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The Daily Wildcat

 

    Derivative ‘Family Guy’ unworthy of an Emmy

    Derivative Family Guy unworthy  of an Emmy

    The news that “”Family Guy”” had been nominated for an Emmy for Best Comedy Series was nothing short of momentous. In its decade on the air, the show has been cancelled and revived, sparked two spinoff shows, and delighted millions. Now it’s become the first animated series to snare the nomination since “”The Flintstones,”” way back in 1961.

    Can this be a sign that “”Family Guy,”” a show more loved by audiences than critics since its shaky beginning in 1999, is finally gaining respectability?

    One can only hope not. The cold truth is that “”Family Guy”” doesn’t deserve respectability. It is the single most overrated series in television history. One wonders if any shoplifter in history has ever rolled in as much undeserved wealth as the creators of “”Family Guy,”” a show whose characters and style of humor are filched — almost without exception — from other shows.

    Peter Griffin, the lunkhead dad, is a rip-off of Homer Simpson — so exact a copy, in fact, that he wears the same white buttoned-down shirt. Stewie, the megalomaniac baby who wants to take over the world, is a thinly disguised rip-off of the Brain, the megalomaniac rat who wanted to take over the world in the ’90s cartoon “”Pinky and the Brain.”” (He also bears a suspicious resemblance to indie cartoonist Chris Ware’s glum hero Jimmy Corrigan.) Brian, the small white dog with a big nose, is a clone of Charles Schulz’s Snoopy.

    In every case, the show guts the copycat character of what made him unique or appealing, replacing it with cold-blooded nastiness. Homer does the wrong thing without meaning to; Peter does it because he’s a jerk who doesn’t care. The Brain was amusingly arrogant; Stewie is whiny and mean-spirited. Snoopy was endearingly crazy; Brian is dour and cynical.

    As for the rest of the family — none of whom I’ve ever found the slightest bit memorable — they’re sitcom types, as bland and generic as the characters who populated ’80s shows like “”Small Wonder.””

    The humor on the show is literally sophomoric — that is, it consists almost entirely of those non sequiturs, random cultural references and pointless crude remarks that bring joy to the hearts of high school sophomores and make the rest of us groan and roll our eyes.

    The most familiar motif on “”Family Guy,”” the pointless tangent that goes on forever — “”Hey, Peter, remember that time you climbed Mount Everest?”” — was funny the first few times we saw it. That is, the first few times it popped up on “”The Simpsons.”” It’s rarely funny on “”Family Guy”” because it feels so labored. You can feel the writers straining to impress you. (That “”The Simpsons,”” at its best perhaps the best and funniest television show of all time, was never nominated for Best Comedy Series is disgraceful.)

    Things don’t have to be original to be good. But the prevailing tone of “”Family Guy”” is so mean-spirited that even the funny moments feel rancid. It’s like eating a hamburger that’s been dipped in vinegar. There might be something delicious in there somewhere, but it’s hard to tell.

    Fictional nastiness need not be alienating. George Costanza on “”Seinfeld”” was a deeply unpleasant character: selfish, hedonistic, a coward, capable of pushing down women and children while running out of a burning building or smiling at the news of his fiancée’s death.

    But you could never quite feel superior to George. Even while you were laughing at his antics, you cringed, because you recognized that you too might conceivably act like George in a given situation. George was appalling, but he was human, and he told you something about yourself — something you might not have wanted to hear.

    By contrast, the rape jokes and racist slurs on “”Family Guy”” mean nothing more than what they mean on the surface — they’re rape jokes and racist slurs. They don’t come naturally from the characters because the characters are little more than repositories for random jokes. Nor are they meant to expose the audience’s racism, like Lenny Bruce used to do in his great ’60s routines.

    They’re there because the show’s writers find it funny to say things that you’re “”not supposed to say,”” and the show’s loyal fans find them funny for the same reason. Part of the show’s basic appeal is that it lets its viewers vicariously experience those things without having to feel guilty the next morning. It appeals to the cynical jerk lurking somewhere inside most of us.

    You might ask what’s wrong with that. Nothing, except that putting that appeal at the heart of a popular television series is asking for trouble. It’s asking for a generation of cynical jerks who, like Peter, don’t see anything wrong with cracking racist jokes or laughing at paraplegics.

    Asked why he thought Peter Griffin’s response to a report that three co-eds have been raped and murdered — ””Everyone’s getting laid but me”” — was funny, “”Family Guy”” creator Seth MacFarlane lamely told the New York Times: “”You’re not laughing at rape; you’re laughing at him being an idiot.”” Is he kidding?

    Enough is enough. If “”Family Guy”” wins an Emmy, it will gladden the hearts of plagiarists, cynics and lifelong sophomores everywhere. That’s more than enough reason to send it back to the drawing board.

    Do you think “”Family Guy”” deserves an Emmy? Drop us a line on dailywildcat.com and tell us what you think before the Emmys air Sept. 20.

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