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”Everybody I got bad news. We’ve been cancelled.”

“Oh no, Peter, how could they do that?”

“Well unfortunately, Lois, there’s just no more room on the schedule. We’ve just got to accept the fact that Fox has to make room for terrific shows like Dark Angel, Titus, Undeclared, Action, That Eighties Show, Wonderfalls, Fastlane, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Skin, Girls Club, Cracking Up, The Pitts, Firefly, Get Real, FreakyLinks, Wanda at Large, Costello, The Lone Gunmen, A Minute with Stan Hooper, Normal, Ohio, Pasadena, Harsh Realm, Keen Eddie, The Street, American Embassy, Cedric the Entertainer, The Tick, Louise, and Greg the Bunny.”

“Is there no hope?”

“Well, I suppose if all those shows go down the tubes, we might have a shot.”


Family Guy: Volume Three

Feature


The above text is taken from the opening segment of the first episode of season four of one of the greatest animated shows ever. Cruelly cancelled way before its time, strong DVD sales and late-night re-run ratings (that frequently bested Leno) finally made the studio heads come to their senses and Family Guy was back on our screens. This, the third DVD volume, includes the first thirteen episodes of the fourth season, along with more supplemental material ever previously seen on a Family Guy release.

The show concerns the exploits of the Griffins, an ‘all-American’ family who reside in Quahog, Rhode Island. There’s Peter, the morbidly obese father who makes Homer Simpson look like Ned Flanders. His long-suffering wife, Lois, somehow manages to put up with him while taking care of the house and their three children—social pariah, Meg, oddball Chris and Stewie, the toddler bent on world domination and Lois’ slow and painful death. The final member of the Griffin household is Brian, who is everything Peter is not. Witty, intelligent, considerate… too bad he’s the family dog.

What really sets Family Guy apart from shows like The Simpsons and South Park is the completely random nature of the humour, often characterised by hilarious non-sequitur asides. These are back in full force for the fourth season, and whether it’s the evil monkey in Chris’ closet, or Peter’s ongoing feud with a giant chicken, there are plenty of references to earlier seasons to satisfy long time fans (and no doubt frustrate a few of the new ones). The region one releases of the show take a slightly different form to the UK region two releases, which are packaged as complete seasons. In the US the show is sold in volumes, with volume one containing the first and second seasons, volume two containing the third season, and this, the third volume, containing the first thirteen episodes of the fourth season. It seems like an odd way of doing things to me.

Family Guy: Volume Three
The episodes contained in this volume are: North by North Quahog, Fast Times at Buddy Cianci Jr. High, Blind Ambition, Don’t Make Me Over, The Cleveland-Loretta Quagmire, Petarded, Brian the Bachelor, 8 Simple Rules for Selling My Teenage Daughter, Breaking Out is Hard to Do, Model Misbehaviour, Peter’s Got Woods, Perfect Castaway and Jungle Love. A brief synopsis for each follows:

North by North Quahog
Peter steals Mel Gibson’s latest film, then agrees to swap it for Lois high atop Mount Rushmore, while Brian and Stewie chaperone Chris as the school dance.

Fast Times at Buddy Cianci Jr. High
Chris is hot for his buxom blonde teacher, until she asks him to murder her husband—gangsta style!

Blind Ambition
Quagmire’s penchant for peeping into women’s restrooms gets him busted and Peter goes blind while attempting to break the work record for eating nickels.

 Don’t Make Me Over
With Meg’s sudden popularity after a makeover, she becomes the focal point of the Griffin family band—and hooks up with Jimmy Fallon of ‘Saturday Night Live’!

 The Cleveland-Loretta Quagmire
After Peter discovers that Quagmire and Loretta are having an affair, he pushes Cleveland to take action—all too successfully.

Petarded
Peter is thrilled to learn that he has been diagnosed as mentally-challenged, so he can now do whatever he pleases…until Child Services deems him unfit to care for his kids.

Family Guy: Volume Three
Brian the Batchelor
While Chris explores a budding relationship with his talking (and very manipulative) zit, Brian and Quagmire compete for the affections of ‘The Bachelorette’.

8 Simple Rules for Selling My Teenage Daughter
Peter turns Meg over to his pharmacist’s son to settle a $34,000 tab, while Stewie is smitten with his new babysitter—and decides her boyfriend must be destroyed.

Breaking Out is Hard to Do
A rush of shoplifting turns Lois into a kleptomaniac and lands her in the slammer, but Peter smuggles her out (in his mouth) and the family takes refuge in Quahog’s Asiantown.

Model Misbehaviour
Peter puts his foot down after Lois launches a far-too-revealing modelling career, and Stewie convinces Brian to join his latest get-rich-quick scheme.

Peter’s Got Woods
Peter’s outraged! Brian’s spending too much time with his girlfriend, and they’re trying to rename the James Woods High! Time to call in Woods himself! Meanwhile, Stewie loses sleep over ‘The Da Vinci Code’.

Perfect Castaway
After being shipwrecked on a desert island for a while, Peter returns home to find out Lois married someone else—Brian! Eventually though, Peter gets his own paws back on his wife.

Jungle Love
Tormented by older high school students, Chris joins the Peace Corps, marries a tribal girl and plans never to return. In his attempt to retrieve Chris, Peter infuriates the entire tribe.

Family Guy: Volume Three

Video


Volume three of Family Guy is presented in its televised aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (progressively encoded) and is probably the best I’ve seen the show look. The episodes feature the same strong, vibrant palettes as the previous seasons, and are well-rendered throughout. One of the biggest problems to affect the video on the previous volumes was that of ‘field tearing’ (horrible interlacing artefacts). Although this season features the occasional instance, things are much better than they have been in the past. There are also less of the ‘jaggies’ that plagued the earlier seasons of the show, although the odd few do slip through the net. Additionally, the image is perhaps a little too bright, but other than that there’s not too much to complain about.

Audio


Twentieth Century Fox presents this release of Family Guy in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. As far as I can tell, this is the first time the show has featured a 5.1 track on DVD in any territory (all of the previous seasons have been Dolby 2.0 Surround encoded). Although it’ nice that Fox upped the channel configuration to 5.1, it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference. For the most part the effects and dialogue are anchored firmly at the front of the soundstage, and it is only really during the musical numbers that things spread to the surrounds. We’re not talking Star Wars here (even during the Star Wars homage), but that’s not what the show is about. As long as the all-important dialogue and effects are clear that’s all that matters, and thankfully this is never an issue.

A number of episodes also feature alternate ‘uncensored’ language tracks that don’t bleep the swearing out (I was quite taken aback to hear Brian yell ‘In your f*cking face f*ckwad!’). This lends credence to the claim that this season of the show was produced with the DVD format in mind.

Extras


This release is the first chance I’ve had to experience bonus material Family Guy style. I own all of the previous seasons of the show on region two DVD, but unlike the region one sets they have no extras to speak of unless you were lucky enough to pick up the compendium. This ‘Family Sized DVD Collection’ includes the first three series and two additional discs full of commentaries and featurettes. I wasn’t about to go out and blow another sixty pounds on that just to get my hands on material that should have been included to begin with. Once again, region one comes out on top.

Family Guy: Volume Three
The cast and crew commentaries are probably the best supplements to be found on the discs, and they appear on ten out of the thirteen episodes in the set. The only episodes that don’t feature commentary tracks are: Fast Times at Buddy Cianci Jr. High, Blind Ambition and Model Misbehaviour. The tracks include most of the principal cast at one time or another, various members of the writing and production crew and, of course, Seth MacFarlane himself. James Woods even shows up for the commentary on his episode! There’s a hell of a lot of banter, and everyone seems to be having a great time, but there’s also some interesting behind-the-scenes info to be gleaned. These tracks are undoubtedly the best supplements in the set.

Commentaries aside, the most substantial extra in the set is a twenty four minute featurette entitled 'World Domination: The Family Guy Phenomenon'. This features interview footage with creator Seth MacFarlane, stars Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Mila Kunis, Mike Henry, Patrick Warburton and the various writers, interspersed with footage from the show. The featurette deals mainly with the resurrection of Family Guy after a couple of years in the wilderness, and how Seth feels that this is the strongest season yet. There’s also talk of how this season was the first to be produced with the DVD format in mind, which makes perfect sense when you consider that it was partly due to strong DVD sales that this fourth season saw the light of day at all. The overriding thing I took away from this piece was that everyone involved has a genuine love for the show, not to mention a great time making it.

Next up we have a deleted scene animatic. That’s right, scene, as in singular. The scene in question would have featured in the episode ‘Fast Times at Buddy Cianci Jr. High’, when Brian is teaching the ‘troubled’ teens. It’s a musical number, but contrary to the way it’s publicised the scene is completely finished and only flips into split-screen mode occasionally. It’s not the greatest of musical numbers, and I can see why it was omitted from the finished episode.

Family Guy: Volume Three
‘Score! The Music of Family Guy’ is an eight minute featurette that deals with the creation of the many different pieces of music needed for an episode of Family Guy. There piece features interview footage with Seth MacFarlane, sound engineer Armin Steiner and composers Walter Murphy and Ron Jones, who discuss the various trials and tribulations of creating and recording so much music in a relatively short space of time. One piece of trivia reveals that the show is among the last to use a full orchestra to record the music.

The multi-angle table reads sound a little more exciting than they actually are. For one thing, they don’t actually use the multi-angle function of DVD at all. The viewer has no control over when the footage switches between the completed scenes from the episodes and the cast reading their lines around a giant table, which is a real pity. For one thing, the two often overlap, drowning out the sound of the round-table readings. Secondly, if you’re anything like me and have already watched the episodes you’ll just be hankering for more behind-the-scenes footage. What is on offer is funny stuff, but I just wish that more time had been devoted to the raw material rather than switching back and forth all of the time.

The storyboard/animatic comparison section includes split screen comparisons of several key scenes from the series. I can’t say I found it particularly interesting, as it basically covers the same ground as the deleted scene animatic. If you’ve seen one rough hand-drawn sequence you’ve seen ‘em all… Three are included, from the episodes ‘Don’t Make Me Over’, ‘The Cleveland-Loretta Quagmire’ and ‘Brian the Batchelor’.

Finally there a short (fifty three second) preview of American Dad. I’ve only seen one episode of this show, so perhaps I’m being a little harsh, but it just doesn’t do it for me. I fell in love with Family Guy the very first time I saw it on television, but this new series left me a little cold.

Family Guy: Volume Three

Overall


Family Guy is a brilliant comedy presented here in an above-average DVD package. Audio and video are generally better than previous volumes, but it is the inclusion of some genuinely entertaining supplemental material that really helps to sell this set. It’s almost worth picking this one up for the commentaries alone! This is a no-brainer purchase for fans of the show, but I thoroughly recommend it to any fans of The Simpsons, Futurama and South Park in search of something familiar, yet different.


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