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Seth MacFarlane wouldn’t kill (and resurrect) Brian again, but not for the reasons you might think

- January 13th, 2014

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PASADENA, Calif. – Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane said he wouldn’t kill – and then resurrect – Brian the dog again, but not for the reasons you might think.

“Would I do it again? No, we already did it,” MacFarlane said at the Television Critics Association tour. “Who knows. Season 25?”

Social media went crazy when the beloved Brian was killed off in a very touching scene in an episode that aired earlier this season, on Nov. 24, 2013 (Fox, Global). But then two episodes later, on Dec. 15, Brian came back.

It fooled me at the time, because the scene was so moving, I thought it would stick. Anyone who ever has lost a family pet knows how acutely painful it is.

“Well, yeah, if you’re killing off a character like that, you gotta give him his due,” MacFarlane said.

But ultimately, it was a stunt. Some people were offended by having their emotions yanked around, but MacFarlane said he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish.

“I mean, the simple answer to that is, it’s what, season 12 or something like that?” MacFarlane said. “We figured it has been on long enough that at this point you can either sit back and be on auto-pilot or you can try to mix it up and try to surprise people.

“And that was all we were trying to do, we were trying to continue to surprise the audience and show them that anything still can happen on the show. And really, all it was, was a three-parter without the words, ‘To be continued’ at the end of the episode. That’s all we did, put that on, and suddenly it was this big deal.”

It seems unfathomable to me that MacFarlane wouldn’t have anticipated a huge reaction in this era when social media can galvanize over just about anything. But that’s his position and he’s sticking to it.

“It surprised us,” MacFarlane said. “It just didn’t occur to us. We thought that it maybe would create a little bit of a stir, but the rage was not something that we counted on.”

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

No new Family Guy episode this weekend, so Brian Griffin stays dead for now

- December 1st, 2013

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Death and TV comedy always has been an uneasy mix. One struggles to know where the line is between realism and a publicity stunt.

It gets even more complicated with an animated series such as Family Guy. Wedging in a serious moment amid all those poop jokes can get squishy. Maybe it’s a hoax. Maybe the hoax is a hoax.

Either way, consider this a SPOILER ALERT if you don’t want to know any details, but as you probably have heard, Seth MacFarlane’s long-running animated series Family Guy, which airs Sundays on Fox and Global, killed off a major character last weekend. Supposedly.

Brian, the family dog who talked and essentially lived the life of a fully functioning adult, was hit by a car and succumbed to his injuries in a very sad scene with the Griffin family gathered around him. My first reaction was that Brian’s death must be “real,” since MacFarlane took the time to make it so moving.

There can be many factors at play when a TV character in a live-action series passes away. But with an animated series, it usually is nothing more or less than an editorial decision. Family Guy didn’t have to kill Brian. For MacFarlane, it’s just one fewer voice to do.

The question of where Family Guy goes from here, for me, is influenced by the fact that the show – which is in its 12th season – really has nothing to lose. Perhaps Brian’s alleged replacement – a dog named Vinnie, voiced by Tony Sirico from The Sopranos – won’t last any longer than Poochie on The Simpsons.

Speaking of The Simpsons, I’ve quoted this conversation previously, but it was back in the summer of 2009 when, at a Fox event during the Television Critics Association tour, MacFarlane told me, “I don’t want (Family Guy) to go 20 years like The Simpsons. Ideally we would go another couple of years and then wrap it up. I would like to be done before they’re done with us.”

Family Guy already has gone longer than MacFarlane envisioned. But if you’re going to stick around, you need viewers to notice you.

There is no new episode of Family Guy tonight (Sunday, Dec. 1). If you’re not among the conspiracy theorists, you can consider it a period of mourning for Brian. But next weekend Family Guy is getting right back to its madcap adventures, as Peter and Quagmire discover their singing voices create beautiful harmony together and they form a singing/songwriting team, a la Simon and Garfunkel.

Brian’s death scene pierced me. Silly, I know. But I still ache for every pet I’ve ever lost, so maybe it just taps into something.

But has this all been a ruse? Bringing Brian back now undoubtedly would create a backlash to the backlash. Or maybe Brian is getting his own heaven-set spinoff.

Whether he stays dead or not, killing Brian was an attention-grabber for Family Guy. The harder part is grabbing and holding.

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

Family Guy – or should we say Yug Ylimaf – backs into its 200th episode

- November 8th, 2012

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The 200th episode of Family Guy brings new meaning to the term “born again.”

Airing Sunday, Nov. 11 on Fox and Global, the title of Family Guy’s 200th episode – Yug Ylimaf, which is Family Guy spelled backwards – is a good indication of what the story is about.

The bigger question for Seth MacFarlane’s long-running animated series, of course, is if the comedy on Family Guy still is moving forward.

Family Guy is the series on which MacFarlane has built his entertainment empire. Debuting in 1999, Family Guy unofficially teamed with South Park (which debuted in 1997) to take the irreverent humour of The Simpsons and push it to extremes.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the staying power of Family Guy and South Park through the years. I thought initially that the pressure of continually testing the limits of taste and acceptable content might prove to be a trap for both shows.

But comedy is simple in the sense that, you either laugh or you don’t. And I have to say, I laughed quite a few times while watching Family Guy’s 200th episode, while continuing to marvel at what they can get away with these days on network TV, especially when it’s masked in a cartoon.

In Yug Ylimaf, Brian wants to impress the women he has been picking up in bars, so he secretly starts to use Stewie’s time machine. While Stewie is sleeping late at night, Brian sneaks his dates into the machine to take them on fantastical trips.

Keep your ears open for a couple of eyebrow-raising lines – one about a segregated restaurant, one about a 16th birthday – that had me saying, “I can’t believe I just heard that.”

Brian panics when he realizes the time machine has a “years travelled” odometer, which would expose his chicanery to Stewie. But when Brian fiddles with the odometer, it’s time itself that starts to go backwards.

This allows references to some famous Family Guy scenes of the past, not to mention a heaping helping of the straight-forward gross humour for which the series is known (Stewie is a baby; think of what that might mean).

Can Brian and Stewie get time moving in its normal, forward direction before Stewie is “unborn?”

Speaking of being haunted by the past, it was in the summer of 2009 during a party at the Television Critics Association tour in Los Angeles that MacFarlane and I had a conversation about the future of Family Guy.

“I don’t want to go 20 years like The Simpsons,” MacFarlane insisted at the time. “Ideally we would go another couple of years and then wrap it up.”

Hmmm, well, clearly that hasn’t happened. To mark the 200th-episode milestone, a half-hour behind-the-scenes special titled The End of the World as We Know It will air immediately following the Yug Ylimaf episode, making for a one-hour extravaganza.

“Every show starts to suck after a certain point,” MacFarlane observed back in 2009. “And we could already be there for all I know, I don’t know.”

Nonetheless, 200 episodes is a lot of episodes, with or without an operational time machine.

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv