Whereas The Simpsons kicked off its new season tonight with a heavily hyped episode about Homer and Marge finally splitting up, for Family Guy it was pretty much business as usual. Not that this was necessarily a bad thing. While "Pilling Them Softly" didn't truly stand out in any regard, it proved just amusing and insightful enough to kick off the season on the right note.
Right off the bat, this episode picked a good target for parody in the form over-medicated schoolchildren. These days it seems like any personality quirk or sign of excess energy is enough to bring down an A.D.D. diagnosis and a hefty dose of pills. Dr. Hartman put it best when he said, "So your baby won't sit still in a way that's convenient for his teacher?". This episode might not have had anything particularly groundbreaking to say about the subject, but the anti-Adderall message was still plenty insightful.
If this particular storyline had simply focused on Stewie languidly enjoying his new over-medicated state, it would have gotten old pretty quickly. But rarely does Stewie get into any sort of shenanigans without Brian joining in on the fun. It was amusing to see Stewie's wide-eyed, slow motion behavior contrasted with Brian's hyperactive mania. That dovetailed into subplot involving the two traveling to Hartford to pitch legendary fantasy novelist George R.R. Martin (not voiced by the actual Martin) on Brian's epic medieval space saga.
I was a little concerned how this story would play out. Brian has devolved into the show's most obnoxious character in recent years, mainly because of the way his his smug, pretentious side emerges whenever the subject of his DOA writing career comes up. I feared we were in for more of that. Instead, Martin (or rather, his impostor) quickly shot down the pitch and Brian and Stewie learned a valuable lesson about being themselves.
This episode also worked because it allowed Joe, Quagmire and Cleveland to shine alongside Peter himself. Family Guy hasn't exactly been at the peak of its quality in recent years, but at least Cleveland's return to Quahog has been a boon for the show. This storyline was framed around Peter and Quagmire as they joined forces for a new show. This storyline was nothing if not predictable. A character getting an unexpected new job is about the oldest trick in the sitcom playbook. And Peter being Peter, it was no time at all before his penchant for stupid behavior created a rift with Quagmire.
But while predictable, the celebrity chef worked pretty well. I enjoyed "Butter Sluts," Peter's characteristically over-the-top response to Quagmire's traditional, educational program. And once the Iron Chef angle cropped up, the conflict grew more amusing. The '80s-style montage was probably the funniest moment of the episode. Something about Peter and Cleveland jousting with with swordfish and Quagmire using Joe's legs for a knife holder was just silly enough to be charming. And as far as the actual showdown went, it was refreshing to see Peter actually do the gentlemanly thing and let Quagmire have his victory. Echoing my complaints about Brian's portrayal lately, the writers can often be too dark and cynical when it comes to Peter and his dysfunctional relationships with his friends and family. It's nice to be reminded now and then that he's more than just the sum of his stupid pranks and cutaway jokes.
Speaking of cutaway jokes, most of that material was about as bland and forgettable as ever. The one exception this week was the scene of Peter serving as Javier Bardem's barber. While the voice actor didn't offer a very good approximation of Bardem's accent, based on his filmography "long in the short places, short in the long places, from both the future and the past, like a haircut a child would give a doll" does sound like exactly the sort of haircut he might ask for.
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