There was this lesson I had in school in which the teacher talked about how there were only so many plots in the history of literature, and that writers had basically been doing variations on them since time out of mind. The trick, she said, was not in the plot- after all, it’s literally all been done before – but in the telling of the tale. One would think that the boundless realm of animation might be exempt from such rules, but one would be wrong.
I found myself remembering a classic episode of “South Park,” entitled “The Simpsons Already Did It,” a brilliant deconstruction of the wall writers come up against when trying to create something original. With every turn the characters in the episode made, it was pointed out that the television show “The Simpsons” had already used that plot point before. It was a funny metaphor, but also true. It really is hard to create something new out of something old that’s been done a billion times before.
“Family Guy” should know, it’s been on eleven seasons and counting already, and even they have recycled plots from within their own universe, such as the various recurring plotlines about time travel. Hell, just last week, Peter noted after a near-death experience, “Man, we did way too much ‘Star Wars’ crap.” So, it’s not like they’re not in on the joke.
That said, there’s a reason people turn to those plotlines again and again: if done well, they still work to a degree. I don’t know if I can truthfully say that “12 and a Half Angry Men” worked entirely, but it wasn’t an embarrassment, either, I suppose. As those of you who got the allusion from the title already know, the main plot line was taken from the classic “Twelve Angry Men,” a stage play that later became the source for several movies as well. Of course, more than a few people have ripped it off or spoofed it over the years, so “Family Guy” doing it is nothing new.
The real question is, did it bring enough to the already-cluttered table? In this incarnation, it was Mayor Adam West accused of the crime, which was in this case, the killing of his own aide. The jury was made up of several cast favorites, including Peter, Quagmire and Lois’ father, with Brian as the voice of reason that thinks that West might actually be innocent, despite all the damning evidence. It’s up to him and him alone to convince the others to join his side.
And so it goes from there, as Brian wins over everyone one by one. Peter proves the easiest, as he’s simply confused between the meaning of “guilty” and “not guilty.” My favorite was easily Quagmire, who hilariously had everyone simulate an orgy (see above pic, if you dare) to prove a point that was ultimately disproved by his own recreation. I loved his lines here.
Quagmire: “First of all, the term ‘orgy’ is outdated, we call them ‘genital jamborees.’
Then, after Brian tries to think why someone would look outside during an orgy: “Trust me, you’re banging eight strangers who responded to a flier…at some point, you’re going to look out a window and question every decision you ever made.”
I also enjoyed Peter’s being unable to focus on anything, resulting in some amusing sequences.
Peter: “You know what would shed some light on this case? If we hucked water balloons at people in the street.”
He does so, then the balloon bounces right back at him, and he turns to everyone in explanation: “They were carrying a trampoline.”
Peter: “Enough! …was a movie starring Jennifer Lopez that did not live up to expectations.”
After Lois’ dad tells him his idea is idiotic, Peter takes a long puff on a cigarette and ducks out of the shadows and says “but it might just work” before receding back into them. Arguing ensues, then disgust: “I farted during the murmuring,” confesses Peter.
Finally, there was the bit with the window shades: “It’s getting very tense in here. Do you mind if I struggle with these blinds?” This was followed by a funny sequence where Peter did just that for a solid minute or so. Needless to say, Peter’s antics were far and away the funniest thing sin the episode, and not just in the courtroom.
I also liked the bit where Peter forced everyone to get into tub with him, as Lois complained: “Peter, how long do we have to sit here?” Shot back Peter: “Until I’m not angry anymore, you naked bunch of bitches!” Also cracking me up, even though I didn’t get why at the time was Peter’s query in court: “Is Toblerone the fanciest thing in the world?” (It’s a high-end Swiss chocolate, for the record.)
Also fairly amusing was the bit with the Tyrannosaurus Rex: “I’m starting to feel like an animal in a cage…” said one member of the jury. “Or a T. Rex trying to masturbate,” said Peter, followed by an illustration of what that would be like. Leave it to “Family Guy” to tread whether others didn’t think to before, such as what a director’s cut of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” might include: an abortion joke, apparently.
Is all of this truly original? No, not really. But I suppose it’s good for a cheap laugh, you know? And sometimes, that’s all you can hope for, especially for a show that’s been on as long as this one. So, not a total wash, I suppose, but nothing too groundbreaking, either. For as show in its eleventh season, though, that may be the best you can hope for.
Hey, at least they didn’t do another “Star Wars”-themed episode.
What did you think of “Family Guy” this week? Old hat or surprisingly durable retread? Did you enjoy Peter’s shenanigans or did you wish they would stop? Let me know in the comments!