Back in November, I wrote a piece detailing all the issues I had with Family Guy, the animated Fox sitcom now in its 15th season. I detailed the lack of storylines and careless characterization that have become all too prominent in the show’s later years. After the article ran, I was contacted by Alec Sulkin, a longtime Family Guy writer who had taken over as showrunner for the 15th season. He mentioned that even though he didn’t agree with all of my critiques, he thought I had a point about some of what I mentioned, and he was making it his mission to improve the show. Now, we’re almost through with Sulkin’s first season in charge of Family Guy, and I can happily say the results are encouraging.
Is the show back to what it was at its peak? Not exactly. But there’s a lot more effort going into this show than we’ve seen over the past few seasons. We’re seeing a long overdue effort to actually have the characters experience emotions, and to give them legitimate reasons for behaving the way they do. Consider the recent episode “Peter’s Lost Youth.” Here, Peter goes to a baseball fantasy camp and brings Lois with him, despite her lack of baseball knowledge. She catches on right away, while none of the Red Sox legends want much to do with Peter. He becomes jealous, and during a practice where Lois is playing second base, he slides into her with the intensity of Chase Utley in the 2015 ALDS, injuring her in the process.
Now, let’s stop for a second. Is Peter doing a shitty thing here? Of course. But – and this is important – we know precisely why he’s doing it. It’s not some random bit of violence that has nothing to do with anything else. The episode does a solid job of establishing how disappointed Peter feels about what’s going on, and we get why he’s upset. At the same time, it never attempts to justify what he does. We know that Peter is in the wrong, but we also know how he got there. It may seem like a small feat, but for years, this show would have characters behave horribly without any reason or consequence. “Peter’s Lost Youth” has a method to its madness, and that alone puts it ahead of a fair amount of recent episodes.
Elsewhere, “Cop And A Halfwit” sees Peter secretly join Joe on the cop beat. He becomes surprisingly effective, but Joe winds up taking all the credit. Again, the story worked; you understood why Joe wanted to keep what Peter was doing secret, but also why Peter became angry. It was reminiscent of early episodes like “Ready, Willing & Disabled,” and it was a reminder of when Peter and his friends seemed to actually like each other, unlike recent episodes like “Brian’s a Bad Father,” which featured a subplot in which Peter shoots Quagmire for no reason, and spends the remainder of the episode half-heartedly trying to make it up to him. Peter’s friendship with the guys from the Clam was originally one of this show’s more charming aspects, and it was nice to know it hadn’t been forgotten.
Admittedly, things still aren’t perfect. An episode where Quagmire discovers the joys of Tinder pushed the boundaries of good taste, and while Rob Gronkowski becoming Peter’s neighbor had some laughs, it was a bit too similar to the time Ryan Reynolds moved into Cleveland’s house, reminding us that this show has been on the air for awhile. Still, for longtime fans wondering if Family Guy would ever get its groove back, this season has been encouraging. The show’s writers have thankfully remembered that their characters are supposed to have actual motives and emotions, rather than doing whatever crazy thing gets the biggest initial laugh at the table read. Additionally, jokes that touch on subjects like rape or play on racist stereotypes are mercifully being kept to a minimum. While the current season of Family Guy can’t quite reach the heights of season 3, it’s finally starting to regain some of the charm that made it a phenomenon to begin with. Let’s hope it can continue moving in the right direction.