Cancelled twice and shoved away for late night screenings on the Beeb’s yoof channel, the much maligned BBC Three, its problems in proving its staying power haven’t stopped Family Guy from reaching this Season Eight DVD boxset. Featuring episodes from a decade after its first airing back in 1999, this boxset is testament to the show’s popularity among its fans.
As is the norm with Family Guy boxsets, the three-disc Season Eight set rather confusingly includes episodes from the show’s sixth and seventh seasons (four from season six and the first nine from season seven). As is also the norm, the set includes a decent set of extras, which I’ll go into more detail about later.
Personally however, I buy animated boxsets for the episodes themselves. On that score, Season Eight is an absolute corker. Things start strongly with the return of James Woods in Back To The Woods. Woods was previously seen locked in a wooden crate ala Raiders Of The Lost Ark in season four’s Peter’s Got Woods, and Back In The Woods sees him return – and he’s not best pleased. Out for revenge he steals Peter’s identity and pushes him out of his own home. The vocal performance of Woods is fantastic, more than matching those of the performers around him and the return of Woods back to the crate (“Ooh, piece of candy”) is a neat hark back to the original joke in the prequel episode.
Other particularly strong episodes here are Play It Again, Brian, in which Brian makes a play for Lois after Peter’s typical insensitivity aggravates her, and The Former Life Of Brian, where we meet Brian’s former girlfriend and the son he never knew he had. The Man With Two Brians, which sees Brian replaced with a smarter, better dog, is a great watch too. Stewie’s dealings with new Brian towards the end of the episode – hint: Stewie is one hard-ass baby – are simply brilliant.
It’s no coincidence that these strong episodes centre on Brian as the seasons have latterly, and wisely in my view, taken the focus away from peripheral characters like Meg and Chris – both hardly feature in the 13 episodes here – and even from Lois, instead focusing on Peter, Brian and Stewie (with Quagmire and Cleveland nobly bringing up the rear).
These three have always been the show’s strongest assets, in particular the burgeoning relationship between Stewie and Brian. This boxset’s Road To… episode is a case in point. Road To Germany is one of the strongest Road To…s yet, also featuring some of the finest animation of the show too. A mishap with Stewie’s time travel machine sees Mort Goldman transported to Hitler’s Germany and it’s naturally down to Stewie and Brian to save the day. The chemistry between the characters has now been well established (do we all remember how much Stewie hated Brian in the early days, only now to have some repressed love for him?) and it shines in this episode.
The finest outing on this DVD, however, is I Dream Of Jesus, which showcases how strong a character Peter is as well as just how confident the writing for the show has become. I don’t know of many other shows that would have the self-assurance to wring out a joke to ten minutes – Peter finds a copy of his favourite record, Surfin’ Bird and plays it incessantly at home, much to the annoyance of the whole family. The fact that this is just a secondary story to the real plot, revolving around Peter’s friendship with Jesus (whom he spots working in a record store) is further proof of the writers’ confidence. This episode also features the boxset’s best movie/TV reference – Family Guy has become more dependent on these references than ever before – in a brilliantly-observed Office Space spoof, Stewie and Brian putting Peter’s record through the same treatment the office equipment was given in the film it parodies.
There is one duff episode, The Juice Is Loose, in which Peter befriends OJ Simpson much to the disgust of his family. It’s a relatively thin joke spread out over the course of the episode, proving wringing out a joke only really works when the joke is funny, and with no other plotlines running alongside it, this bombs.
Still, twelve largely excellent episodes make this another solid purchase for any Family Guy fan. Is it good value? Probably not when you compare it with any Simpsons set but then this has been the way for some time now and I guess we’ll just all have to lump it.
The usual strong selection of bonus features and episode commentaries fans of the show have come to expect are here. The commentaries on Family Guy discs have never appealed to me as many of the writers, as funny as they might be on paper, don’t come across as well in real life and listening to them guffawing and riffing doesn’t work for me. There is the odd programme insight here and there but it’s generally akin to listening to a bunch of college jocks making each other laugh.
Better are the ten minutes or so of deleted scenes, most of which raise a laugh or two, and the Comic Con Q&A footage, now a staple of most Family Guy boxsets. The featurettes, too, are pretty good with Family Guy Art Show and Cribz featurettes giving insight into where the developers of the show work – even though many do, once again,come across as real idiots – and Take Me Out To Place Tonight detailing how the song that features in Tales Of A Third Grade Nothing‘s (a riff on Sinatra’s Road To Mandalay)came to pass, with comments from Frank Sinatra Jr, who also contributes to the episode. Throw in some animatic episodes and you have a solid set of extras, all on the one disc.
Family Guy Season 8 will be released on November 2.