Family Guy and the Pummeling of Irony
(See my last article on Family Guy: The Arbiter of Camp)
Last night Family Guy proved that irony is dead and cold in the ground. They dug up the corpse, smacked it around, pissed on it, and took a dump on its face. And it wasn't funny.
Family Guy has for years been successfully dragging out jokes long past their normal lifespan of a single time around (a technique for years a staple of Saturday Night Live.) But twice in last night's episode they took a joke so far as to remove any doubt that irony was alive and well.
First is Peter's perfect rendition of "Shipoopi" from Meredith Willson's broadway musical "The Music Man." The lyrics are here if you didn't see the episode. The song took place at Gillette Stadium, where Peter was playing center for the New England Patriots. After scoring a touchdown, he broke into the song, eventually involving the other players and fans. It was a flawless version of the song, so far as I could tell, and involved much silly dancing and cavorting. After they began the second verse, and I realized that this song was going to go on until the end, it became clear that this was not intended to be appreciated ironically. It was intended to be enjoyed for what it is: a cheeky broadway musical number.
The second scene (which was actually earlier in the show) came when Stewie beat Brian to near death. It was bloody and violent and went on and on. Later in the show, Stewie shot Brian in each leg with a pistol. There was seemingly little comedy in the routine. Nothing was hyperexaggerrated. Brian simply got the crap beaten out of him. He screamed and bled horribly.
Don't get me wrong, it's just a cartoon. And moreover, I love black comedy. I was the only person who laughed all the way through Fight Club by David Fincher. But it was clear that the writers did not design this scene because they wanted to make violence funny. They designed it to make violence itself entertaining.
I have nothing against TV, film, or videogame violence. I've been an GTA addict since GTA III. And I have nothing against broadway musicals (excepting that I hate them because they suck.) But the writers of Family Guy have finally crossed that line between irony and some kind of hyper-irony, which is just reality thinly veiled.
Some humorists out there needed to do this. The envelope needed to be pushed so we could find out where the boundaries of irony lie. They found it, and I wasn't laughing. Now we can only hope that they back away from that boundary, or attempt to find new ways to push the envelope of humor. If not, it isn't just bad comedy, it's bad FOR comedy.
Some might argue that these were simply "out-of-character" gags, but I disagree. Peter often breaks into song and dance, and Family Guy as a whole has certainly shown it's willingness in the past to undergo these second-order tongue-in-cheek musical numbers. Stewie, too, has always been super violent. Even his Hip-Hop-esque street talk while he was beating Brian was not so out of character.
As I mentioned in my last post on Family Guy, I don't say these things because I don't think Family Guy is funny, or because I find it offensive, but because I think the writers are holding back on us. The Family Guy writers (and even the American Dad writers) show occasional moments of pure comedic brilliance, and so it saddens me that they rely so heavily on cheap gags and embarrassingly to-be-dated humor. If I want bad jokes I can turn on "The War at Home" or whatever piece of garbage they've squeezed between The Simpsons and Family guy this week. I only wish the writers would take better advantage of the degree of liberty they are given with these shows, and stop pandering to the obvious.