This season saw the Griffins go to the Olympics and meet the president, but was it enough?
Reviewing Family Guy is a difficult job. Fox’s second longest-running scripted show, behind only The Simpsons, has a penchant for the random. Each season consists of episodes ranging from straight-forward plots about family to out-of-the-norm science fiction adventures. Even a single episode can be peppered with so many cut-scenes that the story is lost by excessive humor. Randomness is what Family Guy is all about, and you never know what to expect. With absent expectations deciphering what qualities make a great episode or season is tough.
Much like Family Guy’s big brother, The Simpsons, the show’s glory days are long gone. You could attribute this to the rise of the internet and streaming services, but Family Guy does not pull the same audience that it once had. Before it was canceled the first and second times, episodes were pulling in twice as many viewers as the show does today. After the show was revived in 2005, the fanbase seemed dedicated to keeping it alive with an average of above seven million watchers per night. With numbers still rolling in for season seventeen, we are expecting something around half of those previous numbers. Though, to be fair, The Simpsons and Bob’s Burgers have seen an equal hit in numbers.
Despite the series long history of ups-and-downs, Family Guy has solidified its place as part of Fox’s Sunday night line-up and has earned its renewal for the eighteenth season. Fox being purchased by Disney earlier this year raises many questions about the future of these adult animated programs. There has not been much discussion over Family Guy’s fate; however, The Simpsons have been a cornerstone promotion for Disney’s new acquisition, and the company confirmed that the Bob’s Burgers movie would remain in production. These are great signs that Disney is dedicated to the animated programming that has held Fox’s Sunday nights going for decades.
Essentially there is nothing stable about Family Guy, and season seventeen is no different. This year saw successes such as being celebrated for its creativity in the episode “Big Trouble in Little Quahog”, which saw Brian and Stewie shrunken to microscopic size and leading a group of water bears. We also got the chance to see President Trump and Peter go to fists in the episode “Trump Guy”. At other times in the season, that same creativity caused fans to question the creative team’s decision making. Most notably the episode “You Can’t Handle the Booth” confused fans as the entire show was overlaid with character commentary creating two competing plots.
As controversial as they can sometimes be, it is those out-of-the-box formula changing episodes that separates Family Guy from many of our other animated sitcom options. When the show decides to keep things grounded in a traditional platform, it tends to suffer. Episodes like “Pal Stewie” and “Bri, Robot” were little more than repeated themes like Stewie competing with another baby or addressing Brian’s depression again. Even the season’s two-part premiere “Married… with Cancer” and “Dead Dog Walking” saw Brian falling in love once again, only to find another reason to fail. And, one of the most confusing parts about episodes such as these is how or if they connect to the continuity of the series. Most specifically, Quagmire has a new teenage daughter move into his house in the “No Giggity, No Doubt”, but if that girl still lives there is anybody’s guess, and she could easily show up next season just to confuse us all.
One thing that stands out in season seventeen is the amount of screen time Meg receives. Typically the ignored child who takes most of the insults, Meg suddenly has some significant moments this year. She becomes an Olympic athlete in “The Griffin Winter Games“. Stewie finds a new appreciation for his sister and tries to make her cool in “Stand By Meg”. “Girl, Internetted” sees her become an internet sensation, and she gets in tight with the first family in “Trump Guy”. Once and a while Meg has received some significant episodes in the past, but this season she is one of the most commonly used characters. Are the creators trying to turn her into a more likable member of the cast? Or is it just a coincidence? Personally, I hope they are setting her up for ultimate failure in the future, but if they were going to do that it should have been at the end of this season.
With inconsistency being the name of the game with Family Guy, it is best to look at the highs and lows of the season to come to an idea of how the year went. Unfortunately, there are no stand-out moments in season seventeen. Usually, there are at least one or two unforgettable episodes, but this year lacks any of those significant moments. On the other end of the spectrum, there are definitely some low moments with some boring, unnecessary episodes. At this point, we have come to accept that every episode of Family Guy is not going to be a winner, but without a couple of A+ stories, the whole season feels lacking. Considering the ups-and-downs of the show, this down season could be a set-up for a fantastic season eighteen – let’s hope.