There's been an unspoken routine in my flat, and it's not something we're proud of. At around 11:30, me and my two flatmates - all engaged and supposedly compassionate towards social causes - would find ourselves slumped on the sofa, the debris of dinner and another working day strewn around us, more often than not, with a freshly clicked tinnie in our hands. The television, tuned to BBC Three, would be burning bright. Burning bright with the colours of Family Guy. I know I'm not alone. Across the nation, adults, real grown-up adults with jobs and mobile phone contracts and long-term boyfriends and girlfriends, have been secretly indulging in animated rape jokes and flatulence. Your shamed faces illuminated by LED screens, too tired to leave your seat, not sleepy enough to close your eyes. Brian and Stewie are doing a song, look! I can't go to bed yet.
When we were young, we'd run in from the garden, gobble down fishfingers, and sit wide-eyed and cross-legged in front of The Simpsons. Now we drag our dreary limbs off a train, are lucky to have microwaved some leftovers by 9PM, briefly consider opening the scary-looking post from the Inland Revenue that arrived that morning, phone our mums, reply to some more emails, switch the heating on and fall lovelessly into the arms of Peter Griffin. Giggidy, giggidy, goo.
Only, there's hope. A break in the chain. This week BBC Three left television and became an online-only service, and it did not take Family Guy with it. It will return to UK television on the 29th February on ITV2, but in its brief absence, let's take a moment to reflect on exactly why we keep going back.
Why is Family Guy popular? I have watched a lot of episodes by now and I'm pretty sure the reason isn't "because it's funny". I've never really laughed at an episode. If I do make a noise, it's this sort of disappointed pity-groan. As if my laugh is questioning its own existence as it is leaving my mouth. I imagine it's the noise I will make if I ever change a nappy: "There's loads of shit and piss, which is sort of funny in that it's eventful, but more than anything it smells terrible and I don't want to look at it any more."
I think its watchability is down to three things:
3. Bright colours.
Firstly, pace. When you compare Family Guy to the average British sitcom in 2016, you can begin to see where some of its appeal might lie. In the post-Peep Show quagmire (sorry), British comedy has become stuck in a cycle of staid silences and prolonged awkward looks. The humour is always based around mates, or mums, or dads, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Those long uncomfortable spaces in slow-moving 30-minute episodes give you plenty of time to consider just how unfunny what you're watching is. To its credit, when Family Guy is making shitty jokes, it's making a lot of them. Family Guy contains, on average, 5.20 jokes a minute. With that gag-rate, none of them hang around for long enough for you to consider just how unfunny they were. And when that doesn't work, they go the other way and drag a joke out for so long you feel you have to laugh just to make it stop. See Peter's fight with a chicken, or anytime someone falls over. It's the comedic equivalent of taking somebody hostage until they agree to hang out with you.
Secondly, recognition. There are loads of references to famous people in Family Guy. Like Julia Roberts, and Sting, and Ben Stiller, and Daft Punk, and Bill Clinton, and Barbra Streisand, and all of Star Wars, and the Count from Sesame Street, and Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Hitler, and Spiderman, and Bill Cosby, and the Romans, and Sean Connery, and Indian people, and Kermit the Frog, and Jesus Christ, and seagulls, and Lindsay Lohan. And because you know what all of those things are, seeing them in a cartoon is hilarious.
Thirdly, Family Guy contains many bright colours.
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But the sense of humour that drives the show is toxic. Once me and my flatmates admitted we had a problem, we started to keep a tally. We counted how many successive episodes we could watch before we found one that didn't involve an act of violence against a woman. We managed 14. That's 14 episodes of Family Guy before a 20-minute episode that didn't feature Meg, Lois, or another female character being knocked to the ground, murdered or slapped.
There is no minority character in Family Guy whose background isn't referenced constantly and negatively. Whether it's anti-semitic jibes at Mort Goldman's money-grabbing, Loretta Brown's sassy black woman act (voiced by the very white Alex Borstein), or every time a Native American with a mystical past and a gambling problem shows up, no subject is off-limits, and it relishes in that. There's a lot of "offensive" television out there, yet Family Guy's endless desire to make blind and dumb jokes about the vulnerable and underrepresented goes way beyond the realms of boundary-pushing and starts to look more like a weird predilection on the part of the writers. A strange urge to be hurtful just to make sure the mic is still on. The guy in the back of the class who realised everyone turned around when he swore at the teacher. Yet it's 2016. Porn exists. Channel 4 have screened documentaries about blokes with giant ballsacks. "Going there," is no longer impressive. Family Guy is the ultimate confused offspring of the idea that nobody has a right to be offended. Surely, equally, nobody has a duty offend.
There's over a week before it starts again on ITV2. I'm not saying we should all fill that gap with neo-realist Italian cinema, but maybe it's time for me to tune out in front of something with fewer gags about how bad Asian women are at driving or musical numbers about AIDs diagnoses. This is it. No looking back. Family Guy, it's time we broke up.
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