Fame Day: American Dad and Death

Last week saw the death of Family Guy‘s Brian Griffin. One of the most central characters in the show, it’s needless to say that  everyone was caught off-guard and most everyone, one way or another, wasn’t too happy about the decision.

When Evan covered it last week, he pointed out that Family Guy creator (and vocal talent) Seth MacFarlane has been suspected by some as having killed off Brian as an act of sabotage; intending to either run the show into the ground or shock the audience into returning as the shows ratings continue to decline. One way or another, Evan thought it was a pretty bold move, and wrote “…I think I’m going to applaud their decision.”

I disagree.

One way or another, I think that you oughta put some effort into your work (yes, even with junk-food TV like Family Guy). If the show’s tanking, then you stand by your work and go down with the ship. If you’re trying to attract your audience back, then you offer them something of substance.

Whether this was self-sabotage, a gimmick, or heck, just all part of the show’s flaming tailspin, I think this was one lazy move.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not angry here. Simple truth of the matter is that I don’t really care about Family Guy one way or another.

American Dad, though, is a different story altogether.

And I’m not going to try to extol the virtues of the show- I think you’re either going to like it or you won’t. This isn’t a comparison of which of MacFarlane’s cloned children is actually the good one (least evil, anyways)- this is going to be in praise of a single episode.

S9E06: “Independent Movie”

This episode also deals with death, only it’s the death of a character you never see on screen once and still manages to be more moving than Family Guy.

The deceased in this case is the never-before-mentioned father of Snot, one of Steve’s (the son in this sitcom family) friends. His funeral takes place way out in California, and Steve attempts to rally a few buddies into heading out there together.

So begins the play-by-play for every indie movie ever made.

You’ve got the soundtrack. The scenery. The long voice overs as characters stare contemplatively into the distance.

Heck, they’ve even got Zooey Deschanel playing the quirky, indefinable girl.

The episode walks the line between being soul-searching and satirical. You’re laughing at every perfect send-up of these pretentious movies (yeah, I’m not an indie movie fan) yet you still feel, well, moved by everything the characters are experiencing and trying to cope with.

More than anything though, it’s the knowledge that the writers and animators didn’t have to do this. This wasn’t some finale. This wasn’t to mark the passing of one of the main characters. This is just the writers doing their best to give you some good chuckles for 20 minutes or so.

They take pride in their work.

When’s the last time Family Guy put this much effort into a scene?

Again, the death of one of the main characters who has been in pretty every one of their episodes over the past 12 years was shown in a montage of roughly 30 seconds. It lacked so much in the way of depth or solemnity that I believe that a lot of people watching it weren’t convinced for a second that the change was real. I’m not going to claim that the death of a character on a comedy show needs to be some devastating event, but for a character (heck, an establishment) that’s been a part of pop culture for over a decade, the frankly cheap way it was all thrown away seems to speak for just how little those involved cared about either their work or the audience. And again in stark contrast, American Dad manages to make us feel the impact of a person who we never actually see.”Death”, just as a literary device (“narrative”, I guess is the more appropriate word) is used more artfully and more effectively. Family Guy squeezes a couple jokes out of it, American Dad manages to build an entire episode off of it. That’s better writing, greater planning, and most importantly of all, more respect. Respect for the work, and respect for the viewer.

And that’s what it all comes down to. A refreshing degree of effort.

American Dad isn’t any more more “high art” than Family Guy (or the short-lived Cleveland Show)- depending on who you ask, it’s the crassest of the lot. Still, American Dad is a lot like the greasy spoon food joints I love so much (and may die of a massive heart-attack in). The meals aren’t good for ya, but dang it, they makers poured their blood and sweat into the making it.

Love ’em or hate ’em, you at least gotta applaud that.

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2 responses to “Fame Day: American Dad and Death

  1. Pingback: I’m Not Sad About Nelson Mandela Dying | Culture War Reporters

  2. As far as praising American Dad goes I’m really going to have to agree with you. I think the thing that makes American Dad great when it comes to things like this is just how good American Dad is at parody. As a generalization indie movies are really just trying to get us to feel an emotion. So, in this episode of American Dad they made the audience feel emotion while also poking fun at the devices with which they caused us to feel emotion. That’s what good parody is.

    You refer to American Dad as junk food and I think I disagree. I mean, it’s not high art, but it has a lot to offer. Junk food TV doesn’t make me feel something while also making me think somewhat introspectively about an entire genre of films that I enjoy and why I enjoy them. Plus it makes me laugh. Good, good stuff.

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