Peter Griffin: Yeah, it’s Boston. See look, there’s Harvard.
The Pope: That’s just a barn.
Peter Griffin: Ooh. Someone went to Yale!
What show would have the gall to run a Pope joke now? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Griffins are back, and the first episode of the fourth season of “Family Guy” airs Sunday, May 1 at 9 p.m. And the show’s creator is finding that these times of new popes and Oval Office dopes provide an abundance of material for its writers.
As if that weren’t enough to keep the ever-widening fan-base of the once-cancelled Fox show in a dizzying state of euphoria, there’s more: co-creator, chief voice actor, writer, and executive producer Seth MacFarlane is also unveiling the first season of a new project, called “American Dad”—whose first episode premiered after the Super Bowl—immediately following the new “Family Guy.” Recently, MacFarlane sat down to discuss his new politically-charged show, the jump back to a network, and the neurological mechanisms of, uh, fart jokes.
“American Dad” is also a sitcom-esque animated comedy with enough obscure pop-culture references and cringe-inducing ethnic jokes to give “Family Guy” a run for its money. MacFarlane provides the voices for both Peter Griffin, the loveable, overweight father-figure in the older series, and Stan Smith, the paranoid, flag-wavingly patriotic father (and, again, the inspiration for the show’s name) in “American Dad,” as well as a number of major supporting characters in both shows.
“We’re working seven days a week,” says MacFarlane. Although he has handed over much of the day-to-day work on “American Dad” to co-producers Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman, MacFarlane still writes and does voices for both shows.
Although “Family Guy” often features political comedy, it is part of a larger pop-culture-parody whole. “American Dad,” on the other hand, is firmly centered on modern politics. “This is a much more polarized political climate, and so it seemed like the right time to do a show like this,” says MacFarlane, likening the political atmosphere to the 1970s frustrations that birthed to “All in the Family.”
But MacFarlane maintains, “At the end of the day, ‘American Dad’ is still about the family, and the fact that he works in the political arena is just more color.”
The extra pizzazz comes to a project with an interesting legacy. “Family Guy” is something of a bridge between classic animated comedy like “The Simpsons” (to which it bears a number of striking similarities), and the new wave of Adult Swim comedies which tend to repel all but a select core of viewers after a single episode (“Aqua Teen Hunger Force” and “The Brak Show” are prime examples).
Worry not you nervous faithful, the show’s innovative mixture of humor styles isn’t going to change. “We wanted to keep the characters themselves, and the show, exactly as it was,” assures MacFarlane. He maintains that Fox does all they can to help the show maintain the edginess that has made it popular with its largely student-based audience.
In addition, there is a full-length DVD movie slated for release later this year. The plot? “Stewie thinks he’s found his real father, and goes off in search of him,” is all MacFarlane will say, but fans should rest assured that the movie will be an extension of the show’s anarchic spirit, not a departure.
MacFarlane hopes that all the buzz from DVDs and merchandise will translate into increased ratings. And selling out? How will it feel going back to a network channel after the devotion engendered by its stint on Adult Swim?
“In order to do the show the way it was, you really can only do that with a [major] network,” claims MacFarlane. “Family Guy” required seventeen full-time writers to keep up with the joke demand for each episode, a stretch to fund on a cable show’s budget.
And the show certainly needs every single one of those writers. The writers’ sense of humor is classically divided; each episode contains a fair mix of classic film references and flatulence.
This interesting dichotomy may scare away some of the shows more “intellectual” viewers, but, as MacFarlane himself states: “There is that base of the brain thing, you hear a fart joke and you can’t help but laugh.” It’s tough to disagree.
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