The fact "Family Guy" is hitting the 200-episode milestone this Sunday is a terrific story. After all, as series creator Seth MacFarlane has recalled in Esquire, it's a series Fox canceled, which picked up steam in reruns on Cartoon Network and via DVD sales, and eventually came back to the network, becoming the cornerstone of MacFarlane's animation empire.
On top of that, MacFarlane has been tapped to host next year's Oscars, in part because of his reputation for being adept at tapping into a younger audience (witness his surprise hit "Ted") even the staid old Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences must court and covet.
Watching a preview of the "Family Guy" episode, I was reminded why I'm not a regular viewer. The scatter-gun approach to comedy means if you don't like a gag, another will be along momentarily. But it's so hit-miss that the genuinely funny stuff is sometimes overwhelmed by the groaners.
The anniversary show isn't really that -- just an episode where the dog, Brian, uses the time machine created by baby Stewie (both voiced by MacFarlane) to bed women. Let's table the whole talking-dog-has-sex-with-humans part, though along with a mass-vomiting scene that starts kind of funny and goes on way too long, it does betray a certain comedic sensibility.
Admittedly, "Family Guy" has a very loyal, non-traditional Academy Award audience (that is, younger, and more male), and if the Oscars can attract even a small part of them because of MacFarlane, it's probably a win for all concerned.
But "Family Guy" still strikes me as a show that isn't particularly inspired, creatively speaking, but which is successful enough to get a pass. Besides, at 200 episodes, it's become an institution -- and an extremely profitable one at that. Or as John Huston's character put it in "Chinatown," "Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough."
Ditto for TV shows.