Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Review: Family Guy Presents Seth & Alex Almost Live

By an overwhelming demand, here is my review of last Sunday's Family Guy special, a half-hour of comedy and music hosted by show creator, multivoiced Seth MacFarlane, and his friend, voice of Lois, and star of that sketch show I never watched, Alex Borstein.

I'm a big Family Guy fan. Ask the wife. Of the 20-something hours of TV we watch a week, no less than 15 are dedicated to Family Guy in any of its syndicated forms. TBS, Fox, Cartoon Network, the CW. It's comfort TV. It's the thing I turn on when I'm finished with DVR-ed stuff and Road House isn't being shown. So this'll be a weird post for me, because normally I tear stuff down here. But don't sweat it. Carrie Prejean has an autobiography coming out. More on that tomorrow. Oh, so much more.

The first thing that struck me in the show was seeing the real bodies behind the voices I'm so familiar with. Macfarlane's done enough publicity that he's a bit less off-putting, but it's very weird to hear Lois' voice coming out of something that wasn't drawn. They were kind though, and put up clips from the cartoon to accompany their singing of the show's theme song so we weren't too confused. And I always imagine voice actors to be nothing but that: voices. So it's funny to see that they can put themselves together for camera and actually have expressive faces.

I also have to take a moment to acknowledge how surprised I am that Fox was cool with this program. I don't mean content-wise, but having primetime taken up by an ambiguous "variety" show (a ratings kiss of death) hosted by two people you don't ever see in Us Weekly. Kudos to the network, actually.

No kudos to the laugh track in the first animated segment we got, in which the Griffins discussed which celebrity they'd have sex with. No major laughs for me here, just general amusement, while Macfarlane got to exercise his obscure-celebrity-obsession muscle. Though I did love the line in response to Meg's answer of C-3PO: "He'd cut you open like a tin can." "Maybe that's what I want!" And apparently Seth Green wasn't available to record for this show, because Chris sat in the corner and played with a DS or something. But the laugh track? Aren't we done with those? I thought that was reserved for shows like "Two and a Half Men," or whatever other pap the proles are gobbling up these days. I cannot watch shows with laugh tracks any more. I think I have Ricky Gervais to thank for that, in "The Office" and "Extras," and by extension our "Office" and "30 Rock," among others.

And now we get Macfarlane singing a song from his favorite movie. "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music? Borstein isn't crazy about his choice because of her Jewish heritage, and here's one of my problems with Family Guy. While a relatively equal-opportunity offender, it seems to me he leans a bit heavily on Jews. There's plenty of humor to be mined in any stereotype (I particularly liked his bit on orthodox Jewish porn: two fully dressed Hasidim next to each other in a bed, and the man turns the woman on by saying he owns a lot of property), it makes me uncomfortable when he goes to the Holocaust for laughs, which he did at the end of this bit: "How many female Jewish comedians would you be competing with in Hollywood" were it not for the Holocaust? Yikes. Also a bit disturbing to watch her reaction to him continuing to sing the song before that.

Then we have a bit cribbed from SNL's Star Wars audition tapes sketch, but worthwhile anyway because it's pretty funny. I was expecting animation here too, but we get Macfarlane and Borstein in wigs and costumes imagining what it would be like if Bea Arthur auditioned for Showgirls, or Gregory Peck for Transformers. I particularly liked Peck's transforming sound effects. And I was feeling the Cowardly Lion in United 93 ("Let's roll. But first, talk me out of it!") til he hit the "I do believe in Allah!" note. Much funnier was the joke in Sunday's actual Family Guy, about how someone hiding for nine years missed when we were attacked by retarded terrorists. Cue a ground-level shot of the WTC, and a Muslim crashing a bike into it. If you're going to bring them up, make them look stupid. Mel Brooks said his entire career has been patterned on making Hitler look like a fool, because how else could he get revenge for what happened? Classy guy.

Probably the highlight of the show was the Marlee Matlin bit. First they re-enacted a gag from the show in which Marlee Matlin dials Moviefone, but it doesn't work too well for her! Then Borstein sings Lady GaGa's "Poker Face" in the same voice, with some good gags, only to be interrupted by Matlin herself! Uh oh. I've laughed at the Matlin stuff, while it does make me uncomfortable, and I think that's where Family Guy succeeds the best. Again, Borstein gets dumped on in front of the audience, and we see Macfarlane giggling like a schoolboy in the background. But having anyone come out and be part of the joke on them always makes them shoot up in anyone's regard, and it worked here too. Even OJ could have done himself a favor if he tried that. Maybe that's what his book "If I Did It" was attempting. What's that? It backfired miserably? Oh. Nevermind. By the way, funny as the song was, is it better than Christopher Walken giving the lyrics his dramatic interpretation? You tell me:

The last main thing they did was a collection of failed pilots for Fox, such as "Hill St. Jews" and "Cal Johnson." Now if you're going to make fun of a religious/ethnic group, this is the way to do it. And I have no idea what the Cal Johnson thing was parodying, if it even was, but I'm always happy to see Patrick Warburton. Have he and Bruce Campbell made anything together? My god, the brawniness in that project. I read a story on a message board from someone who worked as an extra on Warburton's show "Rules of Engagement." She went up and told him she's a big fan of him and "Venture Brothers" (rightly so; watch it, for reals). He was polite and thanked her, and the next day came up to her and said "Venture Brothers, right?" and gave her a signed t-shirt. Class.

They closed out the show with a montage of songs from Family Guy. Macfarlane's a heck of a singer, for an animator. But dude, seriously, fuck you for ending on "Bird is the Word." That is now in my head for the rest of the week.

Stay tuned this week for my excoriation of Carrie Prejean and her ghostwriter.

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