October 1st, 2010
12:43 PM ET
[Editor's Note: If you haven't seen or don't want to know details of "Family Guy: Partial Terms of Endearment" beforehand, it'd be wise to stop reading now.]
After a musical number called "Prom Night Dumpster Baby," how much further can a show go to shock the audience?
It seems like every few months, someone asks, "Has 'Family Guy' gone too far?" (which is probably how creator Seth MacFarlane likes it). Most recently, it was a one-off gag which took place at the Vietnam memorial. With one exception I can remember, these controversies are always about one-off gags. Last season, however, the writers of "Family Guy" also decided to take on the touchy subject of abortion head-on, and after Fox allowed them to produce the episode, they elected not to air it.
That episode, "Family Guy: Partial Terms of Endearment," was released on DVD earlier this week, and based on interviews with MacFarlane, he seemed somewhat surprised that the show didn't air, since an episode of "Maude" aired back in the 1970s on the same topic, and, of course, Fox lets him get away with so much.
Watching the episode, however, it's hard to believe that the writers didn't have a clue that it might never make it to air (Peter lets go of an F-bomb at one point). Just about every episode of "Family Guy" has shock humor, but this one is almost entirely shock humor. Aside from the jokes about abortion itself, there are jokes about the Holocaust and racial stereotypes of the 1980s and '90s.
In the episode, Lois agrees to be a surrogate mother for a child as a favor to a couple of friends, who end up being killed in a car accident, leading her to decide whether or not to terminate the pregnancy. Prior to her friends' deaths, Peter tries to get her to have a miscarriage, at one point buying an "Acme Miscarriage Kit." It would be one thing if this gag were funny, but it's just not.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy "Family Guy" from time to time, especially when Brian and Stewie are the focus (a recent episode dealing with their relationship had more of a serious tone than this). It's purposely made in a fragmented fashion, with one gag after another, few of which advance the plot (as "South Park" famously pointed out a few years ago). However, despite an effort to satirize the arguments on both sides of the debate, this is far from the best episode. And the final couple of seconds of the episode dismiss it all as a big goof.
At the same time, it's hard to criticize a show for not taking the issue of abortion entirely seriously, when it takes nothing seriously (The show acknowledges this: Peter is so upset that Lois might have an abortion, he threatens to blow up the clinic, saying "You've seen 'Family Guy,' you know I'll do it!'"). What you can criticize is whether it's funny, and it mostly falls flat. In short, this ain't "Maude."
If you've seen the episode, what did you think? Do you believe the writers really thought this would make it to air (and is it a coincidence that Rush Limbaugh is on this Sunday's episode)? Do you think "Family Guy" sometimes goes too far, or is it a good thing that there are shows that poke fun at everything in society, regardless of the topic? Share your view on video, or in the comments below.
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