It’s been a very long time since I was a regular viewer of FOX’s animated sitcom Family Guy; this resulted more from a scheduling issue than any complaint over content. Family Guy’s humor is sophomoric and often in questionable taste and the writing is a little lazy – plot is just a flimsy excuse for jokes, which are often inserted in the story as non sequitur – but these are not new developments. The show has always had these qualities and while I do think there has been a slight decline in the show over the year, the main reason I bailed on watching Family Guy regularly is that the show’s schedule is frequently disrupted by football. If the games on FOX run long – as they frequently do – the entire animation domination block of programming is thrown off. After a few weeks of finding half a program on my DVR, I just decided that it wasn’t worth the effort to keep up with the show. I’ll stop and watch it if I come across it, but my days of actively seeking out the show came to a close. I enjoy Bob’s Burgers enough that I’ll put in the extra effort to watch the show on Hulu the next morning, but the folks in Quahog no longer held the same allure for me.
However, while Family Guy is no longer part of my regular viewing rotation, I was still shocked to find out on last night’s episode they killed one of the main characters (don’t click if you don’t want to know; I won’t be reveling the identity). Part of the surprise simply comes from the fact that it was completely unexpected; nowadays, these types of events are teased and leaked so there are rarely any real unexpected moments on TV. You may not know who is dying, but you usually know that a death is coming. The Simpsons (a show that Family Guy is often compared to, usually not to its benefit) will be killing off a character this season and it was announced during a conference call (though the person and timing were left unsaid). The fact that Family Guy killed off a main character without much pomp and circumstance is kind of interesting.
I’ll be interested to see what the ramifications will be after this decision; unlike The Simpsons, Family Guy doesn’t boast quite as deep a bench of characters so any disruption in the cast will be significant. Springfield is simply a much bigger world than Quahog and the character’s death will therefore impact a lot more people. Since the character killed off is one of the core characters for the show, the dynamic going forward will most likely be altered. One of the reasons that producers reportedly decided to kill off a character was to shake things up a bit; I think they have accomplished that. I’m actually having a hard time thinking of how Family Guy will be the same show with this character missing.
Of course, animation doesn’t follow the same rules as other TV shows, so there is always the chance that this character’s death will not be permanent. Kenny has been killed on South Park for years and then often magically appears in the next episode without explanation or any comment (though on a few occasions his miraculous recovery is addressed). So the possibility exists that last night’s death isn’t a permanent one. Producers haven’t indicated that this is in the cards, but you never know. Even on live actions shows, death is proving itself to not be a terminal condition as plenty of characters that were presumed dead somehow find their way back to the land of the living.
I don’t know that this death will prompt me to start watching Family Guy regularly again – that ship may have sailed – but I’ll definitely be keeping more of an eye on the show to see how things change and what they do with this reconfigured cast. I didn’t get to see last night’s episode since I was traveling, but I’ll definitely make a point to watch it just to see what happened and how they handle it. In some ways, I simply appreciate that this plot point was introduced without any fanfare or advanced warning. TV becomes a lot more fun when the networks and people involved with the show don’t give out too much information. In a world full of spoilers, it is nice to know that people can still pull off surprises.
Family Guy airs Sunday nights at 9 pm ET on FOX.