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"Family Guy": Volume Eight DVD Review

Buy Family Guy: Volume Eight on DVD from Amazon.com Family Guy: Volume Eight (2009)
Show & DVD Details

Creator: Seth MacFarlane / Writers: Matt Fleckenstein, Danny Smith, Patrick Meighan, Alec Sulkin, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, Wellesley Wild, John Viener / Directors: Pete Michels, Greg Colton, Julius Wu, Jerry Langford, John Holmquist, Dominic Bianchi, Brian Iles

Regular Cast: Seth MacFarlane (Peter Griffin, Stewie Griffin, Brian Griffin, Glen Quagmire, Tom Tucker), Alex Borstein (Lois Griffin), Seth Green (Chris Griffin), Mila Kunis (Meg Griffin), Mike Henry (Cleveland Brown, Herbert, Consuela)

Recurring Characters: Patrick Warburton (Joe Swanson), Jennifer Tilly (Bonnie Swanson), Adam West (Mayor Adam West), Charles Durning (Francis Griffin)

Notable Guest Stars (As Themselves Unless Noted): Daniel Stern (Narrator), Seth Rogen, Fred Savage, Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Patrick Stewart, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Denise Crosby, Marina Sirtis, David A. Goodman, Rob Lowe, Jonathan Frakes, George Wendt (Norm), Richard Dreyfuss (Himself, Narrator), Roy Scheider (Himself, Narrator), Neil Patrick Harris (Barney Stinson), Jason Segel (Marshall Eriksen), Lauren Conrad, Drew Barrymore (Jillian Russell), Jimmy Fallon, Craig Ferguson, Jay Leno, Ben Stein (Rabbi), William Woodson (Superfriends Announcer), Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, James Lipton, Chris Matthews, Eddie "Piolin" Sotelo

Running Time: 343 Minutes (15 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French; Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
DVD Release Date: June 15, 2010; Suggested Retail Price: $49.98
Volume Eight Airdates: March 22, 2009 - November 29, 2009
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s)
Clear Amaray Case with Cardboard Slipcover

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By Kelvin Cedeno

You don't come away from a show like "Family Guy" with indifference. It's the type of program meant to inspire a reaction, whether it's laughter or outright offense. The creators' worst fear seems to be that you sit there feeling nothing. On that level, "Family Guy" succeeds. It's never bland or unmemorable. That doesn't mean it's a constant barrel of laughs, however. On the contrary, I find myself either rolling my eyes or just cringing more than anything. Creator Seth MacFarlane may be pleased that his show triggers a response, but that doesn't make it a successful sitcom.

For those unfamiliar with it, "Family Guy" takes place in the offbeat town of Quahog, Rhode Island, and centers on the Griffin family. The patriarch, Peter (Seth MacFarlane), is essentially a giant man-baby with no real sense of purpose or responsibility. His wife, Lois (Alex Borstein), is more sensible and, as a result, left to pick up after him and keep things under control the best she can. Two older children, Chris (Seth Green) and Meg (Mila Kunis), mirror their parents' attributes;
Chris is a lethargic imbecile while Meg, with a better head on her shoulders, is constantly looked at as the black sheep of the family. Baby Stewie and Brian the dog (both also voiced by MacFarlane) demonstrate that they know more than anyone else, even if it usually goes unnoticed. The sardonic voice of the household, Brian is treated more like a human than Meg is, while Stewie craves world domination.

Right away the first thing one notices when watching an episode of "Family Guy" is that it's as far from being politically correct as it possibly can be. Topics that other shows refuse to touch with a ten-foot pole are made the focus of a plot, and the characters unabashedly voice what some audience members may be thinking in these situations. Religion, politics, and race are the three subjects the writers usually mine. It would all seem refreshing were it not for the fact that "The Simpsons" has been doing this for quite some time, and much better, as well.

The residents of a Disneyfied Quahog all joyfully sing of their love of pie in a sequence that surely cost more than the collective sum of the rest of the episode.

The problem with "Family Guy" is that it comes across mostly as one of two things: stupid or bitter. Half the time it's either making juvenile grade school gags (usually by way of Peter) or spewing venom on a particular subject (this time by way of Brian). The creators have openly declared that they intend to shock viewers with the off-color things that characters say and do. While there are a few "Did they really just go there?" surprises, for the most part these gags are just ugly.

Everyone, of course, has their own opinions of what kind of comedy works. For me, satire can be funny if it's done in a way that both embraces and pokes fun at the material. With "Family Guy," there is no embracing. It just openly mocks things left and right. This wouldn't be much of a problem except that the underlying bitterness is thinly disguised.
The writers obviously carry vendettas on certain topics, and instead of approaching these from multiple angles, they take a one-sided view and make any other opinion look moronic. A comedian who uses his comedy to attack others and push his own agenda isn't funny; he's just a bully. "Saturday Night Live" and "Mad TV" both understood this for the most part. "Family Guy" doesn't.

What's really frustrating is that the writers are obviously smart enough to understand the ground rules of comedy. There are some genuinely funny bits scattered throughout the show. The program can be clever and dare I say even inspired when it wants to be, but for every gag that earns a laugh, there are five others that provoke other reactions. Sometimes they'll have a joke that starts out funny and then crashes and burns when reaching the supposed punch line. If it wasn't so hell-bent on being crass propaganda, "Family Guy" could be genuinely hilarious.

The ping-ponging between stupidity and bashing is taxing on the viewer. The creators are obviously looking to get a rise out of the demographics they're offending, but it's more than that. There are times where they're targeting a subject I'm apathetic towards, and yet I find myself alienated as I watch them run the opposing view into the ground. If their motivations make even someone like me uncomfortable when I'm not the one being assaulted (though there are other times in the series where I certainly am), is it really worth it?

Meg's newfound conversion has her attend local book burnings, something Brian's none too pleased at. Stewie flexes his steroids-induced muscles for an unimpressed Brian.

There are essentially three big animated sitcoms meant squarely for adults: "The Simpsons", "Family Guy", and "South Park." Of those three, "Family Guy" sits in the middle, though not very comfortably. It's not as crass and devoid of cleverness as "South Park," but it's also not as consistently entertaining or even-handed as "The Simpsons". Obviously there are plenty of folks who find entertainment value in this, but the Griffins' few glimmers of comedic gold aren't enough to outweigh the onslaught of cheap gags meant to shock or insult. If I want to see someone fart in someone else's face, I can go to a local daycare. If I want to see venomous intolerance of other people's opinions, I'll just visit an online message board. At least the first venue will lack pretentiousness and the second won't try to pass for comedy.

As has been the case for years now, "Family Guy" finds its latest DVD release not a Complete Season set, but a "Volume" set. You're still getting as much content as you would from one of the show's slightly lean seasons, it just originates from different seasons. Volume Eight draws the last seven episodes from Season 7 (2008-09) and the first eight from Season 8 (2009-10).

Note that the DVD presents these fifteen episodes uncut. This means they feature quite a bit of language not allowed on national television along with some graphic images. The original broadcast versions, which are oddly not much different, are available to view from each episode's submenu.

Pleased with Lois' audition, a Fox News executive excitedly offers her employment. If Brian's speech to legalize pot doesn't get the message across, his banner surely will.

Disc 1

1. FOX-y Lady (24:19) (Originally aired March 22, 2009)
Lois is hired as a reporter for Fox News, much to Brian's dismay. She soon finds herself torn between the conservative nature of her job and the liberalism of her home.

2. Not All Dogs Go to Heaven (23:41) (Originally aired March 29, 2009)
When Meg becomes a born-again Christian, she tries to convert Brian from atheism.
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Meanwhile, Stewie finds a way to meet the cast of "Star Trek: The Next Generation".

3. Episode 420 (21:53) Originally aired April 19, 2009)
Brian is caught possessing marijuana. Determined to make it legal, he leads a rally that, while successful, yields mixed results for the town of Quahog.

4. Stew-Roids (21:56) Originally aired April 26, 2009)
After Stewie is beat up by a little girl, Peter gives him steroids to help him defend himself. Chris climbs the social ladder at his school when dating a popular girl, eventually outshining her.

5. We Love You, Conrad (23:04) Originally aired May 3, 2009)
Brian learns that his ex-girlfriend Jillian is engaged. To cope with this, he dates Lauren Conrad, but her surprising amount of knowledge gets to him.

Stewie and Brian find themselves recreating Stephen King's "Misery" in roles they're more than suitable for. Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd share this reviewer's opinion that Peter Griffin isn't very funny at all.

Disc 2

6. Three Kings (23:49) Originally aired May 10, 2009)
Peter introduces three Stephen King stories that have been given a distinct "Family Guy" flavor: Stand by Me, Misery, and The Shawshank Redemption.

7. Peter's Progress (21:49) Originally aired May 17, 2009)
A psychic tells Peter of how he was the founder of Quahog in another life. This segues into a flashback showing the town's colonial roots under the reign of King Stewart III.

8. Road to the Multiverse (21:59) (Originally aired September 27, 2009)
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Brian and Stewie use a special remote to travel through various alternate universes. Among these are a Disney universe and another in which the roles of dogs and humans are switched.

9. Family Goy (22:43) Originally aired October 4, 2009)
When Lois visits the doctor, she finds out from her family's medical history that she's Jewish. Peter at first goes overboard in embracing Judaism before going in opposite direction after a visit from his father.

10. Spies Reminiscent of Us (22:57) Originally aired October 11, 2009)
Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase move next door to the Griffins. Stewie and Brian find out they're actually spies and decide to help them with a mission leading all the way to Russia.

11. Brian's Got a Brand New Bag (22:10) Originally aired November 8, 2009)
When Brian starts dating an older woman, he has to put up with his family's mockery. To silence them, he proposes to her, but he soon notices some of her more elderly traits.

Quagmire isn't exactly sure what to do with a female that hasn't even been potty trained yet. While Quagmire and Joe have immediately taken a liking to Jerome, Peter's not as thrilled after finding out Lois used to date him.

Disc 3

12. Hannah Banana (24:11) Originally aired November 8, 2009)
Stewie can't get tickets to the local Hannah Montana concert, so he poses as a sick child to gain her attention. Meanwhile, an evil monkey that lives in Chris' closet reveals himself to the rest of the household and is warmly accepted by everyone but Chris.

13. Quagmire's Baby (22:31) Originally aired November 15, 2009)
Quagmire has trouble caring for his newly-discovered illegitimate daughter while maintaining his sex life. Stewie clones himself and Brian with subpar results.

14. Jerome Is the New Black (23:12) Originally aired November 22, 2009)
Peter and the rest of the gang decide to find a new guy to fill in the gap left by Cleveland. They think a cool guy named Jerome will do, until Peter finds out that Jerome and Lois used to date.

15. Dog Gone (22:46) (Originally aired November 29, 2009)
Driving drunk one night, Brian hits and kills another dog. His horror soon turns to outrage when he realizes no one in Quahog cares about the life of a dog.

As Quagmire snaps several shots, Peter smugly walks Brian's ex-girlfriend Jillian down the aisle. With Chris' evil monkey in tow, Hannah Montana lets out a mighty roar atop a skyscraper in a scene reminiscent of "King Kong."

VIDEO and AUDIO

This Volume Eight DVD presents "Family Guy" in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Generally, the episodes look quite good. Colors are bright, popping off the screen on a regular basis. Sharpness is crisp, though there are some interlacing issues here and there. This clean, vivid presentation should satisfy viewers.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is fine for what it is. Dialogue is crisp and intelligible and even demonstrates some directional mixing.
Surrounds, however, are more muted, with only the most extreme effects making it to the rear channels. Otherwise, all the sound elements, including the occasional music cues, are front-heavy.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

This eighth volume of "Family Guy" holds several supplements, the majority of which are audio commentaries.

Ten of the fifteen episodes are joined by commentary for a total of eleven tracks ("Road to the Multiverse" gets two). Here are the speakers:

"FOX-y Lady": executive producer Danny Smith, executive producer David A. Goodman, director Pete Michels, and voice actor Alex Borstein
"Not All Dogs Go to Heaven": Goodman, Smith, creator/producer/voice actor Seth MacFarlane and director Greg Colton
"Episode 420": MacFarlane, Goodman, writer Patrick Meighan, and Deborah Winslow
"Three Kings": MacFarlane, executive producer Chris Sheridan, writer/producer Alec Sulkin, director Dominic Bianchi, and storyboard artist Joe Vaux
"Peter's Progress": MacFarlane, Sheridan, writer/producer Wellesley Wild, and director Brian Iles
"Road to the Multiverse": MacFarlane, Goodman, Wild, Colton, and voice actor Seth Green
"Road to the Multiverse": Colton and artists Raul Guerra, Darlie Brewster, Chris Finnegan, and Mark Caballero
"Spies Reminiscent of Us": MacFarlane, Goodman, Sulkin, and director Cyndi Tang
"Brian's Got a Brand New Bag": MacFarlane, Smith, Michels, and writer Tom Devanney
"Hannah Banana": MacFarlane, Smith, writer Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, director John Holmquist, and composer Walter Murphy
"Jerome is the New Black": Iles, writer John Viener, storyboard artist Michael Rundle, and guest voice actor Kevin Michael Richardson

The tracks as a whole are quite good and full of story-related anecdotes. Among these are how fan expectations shape the storylines, the limits of when they've gone too far with certain gags, and what it's like working with various celebrities for their cameos. The participants aren't afraid to discuss the thought process behind some of the touchier subjects and defend some of their choices. What keeps these tracks from excelling is a habit of veering off into irrelevant topics, much like the show itself. There are also more gaps of silence as the set progresses. Still, a surprising amount of information is revealed, even if MacFarlane leaves his colleagues to share most of the information as he just spouts colorful asides.

Director Greg Colton explains the challenges of translating "Family Guy" into a distinctive and convincing Disney style in "The Road to Road to the Multiverse." You, too, can jam it out with Hannah Montana and Stewie Griffin jam in one of 28 sing-along songs posing as karaoke. In this deleted scene from "Brian's Got a Brand New Bag", Peter hopes Brian's new girlfriend is more interesting than the bland penguin he attempted to entertain once.

The video features are all found on Disc Three and start with "The Road to 'Road to the Multiverse'" (10:08). This featurette contains sound bites from several crew members and is essentially broken down into three topics: the origin of the "Road to..." episodes, and then the creation of the Disney universe and "Robot Chicken" universe. While the more technical aspects of this were already discussed in the episode's artist commentary, this provides a decent peek at how the show's look was translated into two very different mediums.

"Family Guy Karaoke" (37:26) holds 28 songs spanning the show's run up to this point. It's not true karaoke in that the vocals are still intact. Rather, it's more of a sing-along in the Disney vein as a bouncing ball leads the way to on-screen lyrics.
While that doesn't make it much more valuable than just following the subtitles on those respective episodes, it's still nice to have most (if not all) of the series' musical numbers in one place.

The on-disc content wraps up with a whopping 47 deleted scenes (19:17). About three-quarters of these aren't relevant scenes but cutaway gags. This material seems neither better nor worse than what ended up in the episode or its uncut DVD version. Fans will probably appreciate the collection.

The final supplement is actually a physical one: a mini reproduction of the "Road to the Multiverse" script. Character sketches from the various universes are littered throughout. It's interesting to compare to the script to the final episode. Dialogue is pretty much verbatim, but the on-screen action differs in several places, making this a welcome inclusion.

Disc One opens with previews for "The Cleveland Show": Season 1 and "American Dad": Volume 5.

Each disc themes its own 4:3 animated main menu after a particular segment from "Road to the Multiverse"; Disc One tackling the technologically advanced universe where the Dark Ages never existed, Disc Two transitions between universes, focusing mainly on the one where everyone has two heads, and Disc Three deals out the universe of misleading portraits. The submenus are similarly themed to other universes, but remain static and silent.

Cover and disc art are themed to the episode "Peter's Progress." A clear Amaray case comes in a cardboard slipcover. The slipcover artwork and case sleeve art both differ. Each disc holds two characters on its respective art. The case's clear nature allows for the sleeve to be double-sided, the interior of which lists the episodes and bonus materials. Along with the Road to the Multiverse script, a pamphlet advertising both "Family Guy" and "American Dad" on DVD is included.

The ghost of Peter's father comes to haunt and warn him against converting to Judaism. King Stewart III is displeased at having Jack Bauer steal his limelight thanks to Fox's marketing people.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Family Guy" has its share of funny moments, but these are squelched by gags that are either moronic or just flat out nasty. When a sitcom produces more facepalms than laughs, something is certainly amiss. As a DVD, Volume Eight is easier to commend. Picture and sound are satisfactory, the commentaries informative, and the video supplements diverting. There's no reason for "Family Guy" fans not to pick up this set, but I can't honestly recommend this to anyone else. There are just too many more viable venues to find laughs mixed with biting satire.

More on the DVD / Buy Family Guy: Volume 8 from Amazon.com

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Reviewed June 27, 2010.



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