Saturday, January 21, 2006

Cylon Stem Cells

Interesting how the show's politics are becoming more explicit.

I'm liberal, so they're preaching to the choir. And yet...I have reservations. Thus far, the themes have been sufficiently broad that everyone from the New Yorker to National Review have found something that resonates. I worry that, by taking more explicit stands, the show risks polarizing audiences.

This was a mistake Star Trek: the Next Generation made in its later years. There was one episode (not so nerdy I recall its name) where the Enterprise Crew learned that using warp drive damages the universe. After much agonizing, they accepted a new warp speed limit for the rest of the show.

It was just silly.

I understand that one virtue of speculative fiction is the ability to revisit familiar questions in a new context. One where our political reflexes don't readily apply. And I personally think the cylon stem cells were a master stroke -- and poke in the eye of the President.

Therein may lie the problem...

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Just a quick follow-up to my crtique of Franklin's review of Family Guy. As stated previously, I felt she gave short shrift to the show's hilariously referential style. Here's a great example of that humor: a recent episode depicts a tuxedoed Stewie (the matricidally minded infant) performing "Rocket Man," but speaking the lyrics rather than singing them.

He's clearly parodying William Shatner, a ripe target whose cadence is unmistakable. I also know that Shat released a series of brilliantly disturbing spoken-word versions of Rocket Man, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, and Tambourine Man during the '70s. But three tuxedoed Stewies (one pleated, one ruffled, and one disheveled) actually appear in the number, something that mystified me, until a friend showed me this.

Now I get it. Rock-et-man!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Franklin on Family Guy

In a recent issue of the New Yorker (1/16) Nancy Franklin has a review of Family Guy that I think misses the mark. She makes some great points about gender and joking. But she glosses over the show's main strength, its referential humor.

I'll admit I didn't get Family Guy when it first premiered back in 1999. Other shows like South Park, King of the Hill, Futurama, even the weakened Simpsons, all seemed to strike my funny bone more reliably and consistently.

Now, however, Futurama is gone, and King of the Hill lost its edge several seasons ago. South Park remains strong, and the Simpsons have regained their stride somewhat, but there's room again in my schedule for some smart animated fun.

Reenter Family Guy, which has steadily earned my appreciation since returning to the air in 2004. The key for me, and which Franklin discusses only in passing, is the highly referential style of humor that she notes has become a signature of the show.

References to pop culture cram each episode. Often they're to well known works like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Heart of Darkness. Sometimes they're more obscure, as when Peter dances with William Shatner in a parody of a 1938 film Joy of Living.

Discerning these nods and winks is a lot of the fun. So much so that whole websites are devoted to cataloguing them. (I certainly didn't catch that Joy of Living reference myself.) Ignore this feature, and you miss a main source of Family Guy's appeal.

Franklin mentions the referential humor briefly, but saves most of her praise for the voices, which she approvingly compares to a radio show. This frankly baffles me -- I've never considered the voice work to be a strong suit of Family Guy.

I'm not saying that Seth MacFarlane is James Joyce. Nor am I claiming the writing is flawless. Sometimes the rapid-fire gags get relentless, particularly when the references are cliched. Few shows, however, make laugh as often or loudly.

And I don't think that's a guy thing...