Sunday, January 1, 2012

Family Guy Volume Nine funny, but has holes

     FOX's Family Guy has never been released on DVD by season, but rather, by volume. Thus, the latest release, Volume Nine, begins its run with an episode from December 2009, and goes up through October 2010. This mean this set has most of season eight, and just the first three episodes of season nine. However, it does not include the second Star Wars spoof, which aired during this time, nor does it have the banned episode, "Partial Terms of Endearment," which has yet to run in the U.S. Both missing episodes are available separately on their own DVDs, which means that the casual browser begins looking at Volume Nine with quite a bit of skepticism and disappointment.

     Family Guy has actually been less funny these past few years. Sure, they pull out some wonderful specials and events. But the week-in, week-out episodes are just not as soon as The Cleveland Show or especially American Dad!, which air in the same block. This means that Family Guy is past its prime, but usually still makes for an entertaining half an hour.

     That said, there are a few gems in Volume Nine, even as Family Guy has begun suffering creatively, over all. "Peter-assment" is about unwanted sexual attention. "Brian & Stewie," the special 150th episode, takes the two popular characters to a whole new level of familiarity in a weirdly dramatic installment, absent any of the series' trademark cut scenes. "Quagmire's Dad" is introduced, and gets a sex change. "Excellence in Broadcasting" sees Brian (Seth MacFarlane) give Rush Limbaugh (himself) a second look. "And Then There Were Fewer" reveals a recurring character to be an evil killer in an extended murder mystery, using many returning guest stars, meaning that Quahog won't ever quite be the same.

     The special features are a mixed bag. Deleted scenes are included on all three discs. FOX includes an episode of the spin-off, The Cleveland Show, with an introduction by star Mike Henry, which is nice for those who haven't checked out the funny series, though what Family Guy fan hasn't at this point? Side-by-side animatics are interesting, but don't really show anything that hasn't been seen before.

     One of the good bonuses is "Brian and Stewie: The Lost Phone Call," which is pretty much a deleted scene, but a specific and funny one, separated out from the others. There is also a Making Of special for "And Then There Were Fewer," a featurette called "The History of the World - According to Family Guy," which is exactly what you would expect, and a look at Family Guy at 2010's Comic Con. All of these are good additions. It's just a shame that there aren't more of them.

     The cover art for Volume Nine is kind of fun, if you liked "And Then There Were Fewer." It is designed completely around that episode, ignoring all others. One almost wishes that "And Then There Were Fewer" had its own release, using this packaging, and Volume Nine incorporated elements of many of the episodes included. But then again, who wants to spend the money on yet another DVD, when it's easier to package them in volumes?

     For viewers who are already fans of Family Guy, Volume Nine is a must have to complete the collection. Casual fans will be annoyed about the missing stuff, but it is possible to get it by shelling out a bit more money. The TV browser may not find Volume Nine a good entry point for the series, nor will it make any 'best of DVD' lists this year. So it's an OK release that has its niche, but not one opening any new doors.

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