WHEN it was announced at Comic Con that the writers of Family Guy were going to kill a major character off, it provoked surprise and intrigue.
At first glance, it seemed like a bluff. There’s at least one cutaway gag per episode where a character has a major injury that would kill a normal man. Plus South Park has already done this, when it famously had an extremely serious episode where they killed off Kenny only to then bring him back a year later.
It also resembled the idea of a stunt. Family Guy has been going downhill in quality since the production started on Ted, and for fans, the last few seasons have mostly been a bit of a drag, while the show audience has began to reduce. A spectacular number of average and dull episodes – mostly focused on Peter, it should be noted – have made watching it feel like an obligation rather than a source of amusement.
But when the most recent episode loomed on the horizon, the idea became more real. The producers were talking about it happening for real, the advance buzz was that it actually was going to happen and it looked as though the idea was signed, sealed and delivered.
*From this point, if you want to watch the episode and have not seen it yet, do not proceed as it discusses a hefty spoiler*
Advance spoilers however did not help the attempt to conceal the big reveal, however. Eagle eyed viewers/readers will have already noted that future episodes involve plotlines for Peter, Lois, Meg, Chris and Stewie, which left Brian the odd one out and the likeliest for the chop.
Killing off Brian Griffin would have been a hugely bold move. Seth MacFarlane has previously described him as his favourite character on the show – not least given Brian’s character voice is actually the same as Seth’s speaking voice – and his dynamic with Stewie has often produced the show’s best episodes. Its even produced the plotline for its own video game, and could well have provided a bigger game had Activision not given up at 10 levels.
Nevertheless, barely moments into the episode, they killed him off moments after Stewie destroyed his time machine, thus ensuring that they had got rid of him for a while, maybe even permanently. It was a strangely moving thing for a character that is, basically, an animated talking, drinking, writing/plagarising dog that swears and makes cock jokes.
But it feels like, at best, a very strange move to do. Yes, Brian’s spot in the show has largely developed from “He’s a talking dog!” to being MacFarlane’s political soapbox, but killing off a key character has the massive potential to backfire. Not helping this theory is that it will likely increase the focus on Peter, when it feels the wealth of ideas surrounding the character has dried up and left little more than facsimiles of plots from more successful shows that they can hang cutaways off.
So now the question is this – what’s next?
There’s two weeks until Family Guy’s first post-Brian episode, which will probably include the new dog portrayed by Tony Sirico of The Sopranos fame that made his debut in this episode.
Some people are arguing he’ll be back by the end of the year, if not sooner. Family Guy characters, as noted, seem to exist in a paradigm similar to Kenny from South Park, who dies every week.
But something about it feels different. The show no longer feels like the fresh top-line comedy it was when it started, or even the amusing cycle of gags it was for a few seasons post-return.
With American Dad currently the strongest of MacFarlane’s regular series, a second Ted movie on the horizon, a comedy-Western parody due next year and several other animated shows in commission, it means that the oldest show could have used a shake-up to remain a key thing for its creator. Its just very questionable if this was the way to go about things.
A stunt like this can either refresh the dynamic of a clearly lagging show, or it will be a moment where the show “jumped the shark” and begins to trundles towards an inevitable cancellation. The way it transpires is now an avenue for exploration for the next few episodes, provided they actually discuss it rather than ignore it for their standard wave of comic vignettes.
Over to you, Seth…