Death is Undone on Family Guy

Three weeks ago, I wrote about one of the core characters on Family Guy shockingly being killed off. I talked about how surprising and somewhat refreshing it was that this death was implemented with no forewarning in this age of internet spoilers and networks regularly spoiling major plot points in their shows as a way to drum up viewership. While I was skeptical how long lasting this death would be, given the fluidity of animated programs, I thought this could be an interesting way to shake the show up a little bit and breathe some fresh air into a show in its twelfth season.

So, of course, they had to undo everything last night. In a move that wasn’t all that surprising, Stewie was able to bring back his beloved best pal Brian the dog through some time traveling hocus pocus.


Thus ends the brief reign of replacement dog, Vinny, who the Griffins never adopted given this wrinkle in the time and space continuum. Sorry Vinny – hope you enjoyed your three weeks in the sun. At least you got to be in the opening credits.

The resurrection of Brian was bound to happen, though I did think that they may draw the whole thing out longer. I never in my heart of hearts thought that they would kill off this character permanently, given his popularity. There was quite a bit of backlash after the episode where he died, including a petition demanding that he be brought back. The only way that I could have seen this death sticking was if Seth MacFarlane, who voices Brian, was simply too busy with other projects to continue to do the voice every week. Otherwise, I figured that this was simply a way to get people talking about the show again and to mix things up briefly before ultimately returning everything to the status quo.

I would like to assume that they always intended to bring the character back this quickly and were not simply bowing to audience pressure; unlike South Park which is famously done at the last minute to stay current, most animated shows are done well in advance and take a lot of time to create, so they cannot change on a dime. Tweets from Seth MacFarlane seem to indicate that this was the plan all along:

2013-12-16 11.10.38

I’ve grown a little leery of the role of audience feedback in the creation of pop culture; there seems to be a sense of entitlement that I worry hurt artistic expression and vision. The fact that viewers thought that they could start a petition to demand Brian’s return is a symptom of a greater problem – bowing to fan reaction. I may not always like the direction that shows that I watch take, but ultimately I realize that I am a passive consumer of someone else’s product. I think Homeland has gone off the rails and betrayed a lot of the characters that they created, but it’s their show. If I don’t enjoy it anymore, I stop watching it. However, the rise of Kickstarter and other online forums that try to dictate what happens on shows or demand that every cancelled show receive a movie indicates that other fans don’t think the same way I do. As much as I love Friday Night Lights, I am so relieved that they are not doing a movie. Things have to end eventually and they should do so as the creator sees fit. It makes me nervous that the whole creative process has become so interactive; if you want to dictate what’s happening, go create your own thing or read Choose Your Own Adventure. It’s one thing to vent on message boards or on Twitter; it’s quite another to expect that your voice actually should be taken into consideration by the writers and creators.

Regardless, I am glad to have Brian back on Family Guy as he was always my favorite character and I’m thankful that they didn’t decide to “resurrect” him around Easter time just for the controversy (with MacFarlane, that was a legitimate possibility). I still think that a more prolonged change would be good for the show, but I’m fine with the limited temporary alternative universe that they gave us. This was all ultimately a publicity stunt for the show, but it clearly worked; I haven’t watched Family Guy in a while and now I’ve blogged about it twice in less than a month. Well played, MacFarlane; well played.


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