TV review: ‘Family Guy’ has lost its comedic spark

By Joe Stile

Fox’s “Family Guy” is paradoxically under- and over-rated at the same time. Haters accuse the show of being a bunch of random and lazy tangents built around broad and unfunny characters without any real story. “Family Guy” lovers claim the show is edgy, innovative and politically aware. “Family Guy” isn’t actually as bad as its detractors claim it to be. On the other hand, the show is certainly not as good as its supporters suggest, either.

Currently in its tenth season on the air, “Family Guy” struggles to hit the high notes it used to reach so easily just a few seasons ago. After well over a hundred episodes, the absurd cutaway gags don’t seem as fresh and instead have dulled. Most long running sitcoms encounter this problem eventually — as it becomes harder to create new scenarios for the characters to happen upon without seeming too repetitive or too crazy.

By now, viewers have already seen, or can at least expect, the Griffin’s adventure of the week. Similarly, it is not hard to figure out how the supporting characters will act: Quagmire is going to make some sex joke, there will be a joke about Joe not being able to walk and there will be a joke about Herbert being a pervert. It’s basic “Family Guy” 101.

It is in the nature of sitcoms to be static. All adventures must be wrapped up at the end of the show and equilibrium must be restored for the start of the next episode. That same formula also leaves many shows feeling stale after being on the air for too long. “Family Guy” has recently fallen victim to this unfortunate trend.

There has been little growth for the characters on the show, making it harder for viewers to invest themselves in the program when it all feels like it has been done before.

The character that all this has taken the biggest toll on is Brian Griffin, who is voiced by the show’s creator Seth MacFarlane. In earlier seasons, Brian was refreshing for his intellectual — and often pretentious — views of the situations of the episode that nicely balanced out the generally unintelligent ideas of Peter and the rest of the cast.

As the seasons wore on though, he became less of an actual character and more of a mouthpiece for the writers’ political views, whether it was the strong liberal stance Brian takes on the Iraq War or his many rants against organized religions. The consistently serious moralizing of many recent episodes has greatly taken away from what “Family Guy” used to do best: rapid fire jokes that were often about the most random subjects.

While the older episodes were far from perfect, they still made for entertaining television thanks to their quick pace and surplus of jokes, whose sheer volume made up for the occasional dud.

Another reason for the steady decline of “Family Guy” is that there are now numerous shows that are so similar to it in on television and in Fox’s lineup. “The Cleveland Show” and “American Dad!” share many similar jokes and even some of the same characters as “Family Guy”. This leaves the show feeling much less fresh than it did a few years ago.

Most disappointingly of all, “Family Guy” has felt very tame this season. Critics used to complain that the show often went too far and had no limits to what it would make fun of; jokes about the prophet Muhammad or JFK’s assassination were just some of the taboo subjects that “Family Guy” would poke fun at. Recently, the show seems content in just making fart jokes and avoiding the kind of controversy that used to make it so interesting. It seems like the show’s writers no longer want to push the envelope, which only serves to make one wonder why the show is even still on the air.

A lot should be said for shows that decide to voluntarily end their run before their quality nosedives; sadly “Family Guy” isn’t one of those shows. The program has seen better days and unfortunately — as long as it still has a lot of viewers and keeps making money for Fox — it is unlikely to end anytime soon, despite the diminishing returns of each new episode and season.

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