Network television in the United States is one of the most competitive mediums in the Western world. It is the primary resource for entertainment for 300 million Americans, and as such the four big stations - CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox - have to pick and choose the shows they air very carefully, ensuring every show in their prime-time schedule will draw the viewers - and advertisers - in in their millions. Hundreds of pilots and ideas are presented to the stations each year; few are picked up for even a pilot, let alone an entire first run season of even 13 episodes. Of the few shows that do make it beyond a mid-first-season cancellation, even fewer last beyond two or three years - shows like The Simpsons, Friends, CSI and Frasier, each lasting beyond 10 seasons, are very rare. Cancellations are far more commonplace; and when Family Guy failed to draw in the viewers after having had three years to build up a larger fan base, Fox pulled the plug on its production - to no-one's surprise - and for a year or two, that was that.
That is, until it began to emerge that Fox's DVD sets of the show had been selling rather well, and Cartoon Network reruns had been rating rather well. And then it emerged that the DVDs were not just selling well, they were selling amazingly well. The first three seasons, released as two "volumes" in the States, had sold millions between them, rivalling The Simpsons - the biggest selling TV show on DVD at the time - and outselling ratings monsters such as Friends. The Internet was suddenly filled with petitions calling for the show to be reinstated on the back of this, and a few short months later, rumours began to surface about a potential return in the form of a straight-to-DVD movie.
Then came the rumour of Fox picking up the show for another season of shows to air on TV. The rumours were true, and history was made; in one of the strangest moves a major network has ever made, Family Guy was "uncancelled". (The first joke of the first episode on this set features Peter Griffin, the show's main character, informing the family of the show's cancellation. Lois (his wife) asks if there is any hope of a return, and Peter replies with a list of over 30 Fox TV shows that have been cancelled since Family Guy's original cancellation. "If they all get cancelled, we might have a shot", he suggests. It had me in fits of laughter, I swear.)
You may well ask, what kind of show would warrant such attention from both network and fans? Well, put simply, a show like Family Guy. An animated show, that while on paper comparable to The Simpsons (animated American sitcom about a dysfunctional family - ever heard of it?), features more tasteless jokes, minority-offending skits, pop-culture references, innuendoes, curse words and jibes about every manner of taboo subject (how does cancer, AIDS and terrorism strike you for taboo?) than any other show ever hitting the airwaves. A show that features a baby bent on world domination; a cigar-smoking, Martini-swilling talking dog; and even 'Death' himself.
The series follows the adventures of the Griffin family, residents of the fictional Quahog, Rhode Island. Peter (Seth MacFarlane), the fat bumbling oaf of a father, is something of a cross between Homer Simpson and Cartman with added minority-bashing and sex loving; Lois (Alex Borstein), his social climber of a wife, is typically the voice of reason in the family, though she herself is rather partial to adventure and finds her husband more sexually attractive than you might expect. The pair have three children: the social reject, Meg (Mila Kunis), forever trying to get "in" with the cool crowd; the puberty-hitting Chris (Seth Green), an unintelligent but kind-hearted teen who wants to follow in his father's footsteps; and Stewie (also Seth MacFarlane), hell bent on killing off his mother, Lois, and eventual world domination. There's also Brian (also MacFarlane), the aforementioned family dog, arguably more intellectual than the human members of the family combined; Glenn Quagmire, perverted sex-mad next-door neighbour; Cleveland Brown, African-American neighbour who talks very slowly; and Joe Swanson, paraplegic next-door neighbour police officer.
Family Guy's humour won't appeal to all; but to those who it does appeal to, there's plenty to find funny here. As ever, jokes in the fourth season (here called Volume 3 as Volume 1 in the States included seasons 1 and 2) continue to shock, offend and amuse, this season poking fun at AIDS, the mentally-retarded and the blind, as well as hitting on the more obvious targets of reality TV, makeovers and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Jokes frequently emerge from cutaway/flashback scenes that serve only to provide a joke rather than further the story, but the dialogue itself is frequently witty and, indeed, outright stupid, also provoking laughter. The plots and characterisation come second to outright laughter in this series, and there's no hope for any serious emotion or moralising - whether that's good or bad is debateable. This season if anything further pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable beyond the first three seasons, with a few bleeped-but-still-clear "F" bombs, and any hopes for political correctness are dashed within minutes of the first episode - and any hopes for any tastefulness whatsoever are crushed when the "Not HIV, but full-blown AIDS" song comes into play later on.
Plots this season include a 'gansta' movie pastiche in which Chris has to shoot his buxom new teacher's husband; Peter going blind after eating hundreds of nickels; Brian taking part in reality TV series "The Bachelorette"; Peter being diagnosed as retarded; Chris befriending a talking zit; and Lois being landed in the slammer after becoming a kelptomaniac. As I previously stated, the episodes revolve far more around jokes than plots, so these storylines, as crazy as they are, simply pave the way for more irreverence and risky humour. This season is not as good, in my opinion at least, as seasons 1 and 2, but it's on a par with the still-excellent season 3.
- North by North Quahog
- Fast Times at Buddy Cianci Jr. High
- Blind Ambition
- Don't Make Me Over
- The Cleveland-Loretta
- Quagmire Petarded
- Brian the Bachelor
- 8 Simple Rules For Buying My Teenage Daughter
- Breaking Out is Hard to Do
- Model Misbehaviour
- Peter's Got Woods
- Perfect Castaway
- Jungle Love
Video on this release is very good; while the animation is rather crude, considering we're in the 21st century now, the DVD transfer does the original piece justice. Lines are slightly jaggy, as we have seen on previous releases, but this is not a noticeable issue. Colours are nice and sufficiently vibrant; the picture is nice and sharp and as good as you would expect from such a show.
Audio is also great, the English DD 5.1 utilizes all the speakers to great effect and dialogue, music and effects are all very clear. Nothing else to say on that matter, it's as good as you could hope for. There are no French and Spanish audio tracks as there were on the first two R1 volumes, but subtitles in those languages are present, as are English subtitles for the hearing-impaired, a move I always applaud.
The menus are well-designed, look great and are easily navigable. Short clips from the episodes on the respective disc play on the top half of the screen, while you can choose an episode (or Play All) on the bottom half. After selecting an episode, you can select subtitle and audio options (some episodes have an "uncensored" audio track, with F-bombs uncut), or you can switch commentary on if it is available on that episode. There are also scene selection menus.
The discs have a play all feature, but do not always have a chapter stop after the opening credits so if you do not want to hear the theme tune over and over again you have to fast forward instead of skipping a chapter.
There are a wide array of bonuses on this set; more so than on the region 1 volumes 1 and 2, and of course more than on the region 2 seasons 1, 2 and 3 (which had none, unfortunately). To kick us off, ten episodes have Commentary, all of which feature creator and cast member Seth MacFarlane (who is consistently the most interesting commentator throughout) alongside other members of the cast and crew (such as Seth Green, Mila Kunis, David Goodman, Chris Sheridan and Wellesley Wild). The commentaries feature on North by North Quahog, Blind Ambition, The Cleveland-Loretta Quagmire, Petarded, Brian the Bachelor, 8 Simple Rules for Buying My Teenage Daughter, Breaking Out is Hard to Do, Peter's Got Woods, Perfect Castaway and Jungle Love. I'm unsure why the remaining three episodes didn't feature commentaries. The ten commentaries that are here are very amusing and interesting, though at times there are gaps in the conversation, and some sections are a bit boring (they make a few rather unfunny jokes here and there).
There are also several other bonus features, all on the third disc. World Domination: The Family Guy Phenomenon is a very interesting 24-minute featurette about the history behind the show, its cancellation and return to network TV, and features some great interviews with cast and crew, including Seth MacFarlane. A worthy watch. There's also an 8-minute Score! The Music of Family Guy featurette looking at the music on the show; storyboard and animatic comparisons for one act of each of three episodes (Don't Make Me Over, The Cleveland-Loretta Quagmire and Brian the Bachelor); a couple of Deleted scene animatics; Footage from a table read; and a 1-minute fluff preview of American Dad, MacFarlane's latest animated creation.
The history of Family Guy DVD releases is not easy to follow; in the States they have had three extras-packed sets (Volume 1 featuring seasons 1 and 2, Volume 2 featuring season 3, Volume 3 - this set - featuring the first part of broadcast season 4), in the UK we've had the first three season sets featuring no extras and the episodes in production order as opposed to airdate order - and then later we had the three seasons packaged up in one box with an exclusive double-disc set with all of the extras we missed from the first two American sets on. And that's not even taking into account the straight-to-DVD movie, the Best Of release, reissues and R4 releases! Still, hopefully from now on the R1 and R2 sets will be the same (season 4 will be released with all the extras of its US counterpart in the UK, thankfully).
Family Guy won't appeal to everyone, and it isn't suitable for those under 15 by any stretch of the imagination, but if your sense of humour is somewhat jaded, warped, cynical or just different to the norm, you may well love this. The back of the box describes the show as "the wildly irreverent, shrewdly crude animated sensation that confounds the PC police", and the LA Daily News described the show as "risky, rude and hilarious". I'd have to agree.
Any fan would a fool to miss out on this brilliant package, and Fox should be commended for this excellent set. I have no reason this time to suggest anyone purchase the R1 over the R2 if they've started their collection with the R2 releases this time, thankfully.
- Commentary on 10 episodes
- "World Domination: The Family Guy Phenomenon" featurette
- "Score! The Music of Family Guy" featurette
- Deleted scene animatics
- Table read
- Storyboard and animatic comparisons
- Preview of American Dad