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Thursday, November 28, 2013

FAMILY GUYS Brings to a Close the "Life of Brian"

Article first published as FAMILY GUYS Brings to a Close the "Life of Brian" on TheTVKing.

FOX's Family Guy is a little less stagnant than most animated comedies. Peter (Seth MacFarlane) has changed professions a couple of times, and that's stayed consistent in the continuity. Cleveland (Mike Henry) moved away and left the show. But never before, that I can think of, has a primetime animated series killed off one of its core family members.

Family Guy broke that rule in this week's "Life of Brian." Stewie (MacFarlane) decides to destroy his time machine after yet another zany adventure with Brian (also MacFarlane) that screws up history. Then, Brian is promptly hit by a car and dies. With the machine destroyed, there is no way to bring him back and save his life. Thus, Brian is killed in a very permanent way.

OK, Family Guy has killed off people before. Stewie himself ended one week last spring dead. But in the following episode, he returned as if nothing happened. When Brian dies, it feels like the end.

It's strange to think of Brian being gone. He is so central to the story, and has a place both as Peter's buddy and Stewie's best friend. So many great Family Guy episodes are entirely dependent upon Brian, and after ten years, he's still many fans' favorite person on the show. While a dog's life is often finite in reality, in cartoons, where a baby stays a baby, a canine could live on forever. But sadly Brian will not.

"Life of Brian" handles the death with fewer jokes and a LOT more tears than normal. We see the Griffins all very sad, having a family hug. They hold a funeral, to which many neighbors and acquaintances show up. Gags are slipped into these proceedings, but they tend to be small and not distract too much from the tragedy. This is probably the most somber episode of Family Guy that will ever be made.

It's also extremely well written. Care is taken to plan for all arguments against killing Brian or why it has to be this way. Brian has a couple of scenes that really highlight who he is prior to his death. Everything feels well put together, with a defined emotional arc.

It isn't too long (about a month) before the Griffins decide to get a new dog. The series always walks that very thin line between treating Brian as a human or portraying him as a pet, and this serves the latter, while most of the half hour does the former. At the pet store, they meet Vinnie (Tony Sirico, The Sopranos), an Italian pussy hound who is 1/16th cat. All soon accept him as one of their own.

Except for Stewie, that is, which makes sense. Even while Brian bonded with the other family members, he and Stewie always shared a special relationship. In fact, Vinnie finds Stewie crying outside late in the episode, after everyone else has moved on, and there's a real moment between the two of them, Vinnie telling Stewie of his own loss of a close pal, grief being the one way they can connect. This honors Brian's memory as well as anyone can expect.

Will Vinnie and Stewie be besties in time? I don't know. It seems likely the writers will play with the two as a pair, just given the chemistries already established. But it is sure to be different, Vinnie and Brian having very disparate personalities. Thankfully, Brian and Stewie have that last little time travel mission early in the episode to send off Brian right. I don't know if Vinnie can ever take that spot as effectively.

Adding Vinnie will likely breathe new life into a stale show. Already, it's clear he's not a desperate attempt to save things, but rather, a natural way to grow the characters and the dynamics. He's got layers and is multi-faceted, which I'm sure we'll learn more about in subsequent episodes. I'm intrigued by him, as he fills a role that no one else has.

And if Family Guy bends over backwards to resurrect Brian, I won't complain too much. As long as they keep Vinnie around, as well.

Family Guy airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.

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