fri 16/04/2021

Family Guy Weekend, BBC Three | reviews, news & interviews

Family Guy Weekend, BBC Three

Family Guy Weekend, BBC Three

Stewie Griffin morphs into a cute Disney character. No, really...

Something decidedly odd happened at one of last year’s Proms. In a night celebrating the golden age of the MGM musicals, one of the performers was Seth MacFarlane. The average Prommer wouldn’t have known MacFarlane from a poached egg. And even his devotees wouldn’t necessarily be too familiar with the face. But when in the course of the evening he started singing in a voice for which he is better known, the picture became clear. To some of the audience, anyway: MacFarlane is the genius behind Stewie Griffin.

Family Guy needs no introduction. Or if it does, it won’t be getting one here. After a false start when it was decommissioned by Fox, it has been running for years. I readily confess that I have never seen the point of The Simpsons. So shoot me. Family Guy is another story: maybe it’s because the juvenile lead in a cartoon featuring an all-American household is, like all the best villains in Hollywood, an upper-class Brit.

Watch Stewie and Brian in action

BBC Three ushered in a new series last night - new to British television, that is (it was first screened on Fox in September) - and, not for the first time, made a party of it, with ancillary bits and pieces packaged around the main event. This being BBC Three, there was some monumental crap padding out the proceedings, including a countdown of the 20 most popular characters which, criminally for a tribute to a show which lampoons everything in its path, failed to spoof the genre. British comedians who actually understand the staggering brilliance of Family Guy really shouldn’t be popping up as talking heads saying things like, “There was that episode where...” Not very Family Guy, that.

There was a lot more fun to be had in Seth and Alex’s Almost Live Comedy Show, a cabaret event featuring an orchestra and audience in which MacFarlane and Alex Borstein, the comic actress who voices Lois Griffin, sang songs and performed sketches. There was the pleasure of an extended gawp at the faces behind the voices. Watching MacFarlane actually do his shtick in person gives further insight into the mystery of how in a country where offence is so carefully taken he has managed to survive unlynched. The simple answer is disarming charm. In his eagerness to displease, he has a touch of the Ricky Gervais about him, but they aren’t quite peas in a pod. While he drives a heel into the throat of his victim, MacFarlane has less need to tell everyone how marvellous he is. “If the Christians are right and I’m wrong,” he said to his audience, “I am really going to burn in hell.”

Mostly the jokes last night were about offending religious voting blocks. Hill Street Jews, anyone? Bronstein objected to MacFarlane crooning "Edelweiss", the well-known Anschluss anthem, only to join in when MacFarlane cheerily explained how much further down the roster of Jewish comediennes she'd be if the Holocaust hadn't eliminated the competition. In the second episode - "Family Goy" - Lois discovered she was Jewish, her parents having concealed her mother’s background so they could gain entry to country clubs. The revelation prompted Peter to embark on a full-on and wonderfully tasteless project of self-Hebraicisation. The episode concluded even-handedly that religions “are all complete crap”. The source of this wisdom? Our sandalled Lord and Saviour.

But the wildly knowing post-modernism of Family Guy is even more fully revealed, as ever, when Stewie is on screen. He is Family Guy's beating heart and ticking bomb. In last night's opener "Road to the Multiverse", Stewie and the dog Brian used one of his gizmos to visit a series of parallel universes in which nothing is quite the same. No need to repeat the jokes themselves, pretty much all of them jaw-dropping in their invention (hats off to Wellesley Wild, who wrote this one). It suffices to say that among the worlds they dropped into was one in which everything is drawn by Disney, where the Griffin family freakishly morphed into figments of Uncle Walt’s wholesome imagination and sang a perfect Alan Menken/Howard Ashman spoof called “A Wonderful Day for Pie”. The only reason the visitors choose to move out of cartoon paradise is, of course, the anti-semitism. MacFarlane is after all on the side of the angels. Just.

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