Anchors Aweigh, Andres Serrano, animation, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Brian and Stewie, comedy, David Copperfield, Faggots, Family Guy, feces, François Rabelais, Freedom, Gene Kelly, Henry Miller, Humor, Musicals, Pantagruel, Road to Morocco, Road to Rhode Island, Road to Rupert, Robert Mapplethorpe, Seth McFarlane, suicide, television, The God of Small Things, The Miller's Tale, toilet humor, Ulysses, Waiting for Godot
My favorite episode of Family Guy includes the following scenes: Stewie craps himself, gets Brian to eat it, throws up, gets Brian to eat that, the two of them get drunk, pierce Stewie’s ear, fires a gun that sends a bullet ricocheting around the room almost killing them both, discuss suicide, realize how much they both mean to each other, and it ends with Brian reading the opening chapter of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield.
I often cite references to Family Guy on this blog because I was a young man who didn’t wash his hair often and then wondered why women didn’t go out with me, or show much interest, and so I needed something to do on Friday nights. There was a time in my life when I had memorized, virtually the entire first three seasons of the show because I had watched the Christmas special one night and absolutely had to purchase the DVDs much to the chagrin of my parents who were probably more concerned with me not washing my hair. That would change. As the years went by their loathing of Family Guy would alter to the point that it now isn’t Christmas unless we watch the Christmas special (KISS Saves Santa is the private joke within my nuclear unit). While their attitudes towards Seth McFarlane’s particular brand of comedy changed, I still find myself having to defend Family Guy to friends and acquaintances that argue that the show just isn’t that funny, or else that it has no artistic value.
The conflict I’ve always had with this opinion is that it often comes from people who don’t watch Family Guy, or else don’t get many of the references that are taking place on the show. Seth McFarlane has been called “the man who taught a generation of young men to like musicals” which is a fucking long nickname, but absolutely true. Watching the show anytime the characters break out into a song you can almost always trace the root melody back to a musical made before 1970. For example on the episode where Joe gets back his legs and he forces them to dance he has them perform “Good Morning” which is a song from the musical Singing in the Rain. Speaking of Gene Kelly, on the Road to Rupert episode there is a point where, in order to rent a helicopter, the pair of them must either pay with cash, credit, or a musical number. Well of course a song begins and right in the middle Stewie asks “Mister Kelly” to show them “how it’s done” transporting himself into the film Anchors Aweigh and tap dances alongside the man. It should be noted that they replaced Stewie with Jerry from the Tom and Jerry Show, but the larger point is there was a solid five minutes on mainstream T.V. in which there were no spoken jokes but instead a baby tap-dancing with a film star from the 1950s.
Before the reader says “so” remember how long you can go without checking your cell phone for texts, Facebook updates, Reddit, Clash of Clans, Candy Crush, etc. and then think again on this fact.
And finally any regular viewer of the program is probably familiar with the “Road to…” episodes. What many may not realize is that these were inspired by a number of films starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, one of which was titled “Road to Morocco.” These films were often designed to provide a small adventure the pair had and often provided an excuse to have Bing Crosby sing and Bob Hope to crack jokes. I bring this up because the first “parody,” was Road to Rhode Island episode and the song at the end is almost word for word of the original film, though slightly re-imagined. I’ve included links at the bottom of the article in case you don’t believe me and would like to see for yourself.
Many young men like myself warmed to Seth McFarlane in our youth because along with these odd quirky bits was a style of humor that many consider crude and those people were often the ones in charge. So you could say originally there was a kind of “stick it to the man” quality that appealed to me about Family Guy, but as I matured, and still enjoyed Peter out-farting Michael Moore and the ipecac bottle challenge, I also began to pay more and more attention to the songs and characters. To this day I still sing Road to Rhode Island, often in the shower, and in fact apart from the couple’s therapist stripping for Peter via VHS for money, it’s still the first part of the episode I remember.
Well all right, my reader protests, Seth McFarlane watched a bunch of old movies and included them in his television program, Family Guy still sucks, what’s your point? Why should I care about any of these characters?
I don’t really have much of an answer for the first part because I largely agree, like most of the internet argues Family Guy has lost most of its original charm, although the musical numbers and fights with the Giant Chicken have improved. It’s not the contemporary show that I wish to defend, but in fact one single episode that I find most people immediately gravitate to whenever they talk about how much Family Guy blows…dudes. I’m trying to create a new condemnatory saying, not sure if it worked or not.
The episode entitled Brian and Stewie is my favorite episode of Family Guy because it completely changed the way I looked at the series. The plot line is actually pretty simple. Brian and Stewie are trapped in the safety deposit box room at a bank over the course of a weekend and so the episode, originally aired around 43 minutes, is broken into three acts of the pair of them interacting and trying to make it. The episode was unique for the fact that it did not include the original “cut-away gag” structure that has come to be its trademark, for better or worse; the episode stays on Brian and Stewie never deviating from their actions….which begins with Stewie convincing Brian to eat his poop.
Stewie: Look, I’m going to propose something, and I need you to hear me out.
Will you promise me you’ll do that?
Brian: I guess.
Stewie: You guess or you will?
Brian: Yes, I’ll hear you out.
Stewie: Okay, well, I can’t be in a soiled diaper until tomorrow, Brian; we both know that.
I’ll get a rash, which could lead to an infection if left like this.
Brian: All-all right, fine, I’ll take the diaper off.
Stewie: That doesn’t really solve our problem, now, does it?
Brian: Yes, it does.
Stewie: No, it doesn’t though, really. See, you’re, you’re not you’re not really thinking this through.
W-We would still be faced with the problem of the odor, you see. And-and, of course, you know, then what am I gonna do with no diaper? I’m-I’m not gonna walk around here with-with my Tic Tac hanging out. I-I need a clean diaper.
Brian: I told you, we don’t have any clean diapers.
Stewie: Well, well, no, I mean, not right now we don’t, no. But if-if the poo were to be removed
Brian: I’m not following you. If the poo were to be removed W-What does that ? What are you driving at?
Stewie: Eat it.
Stewie: Eat it, Brian.
Brian: You’re out of your mind.
Stewie: Now, you promised you’d hear me out. Besides, is it really that big a deal? You just said yourself that you’re starving. And, you know, I’ve seen you eat poop before, Brian.
Brian: Yeah, mine!
Stewie: Is that really a huge distinction?
Brian: It is to me! I can’t even How would You That’s sick! That is sick! How messed up in the head are you that y-you would even ask?
Stewie: Look, okay, okay, just calm down, okay? We’re not, we’re not we’re just talking. We’re not doing anything yet. All right, we’re just talking. Nobody’s doing anything at this point. Dogs sometimes eat feces. It’s not a judgment; it’s just a fact. So what I would need you to do is eat what’s in my diaper, lick the diaper clean, possibly lick my fanny and then put the diaper back on me. Probably lick my fanny. Yeah, you should start wrapping your brain around that, too.
Shakespeare it ain’t but there is still a line of dialogue I have yet to encounter that possesses such immediate character. Brian and Stewie up to this episode had been established as a difficult, and at times, antagonistic relationship with Stewie tormenting Brian and vice versa until about the time of the Road to Rhode Island episode where steadily their rhythms constituted something different. Before Peter and Brian had often been matched where Peter was the idiot and Brian served as the level-headed intellectual, which of course was one of the reasons I enjoyed the show because it summed up the relationship between me and my best friend perfectly. Looking at this passage though I recognize immediately that many will have stopped reading or trying to find literary or artistic merit because the conversation of eating poop is both revolting and “immature vulgar humor.”
No real artist would consider using such obvious shock/bile humor.
The conflict is that isn’t true, and I’ve discussed this matter before. Ulysses forever changed the face of literature because in one of the opening passage Leopold Bloom reads the paper and defecates, in The Miller’s Tale a young man has his ass branded after blowing a fart into a priest’s face, in The God of Small Things the character Ammu coughs up a wad of phlegm and studies the color and texture, in Faggots by Larry Kramer there is scene after scene of graphic depictions of anal sex culminating in the fisting passage at the end of the book, Portnoy’s Complaint contains a scene of a teenage boy masturbating into his sister’s bra, Andres Serrrano shocked the world with Piss Christ and his self-portrait is literally a mound of shit, Robert Mapplethorpe…nuff said, in Freedom by Johnathhan Franzen Joey has to squeeze through his own turds to find his digested wedding ring, Henry Miller…nuff said, and finally François Rabelais, an early sixteenth century novelist, ends the fourth book of his novel
Pantagruel with the character Panurge crapping himself and laughing it off by speaking the following list:
Oh, ho, ho, ho, ho! What the devil is this? Do you call this ordure, ejection, excrement, evacuation, dejecta, fecal matter, egesta, copros, scatos, dung, crap, turds? Not at all, not at all: it is but the fruit of the shittum tree, “Selah! Let us drink.”
I have many friends that use the opening moments of the Brian and Stewie to argue that Family Guy is gross and not worth their time, and to be fair I completely understand this argument. Shit is gross. It’s sticky, it smells, and it’s loaded with literally thousands if not millions of germs and parasites that can make a human being ill. Feces is biologically repulsive, but also philosophically because ultimately that conglomeration of waste reminds us too much of our own mortality. Feces is a reminder that the human body isn’t perfect and that one day we will die and also become waste matter. It’s easy to ignore toilet humor as childish because many people would rather not delve into the complicated biological and philosophical mechanisms at play, but doing so is to ignore a concrete reality of human existence.
Some die-hard fans of the show raised complaints that the episode didn’t have any “flashback” or “cut-away” jokes, but ultimately this decision works in the stories benefit. Brian and Stewie have only their own characters to keep the plot pushing forward. Locked in that room Brian and Stewie are regularly tested with recognizing their own mortality for not long thereafter Stewie discovers there is a gun locked in Brian’s box and during a fight Stewie shoots the gun causing a bullet to ricochet in the room. The final scene between the pair of them however reveals how this idea of mortality was played with in the episode and why Family Guy changed for:
Stewie: Hey, Bri? Yeah? How come you have a gun?
Brian: I don’t know.
Stewie: What do you mean you don’t know? You you what about all that liberal crap you’re always spewing about stricter gun regulations? You even cried after Columbine.
Brian: Because that was a national tragedy.
Stewie: Oh, it was kind of a regional tragedy.
Stewie: It’s just weird, you know? I mean, you’re the last person anybody would expect to have a gun.
Brian: Well, that’s why I keep it here where it’s safe.
Stewie: That doesn’t make any sense. Why have it if you’re not gonna use it? Is it like a sexual thing?
Stewie: Oh, that’s a relief. I hate the idea of you getting your thrills pressing a gun up against your crotch. Ugh, just picturing it gives me the willies.
Brian: You know, I really don’t want to talk about this with you, Stewie.
Stewie: Okay, okay, I respect that.
Brian: Thank you.
Stewie: Are you sure it’s not a sexual thing?
Brian: I’m sure.
Stewie: Oh, good, ’cause that’d be strange if you had fantasies about pressing a gun up against your crotch and feeling your heartbeat through your balls. [Pause] Please tell me why you have it.
Brian: I said I don’t want to talk about it.
Stewie: But I want to know. Just tell me. Come on.
Stewie: Come on, please.
Brian: I keep it in case I ever want to commit suicide, okay?
Stewie: Wow.Oh. Oh, my God. You’re you’re serious. But why, Brian?
Brian: You wouldn’t understand. You’re just a kid.
Stewie: Well, I could try.
Brian: I don’t know. Sometimes it’s all too much.
Stewie: What is?
Brian: Life. [Pause] Everything. Just having the gun here, knowing there’s a way out, it it helps.
Stewie: Yes, but a gun it’s so messy. What about pills? Even hanging yourself is better. At least then you might grow an inch or two while you’re hanging there. Of course, when they find you, you might have those Illeana Douglas eyes.
Stewie: So, um, why the gun?
Brian: It just seemed the quickest way, I guess.
Stewie: I suppose. But I-I-I don’t quite understand why you’re so unhappy.
Brian: Yesterday when you said I don’t live with purpose you were right. I don’t. What purpose does my life have?
Stewie: I don’t like when you talk like this.
Brian: Oh, it’s true, Stewie. Dogs are supposed to be able to instinctively live with purpose, not even to have think about it, just born like that. But I wasn’t. You know, I’ve tried to find meaning in my life, and I just I just can’t.
Stewie: And that bottle of Scotch?
Brian: I was saving it for my last drink.
Stewie: Wow, heavy.
I can’t explain the emotion I felt while watching this conversation, because there really isn’t an emotion for recognition. Brian was a character I had always liked growing up because he was the kind of person I wanted to be, that would change as his character devolved into a failed author/alcoholic pussey-hound/pompous liberal douche, but he was intelligent and that was always appealing. Despite this however he and Stewie were merely cartoon characters; humanoid figures designed only to tell jokes and make me laugh. Watching this scene changed that however. Brian and Stewie became real people to me because I had a similar plan in my own life. I’ve often written that I was a troubled young man, but few people outside some in my inner circle would recognize how bad it was. I can’t explain why, but I never liked myself much and so suicide was often something I considered and a gun would probably be the best bet. Listening to Brian then I recognized not a funny talking dog on a cartoon special, but an honest being with depth who, like me, felt that the world would not be too troubled with his absence.
This is what art is supposed to be. It’s not about explosions, or graphic sex, or toilet humor for the sake of toilet humor, it’s about challenging the viewer/reader and getting them to recognize another person’s mind.
Stewie’s reaction only furthered this depth:
Brian: Aren’t you gonna say anything?
Stewie: Well, I don’t know what to say. Wanting to kil yourself, I Well, I think that’s pretty selfish of you.
Brian: How is that selfish?
Stewie:What would I do if you weren’t here? Hmm? You’re the only one who makes my life bearable.
Brian: I thought you said I was the best of a bad situation.
Stewie: I was just trying to hurt you ’cause you hurt me. But the truth is you’re my only friend, Brian. If I didn’t have you, I’d be lost.
Brian: You’d be okay.
Stewie: No, I wouldn’t. I don’t really care for anybody else. Just you. You’re the only one I like.
Brian: Well thanks.
Stewie: I like you a lot. I guess you could say I really like you. I would even dare to go a little further perhaps. I care a great deal about you. A very great deal. Maybe even deeper than that.
I I I love you. I mean, not in like a “Hey, let’s, you know, let’s have an underpants party,” or whatever grownups do when they’re in love, but I mean, I mean, I love you as one loves another person whom one simply cannot do without.
Brian: Well, I. I love you, too, Stewie.
Stewie: You give my life purpose. And maybe, maybe that’s enough. Because that’s just about the greatest gift one friend can give another.
Brian: Thank you.
Stewie: Will you read to me?
Stewie: Wait, wait, wait. I want to get all snuggled in. Okay, go.
Brian: “Chapter One: I am born. “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station shall be held by anybody else, “these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born on a Friday, at 12:00 at night”
It ends with the pair of them reading David Copperfield; beginning a new working relationship that would alter the show permanently. Watching Brian and Stewie is one of the few moments in my life where I felt like I was actually watching art on television rather than the standard formula structure. Brian and Stewie is a small three-act play much in the vein of a Waiting for Godot. Brian and Stewie isn’t just about having Brian eat a turd for the visceral physical comedy, it’s about beginning a real examination of mortality while finding some kind of validation of life through friendship. The claustrophobia, the excrement, the talk of purpose in life and contemplation of death, all work together to create what is in my mind a real literary experience.
The only thing missing from it I suppose is a snappy musical number.
I’ve included below links to the songs Road to Rhode Island and Road to Moracco. Watch them back to back and see if you don’t recognize the similarity I was discussing before.
It’s likely I’ll have to continue defending Family Guy and Seth McFarlane in casual conversation, but this essay stands as my own attempt to examine what I understand to be the real artistic value of the show, or at least the one episode that showed a real attempt at making art alongside comedy. The embedded elitism of people who say they don’t like Brian and Stewie because of the toilet humor won’t go away, and that’s perfectly fine. Individual taste in humor is part of what makes humanity so interesting, though I detest anyone who believes enjoying fart jokes is a sign of lower intelligence.
**Writer’s Final Note**
Please enjoy this little gem.
**Writer’s Final FINAL note**
All of the passages from the original script were provided care of the following website