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Worst TV Show of the Week

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Family Guy on Fox


The controversy surrounding the February 14th episode of Family Guy continues to make news.

The episode (9:00 p.m. ET) featured a female character with Down’s syndrome who, when asked what her parents do for a living, responded: “My dad’s an accountant, and my mom is the former governor of Alaska” – as is former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, whose youngest son, Trig, has Down’s syndrome.  During an interview on Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, Palin commented, “The world is full of cruel, cold-hearted people who would do such a thing.”  She went on to say, “When is enough enough?  And when are we going to be willing to say, you know, some things just aren’t really funny?”


Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane fired back during an appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher by claiming that Palin was trying to curry “phony pity” for herself and her family.  Andrea Fay Friedman, the actress who supplied the voice of the “Down’s syndrome girl” on Family Guy actually has the condition in real life, and in an e-mail to The New York Times wrote, “I guess former Governor Palin does not have a sense of humor.  I thought the line ‘I am the daughter of the former governor of Alaska’ was very funny.  I think the word is ‘sarcasm.’” 


And just days ago, Family Guy cast member Patrick Warburton became the latest to weigh in on the controversy. Warburton (who provides the voice for the wheelchair-using character Joe) “appears to be the first person involved with the show in any way, shape, or form who has publicly broken ranks” (as reported by Lisa de Moraes in The Washington Post).  Warburton is quoted as saying, “I know that you have to be an equal-opportunity offender, but there are some things that I just don’t think are funny.”


While much of the controversy has centered on a single throw-away punch line about Sarah Palin, none of the media coverage has taken a good hard look at the rest of the episode’s content.  Had the news media done that, they would have found it much harder to defend the show. For mean-spirited pot-shots, explicit language, and strong sexual content, the now-infamous February 14th episode of Family Guy has been named Worst TV Show of the Week.


Mid-way through the show, yet another of Seth MacFarlane’s self-indulgent Broadway-style musical numbers appeared. During the song, Chris (Peter’s socially awkward teenaged son) prepares for his date with his high-school crush Ellen, the aforementioned girl with Down’s syndrome.  Stewie (Chris’ diabolical toddler brother) breaks into song as he offers Chris some dating advice in the following lyrics:


“You've got to look your best tonight,

You tubby little parasite,

'Cause there's a lovely lady and she's waiting for you.

And though her pretty face may seem

A special person's wettest dream

Before you get to see it there are things you must do…

I know you just can't wait to stare

At all that luscious orange hair

But, boy, before you touch a single curl,

You must impress that ultra bloomin',

All-consumin', poorly groomin'

Down's syndrome girl!

You wanna take that little whore

And spin her on the dancing floor,

But boy, before you do a single twirl,

You must impress that effervescing,

Self-possessing, no BS-ing

Down's syndrome girl.

Her eyes are emerald portals

To a secret land of love

And her smile is like the sweetest summer flower.

Her kiss is so inviting

And her hugs are so delighting,

And what makes them really nice

Is that they've got a little spice,

Because they're tighter than a vise

And they go on for an hour…

My boy, between the two of us,

We'll get you on that shorty bus

And then you're gonna take it for a whirl.

Now go impress that super-thrilling,

Wish-fulfilling, Yoo-Hoo spilling,

Ultra-swinging, boner-bringing,

Gaily singing, ding-a-linging,

Stupefying, fortifying,

As of Monday, shoelace tying,

Stimulating, titillating,

Kitty-cat impersonating,

Mega-rocking, pillow-talking,

Just a little crooked walking,

Coyly pouting, booby-sprouting:

For some reason always shouting,

Fascinating, captivating,

Happiness and joy creating

Down's syndrome Girl!”


As you can see, the song contained all the stereotypes of mental retardation: slowness (“As of Monday, shoe-lace tying”), poor motor skills (“Yoo-hoo spilling” and “just a little crooked walking”), surprising strength (hugs “tighter than a vise”), and of course a reference to the “shorty bus.”  What litany of Down’s syndrome stereotypes would be complete without one? 


The song also contained disturbing sexual references: “And though her pretty face may seem / A special person's wettest dream… You wanna take that little whore / And spin her on the dancing floor … Wish-fulfilling, Yoo-Hoo spilling, Ultra-swinging, boner-bringing, gaily singing, ding-a-linging…Stimulating, titillating…Coyly pouting, booby-sprouting…Down Syndrome Girl.” 


Once Chris is on the date, Ellen turns out to be mean and bossy.  So much so, Chris comments, “Boy, you’re tougher than a doggy-dominatrix.”  The scene cuts to bedroom where a dominatrix in a skimpy leather outfit stands over a dog tied to the bed.  She blows a doggie whistle and the dog screams, “Ah!  Yes!  You bitch!”  Once Ellen invites Chris back to her house she orders him to make her a sundae.  “Unless you're gonna pull a sundae out of your belly button, now get your ass in the [bleeped ‘f******’] kitchen,” she commands.  Eventually, the abuse is too much for Chris to take.  Before he storms out he proclaims, “You know, I used to hear people with Down’s syndrome were different than the rest of us, but you're not. You're not different at all.  You're just a bunch of [bleeped ‘a*******’] like everyone else!”


So this is the moral with which the show leaves its viewers: We are all despicable.  Peter Griffin puts a finer point on it with behavior that isn’t just despicable, it’s downright disgusting.  As a subplot, Peter pretends to be a psychic and is called by the police to help find a missing man.  Peter asks to touch something that belongs to the victim.  The man’s wife is ushered in and Peter fondles her all over, including her breasts.  “It's still very fuzzy,” Peter complains.  “Does he have a daughter?” he asks.  A nerdy, overweight young girl approaches.  Peter comments, “Yeah, I see.  Does he have maybe a thinner, hotter daughter?”  When Peter is informed that the victim’s other daughter is only twelve years old, Peter muses, “Okay, like a young twelve or like a she-eats-a-lot-of-milk-products-so-she-got-her-boobs-early twelve.  Which is a real thing, by the way.”


Yes, Family Guy certainly is an “equal-opportunity offender.”  But isn’t it better to respect, rather than offend, everyone?  And wouldn’t we want that to be the norm -- rather than the vile, crude, deplorable behavior that Family Guy cynically revels in?  Regardless of whether or not the Palin joke was out of bounds, there is nothing in the rest of the episode, or in the entire output of Seth MacFarlane’s mind -- worth defending.


For its cruelty and cold-heartedness, Family Guy has been named Worst TV Show of the Week.

Worst TV Show of the Week

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