Monday, December 19, 2005

Family Guy: Arbiter of Camp

or: Comedic Pornography

FOX brought Family Guy back after it proved successful on Adult Swim (Cartoon
Network) and in DVD sales. I am a unbridled fan of Futurama, so I'm more than a little bitter. It raised the bar for both comedy and animation, in my opinion. Futurama tried to reverse the course of stupid, shock, and camp entertainment with something that was truly original and smart. It was a far more intelligent, well-written, satirical, and visually stunning show. Family Guy is rarely any of these anymore, if it ever was, but what it remains is a fantastic study in American pop culture. Unfortunately, these days, that is a sad sad thing.

Pop culture today is 100% retro and 100% campy - entirely backward-looking. Family Guy plays both follower and leader in this regard. It seeks to get laughs by ribbing anything created more than ten years ago. It fully admits to the world that the great majority of American culture has come through our televisions, going back to the 1960's. Family Guy seems dead set simply on making fun of our parents and older siblings, and what they liked to watch on television.

One thing Family Guy is not, however, is good comedy. If you set out only to make fun of every show produced between 1970 and 1995, you've got a lot to draw from. But the writing is lazy and the original jokes are few and far between. When Family Guy writers want to, they can be very very funny. One such moment came in last night's show, when Stewie, sick and dying in his mothers arms, squeeked out with his last breath, "don't...take a black doctor." Awesome - clever, unexpected, and good satire. But all I remember beyond that were jokes about Happy Days, Quantum Leap, and Kirk Cameron.

There's nothing wrong with camp. But if campy is all you can be, your comedy becomes unhinged, and you lose touch with reality. The result is a very small timeframe in which your campiness can be appreciated. People ten years younger than me likely did not grow up watching reruns of Happy Days and the A-Team. In twenty years, Family Guy will be completely forgotten because none of the young viewers will be able to make sense of the many references to television, film, and scattered current events. And that is sad, because from season one the writers showed a lot of talent and promise. But gradually they got sucked into the pornography of campiness and "ironic-ness" that fills American culture today. That's not comedy, that's fashion. They have nearly a blank slate to produce any comedy they want, and they've chosen what is essentially nostalgia.

I can get that on VH-1 at all hours. Stop holding back, Family Guy!


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