This season of ‘Family Guy’ has been just awful. Aside from a running joke about Griffin patriarch Peter having horrible “dad breath” in one particular episode, the fading Seth MacFarlane animated series has been consistently terrible since it’s mid-Fall debut (I also liked the vestigial twin storyline). Last week we had an incredibly dumb and laugh-free episode spoofing Italy and Italians (the Griffins take advantage of discount airfare and travel to Rome) and now, this…this…affront.
Now I’m not a rabid ‘Family Guy‘ fan. I watch the show regular and often enjoy its crude car wreck qualities. But this takes my veiled disdain to a whole new level. In case you haven’t heard (and didn’t have the story ruined for you by the headline), the creators of the often controversial cartoon decided to “kill off” a major character last night (the quotes are placed there on purpose – I firmly believe there is a hint as to where this particular storyline is going in the episode itself – more on this later) and the unlucky cast regular was…Brian. Brian the dog. Brian, often the only voice of liberal reason on a series soaked in abject stupidity, tacky toilet humor, and visual non-sequitors.
In last night’s episode, Stewie and his dog pal travel back to the past via that Great Gazoo like narrative device, a time machine. When they almost change the course of history (oh, wait – haven’t we been down this particular plot avenue before? Say, like a couple dozen times?) our infant savant decides to dismantle the device. While getting rid of the rubbish, Stewie and Brian stumble upon a perfectly good street hockey set up in the town dump. After setting it up to play outside the house, a random car comes barreling down the road, running over Brian in the process. Though he is taken to the “best vet in Quahog,” he cannot be saved. The Griffins give him a tearful goodbye, while Brian thanks them before flatlining. Dog is dead. Children cry.
What, is this ‘Marley & Me?’
Anyway, to get over the grief, the family heads over to the pound and adopts a new dog named Vinnie (“like the Pooh,” says Peter). He’s got the wise guy Italian accent (what happened to Seth MacFarlane? Did he get some bad Chicken Parmesan at a local SoCal pizza joint and then decide to give an entire ethnicity a pen and ink raspberry?) and, so far, seems pretty nice to everyone. There’s no sudden desire to hump Stewie’s stuffed bear Rupert (like “New Brian” did a while back) or a last second change of heart featuring a bloody garbage bag being dragged to the curb. No, for all intents and purposes, ‘Family Guy‘ killed off one of its most likeable characters and replaced him with a strangely angular pooch who seems suspiciously sincere.
Oh course, I know this is all crap. I can see where this is all going a mile away – and in a blink and you’ll miss it moment, you can see it to. Brian’s accident happens so quickly, so randomly within the narrative structure of this particular episode that you probably didn’t even notice that the vehicle that hits him looks a lot like…his Prius. Brian’s light grey/silver Prius to be exact. Yep, Brian drives a douche mobile, a nod to his feigned nobility and one of the many reasons neighbor Glenn Quagmire hates his guts (later, at the dog’s elaborate funeral, the oversexed airline pilot can be seen commenting on a Red Sox game he has on his smartphone). While watching the episode, I was convinced the next commercial break would have Stewie investigating the crime, making the link to the specific car, and then realizing what had to be done – rebuild the time machine. Instead, we got waterworks and more of ‘My Lame Canine Cousin Vinnie. ‘
Of course, the writers have tried to cover their ass and pretend that this is not going to happen. Stewie tries to put his device back together, but the Arab man at the local farmer’s market that sells him illegal technology argues that the individual responsible for one of the machine’s main components is no longer available. And he was the only one who knew how to make them. So Stewie resigns himself to life without Brian and starts to warm up to his new four legged friend. Fox even offered up an cloying overview of Brian’s “best” moments as part of the send-off last night.
Again, I call shenanigans. Yes, I could be over-thinking it and yes, the creative team may have thought this out long and hard, but just like Kenny dying every week on ‘South Park,’ fans of the format know that the fantasy world of animation can concoct any kind of cruelty only to “take it back” in the next scene (just as Daffy Duck, or Goofy). My guess is, they have an entire arc worked out where Stewie will see some surveillance video of the tragedy, realize that, somehow, Brian has returned, and then go about establishing how this happened and why. Remember when he learned that the man he thought was his father was actually him on a “vacation” from the future? Technology is reciprocal, and just because Stewie doesn’t have the material to make a new time machine now doesn’t mean he won’t figure out a way to do so in, say, two or three more episodes? (Beside, various sources show upcoming episodes featuring some character called…”Brian???”)
Of course, it could be me whose full of dog feces. I remember coming out of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ convinced that Darth Vader was lying to Luke Skywalker about his parentage as part of a plot to get the vulnerable young man to turn to the Dark Side. I argued it with friends and waited patiently for ‘The Revenge of the Jedi’ to set the record straight. When ‘”RETURN” of the Jedi’ did no such thing, I felt both anger and irritation. The “truth” about what happened to Anakin Skywalker didn’t have a series of prequels to explain it away. No, we had one line of dialogue about Vader “killing” Luke’s dad, and then the logical reach that came from “misinterpreting” that sentence. Gyp!
Brian can’t be dead – and this is not some obsessive fan mourning the loss of a classic character. ‘Family Guy‘ prides itself on the insane and surreal. Stewie and Brian once caused the Big Bang. They turned the Universe into nothing. They’ve explored numerous parallel universes and illustrated several alternative timelines. They even went back in time to the “pilot” episode for some of their hijinx. They’ve met various version of each other over the course of time. Brian’s death is what Stephen King’s Annie Wilkes (from ‘Misery’) would call a “cockadoodie cheat.” My guess will be that, by this time next year, Brian will be back in his old cynical seat, mocking Stewie’s questionable sexuality and struggling to find a girl whose not just a source of empty air-headed sex.
Or maybe the writers and MacFarlane really do want Brian gone for good. Maybe Wikipedia is wrong (it never is, is it?) Maybe they will follow through and make the overly eloquent dog with a penchant to bad writing a real “former” cast member. If so, that would be the most daring and original thing this otherwise derivative TV series has done in a very, very long time.