I’ve never been a huge fan of Family Guy - but, to be fair, we got off on the wrong foot.
You see, back when Family Guy premiered in 1999, I really wanted to see Die Hard 2, but my Mom would only let me watch it if they showed a censored version on TV, because apparently it was too rough for my 11-year-old self. So I waited and waited, desperate to follow up on the continuing adventures of John McClane, until I saw that it was scheduled to air on Fox immediately after Super Bowl XXXIII. I was more excited than any person in the universe has ever been about watching Die Hard 2.
So I sat through the entire long-ass football game that I didn’t care about and, once the Broncos had left the field in victory and the commentators had thanked all the appropriate parties, I giddily readied myself for three hours of prime, early 1990s Bruce Willis.
Much to my dismay, what I got instead was the first ever episode of Family Guy - apparently shoehorned into the schedule at the last minute after TV Guide had gone to print. Having waited so long to get what I’d wanted, this delayed gratification was a sort of frustrating disappointment that I wouldn’t experience again until I started dating in high school. Regardless, I angrily sat through the whole episode, figuring that Die Hard 2 would begin afterwards, too butthurt about the situation to laugh at the Griffin family’s antics.
Then, after the episode ended, came the final blow: A black title card reading, “WE NOW BRING YOU THE FOLLOWING FILM, ALREADY IN PROGRESS,” followed by Die Hard 2 about half an hour in.
I was livid. I was seeing red. I had more emotional investment in Die Hard 2 than anyone else who has ever lived, including the people who actually made and got paid for the movie. Right then and there, as I stood on the couch hurling every PG-13 swear word I knew at the television, I swore that I would never forgive Family Guy for this horrible wrongdoing. Those responsible for Family Guy would rue the day they had crossed Truman Capps.
Years went by. I grew from a weird child into a weird teenager. Family Guy gained cult popularity, got cancelled, and then came back and grew into a national phenomenon. I eventually saw Die Hard 2 in its entirety and was humbled by how truly, earnestly shitty of a movie it was, but that didn’t do anything to stop my hatred of Family Guy. After all those years, my animosity toward Family Guy had grown far larger than the post-Super Bowl Die Hard 2 preemption (Black Sunday, as it came to be known) – it was a part of me, a hatred as deeply ingrained as the roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Of course, I wound up watching more Family Guy in high school, because all of my conservative Christian friends inexplicably loved it. This gave me a chance to solidify what I didn’t like about the show: Most of the jokes came as one-liner cutaway gags unconnected to the episode’s plot, which I thought was pretty lazy writing. I made sure to tell my friends this every time somebody mentioned Family Guy, because I was an insufferable douche pretty much nonstop between 2003 and late 2009.
Now that I’ve grown from a weird teenager into a weird adult, I’ve gained some perspective on the whole thing. I still don’t like Family Guy that much – I think that the show is packed to the gunwhales with talented writers, but the cutaway-heavy format just isn’t for me. I think American Dad and The Cleveland Show are so derivative of Family Guy that they can barely be considered their own shows.
I can pinpoint the exact time that I quit hating Family Guy and could merely acknowledge that I personally dislike it, and that was when I read the Wikipedia page for Seth MacFarlane, the show’s creator. Even though I don’t particularly enjoy the man’s life work, I really like him.
It goes beyond just the natural kinship I feel to someone whenever I find out that they’re a left-leaning atheist – he handles himself really well in interviews, loves big band swing music so much that he released his own album, and shows a real and genuine affection for American television and pop culture in general. One gets the idea that he’s really not taking any moment of his superstardom for granted.
So, three quarters of the way through the update, that brings us to what I really wanted to talk about today: MacFarlane’s feature film debut, Ted.
It’s rare that I watch a movie where I laugh so hard that I nearly fall out of my chair. Ted is one of those movies. It’s way more focused and cutaway-free than Family Guy, and beyond that it’s an incredibly sweet movie about friendship and growing up. Admittedly, it completely shits the bed in the third act, but these days virtually every movie does so I really can’t hold that against it.
There are still glimmers of MacFarlane’s Family Guy-style boner for pop culture of the 1980s – an extended, shot-for-shot remake of the disco scene from Airplane! with Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis in place of Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty, an excruciating vocal rendition of the theme song from Octopussy, and the protagonists’ obsession with smoking pot and watching Flash Gordon.
In Ted, these elements are more or less part of the plot rather than cutaway gags, which makes it easier for me to laugh at them without getting my writer panties in a bunch. And what I realize, watching Mark Wahlberg and his profane teddy bear dissecting the minutiae of Flash Gordon the same way my friends and I do with Starship Troopers, is that Seth MacFarlane really is one of us. He appreciates pop culture as something that we as nerds share and discuss at length in the absence of anything more interesting to talk about.
I don’t think it was Seth MacFarlane’s intention to preempt Die Hard 2 with the premiere of the show that would make him rich and famous. But in retrospect, I’m sort of glad that he did - Die Hard 2 is a real partial-birth abortion of a movie, and seeing it at such a young age would’ve probably broken my spirit and ruined the original Die Hard for me.
In a way, Family Guy protected my childlike innocence for a couple more years, allowing me to remain enthusiastic about sequels until The Mummy Returns taught me that Terminator 2 and Aliens were exceptions, not the rule. And I’d like to think that if Seth MacFarlane knew the circumstances, he’d be proud to have protected an impressionable child from the horrors of Die Hard 2, even if the kid didn’t appreciate it at the time.
Truman Capps has always been too frightened to try Die Hard 3.