MacFarlane comedies you will eventually notice how the characters are often oriented. On a number of animated shows, you will see characters shown at several different angles, from full frontal (mostly rare), to sideways. This is not the strength of the animators for the MacFarlane comedies. A three-quarters stance is the pose of choice and in some instances it looks unnatural, even for an animated show.

Hand Movements: I have recently noticed this, too. Generally, a character like Peter will be seen moving one of two hands every time he talks. He moves them forward then to his sides, palm up.

“Bros before Hoes”: This line was uttered by Stan Smith verbatim in an episode of American Dad! And it’s a general theme in all three shows. Basically, you will normally see the main male characters as friends. The women are often isolated, even if they work in the outside world. The wives may occasionally hang out with each other but generally have no friends outside their families. Even the daughters (Meg, Hailey, and Roberta) are shown to have no girlfriends, although Meg did have friends who have since basically disappeared from the canvas. We are occasionally reminded that “Men know how to be friends,” unlike silly women who will only fight and claw at each other when left alone to their own devices.

Recurring sexist jokes are a mainstay in Seth MacFarlane’s comedies and they’re basically aimed at women. There are offhanded jokes about some women’s breasts and disturbing jokes about their genitalia. Look up the joke about Ann Coulter when Lois worked for FOX News. I don’t like Ann Coulter, but that joke was out of line.

Yes, there are penis jokes, but most of them are about Quagmire and he’s a freakin’ pervert and general sex offender. And that is disturbing. Quagmire’s disgusting reputation gets a pass and he is admired for this.

Racial Stereotypes: You can say everyone gets hit.

Blacks are often kept within a certain range of development. Black women are often shown to have attitude and a similar speech patterns. Some of the black men are showed to be emotionally closed off.

Asians don’t have it easy on Family Guy. First, there’s “Asian Reporter Trisha Tokinawa,” who still has a thick accent (and is voiced by Alex Borenstein, who also voices Lois). Other Asians will generally be blunt, loud, rough and unable to drive properly. American Dad! subverts the bad tropes, as Francine had tough, yet loving adoptive parents.

On Family Guy, Mexicans like Consuela work menial jobs and tend to live with their big families.

Family Guy and American Dad! have featured jokes about Native American tribes.

There are tons of jokes aimed at white people, especially on Family Guy. There are not only reserved for Southerners. Thinking about it, plenty of white stereotypes are featured, including types of people one might meet in college.

“LOL, Religion”: Like I mentioned in the previous post in this series, there are jabs at religion on Family Guy. The same is true for the other programs.

I’m mixed on this. The depictions of God the Father and Jesus are generally funny and Jesus as a character is a pretty cool guy. There is truth in instances where some characters try to use religion to justify their prejudices and to try to pass laws that will negatively impact others. On the other hand, there are outright statements made by other characters to make fun of religion, those who follow any religion or to outright say that the belief in any god is dumb and hypocritical.

Gratuitous Violence: Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, I like a good animated fight or seeing a quick punch to the face, but there can be too much in some places.

Family Guy in particular is over the top. The fights with Peter and the Chicken can run on too long — with an awkward transition away from them — and during these fights, there will be mindless destruction. (More people may like this.) In “The Hand that Rocks the Wheelchair” (Season 9), there was a moment I particularly hated as Stewie’s evil twin just sliced a nice lady in half. I hated the whole episode to be honest. Peter once blew off his fingers and he killed a cat while trying to skin it. I am not an animal lover, but I found that disturbing. And it was the second time that Peter actively ruined Quagmire’s happiness because he had “become a drag.”

American Dad! has its moments, too. One in particular was “Cops and Roger,” where Roger kills a crooked cop (Chaz) by putting his full weight on the man’s head. The impact was replayed in slow motion. Another moment came when it was established that Roger had skinned Jeff alive.

The Cleveland Show is tamer than the others by comparison, but there was violence, too. Also, this may not be violent, but I was always disturbed by Coach Charles McFell’s appearance. Part of his cheek is missing. I mean, he his teeth would have long rotted out and he would be dead anyway from all the bacteria. And if there was a joke there, I never saw it.

Cannibalism: Family Guy and American Dad! are guilty here, again. Peter once ate Joe’s legs when the group of friends were stranded at sea. In “Into Fat Air” (Season 11), the Griffins ate a teenage boy in order to survive on a frozen mountain. The Smith family once ate the corpse of a young lady named Becky when they thought they were under siege from hunters.

Puke Jokes: All three shows are guilty of this, and perhaps American Dad! is less so than the others. Often, when someone is grossed out or sick enough they will let out a long stream of projectile vomit. The barf is the same color and the joke goes on until there is a large puddle. This joke was old the first time, when Peter, Brian, Chris, and Stewie barfed up a storm after drinking ipecac.


By the Way…

Here’s a short mention of “Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy.” It was an online offering that lasted from 2008-2009 and granted a DVD release. In Short, it was terrible.

When you look at all these shows, you can see how the humor can be stretched too thin. It doesn’t help that these shows are overexposed. That’s a complaint tied to Adult Swim…


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