From time to time a television family comes along that reminds audiences across the country what it means to care for those closest to them. A family that acts as a team to overcome obstacles big and small, and still finds time to share a few lighthearted laughs along the way. All in a tight twenty-one minutes (not including commercials). These families warm our hearts, make us think, and most importantly, they teach us how to be kind to one another. The Griffins of Family Guy are not one of these families. At least not in the traditional sense. Lessons are learned and relationships are forged throughout the series but as characters evolve and dynamics change within the Griffin family from season to season, there is no shortage of tragedies or comedic complications. Nonetheless, we love them as if they were our own dysfunctional bunch. Each of them brings their own unique perspective to the screen but the group truly shines when all of the over-the-top personalities come together for one of their poorly planned shenanigans.
The patriarch of the Griffin family, Peter, is a belligerent brewery worker from Quahog, Rhode Island whose thirst for ice cold Pawtucket Patriot Ale is matched only by his thirst for outrageous adventures with his best friends and neighbors. His lack of education and affinity for spur of the moment stunts might at first cause viewers to see him as an insensitive character. However, time and time again Peter has shown us that although he’s often the cause of misery for his family and fellow townsfolk, he is, in fact, a family man with a kind heart. In the episode entitled Peter’s Daughter, his daughter, Meg slips into a coma after nearly drowning. When he recalls all of the terrible things he’s done to her over the years, Peter vows to become a better father to her and even follows through, to an extent. Also, in Play It Again, Brian, his dog, Brian (who happens to walk upright and speak English) confesses his love to, and even attempts to sleep with Peter’s wife, Lois while the three are on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. When she tells Peter about the awkward encounter, he confronts Brian about it which quickly escalates into a fist fight between the two. Eventually, the brawl ends with them reconciling after Brian promises to never let his feelings for Lois interfere with their relationship again. Peter even goes so far as to continue letting Brian live with them in the family home. This shows that while not perfect by any means, Peter does, in fact, have a capacity for compassion and forgiveness.
Peter’s wife, Lois is another story altogether. Where Peter’s character has deepened and emotionally evolved as the seasons have progressed, Lois’ character seems to have taken a different kind of turn. In early episodes, she was a caring mother and wife that acted as the voice of reason during Peter’s frequent funny business. As the show has moved on, those antics along with the stresses of raising three children almost completely on her own have apparently taken their toll on Lois’ mental health. In more recent seasons she appears to have given up on trying to reign in the craziness happening around the house on a daily basis. Instead, she pursues her own passions and interests which, as we’ve seen, can get her into quite a bit of trouble. In the episode It Takes a Village Idiot, And I Married One, Lois runs for mayor of Quahog (and wins) after hearing the troubling news that mayor Adam West had sanctioned oil dumping in Lake Quahog by a local refinery. However, after taking office the power of her new position begins to corrupt her almost immediately. She starts embezzling funds from the city to buy extravagant gifts for herself and eventually cuts a deal with the very oil refinery whose dumping prompted her to run for mayor in the first place. Once again allowing them to dump toxic waste into Lake Quahog, making it an unsafe place for friends and families to enjoy. Some other examples of Lois’ growing disdain for her home life include cheating on Peter with President Bill Clinton, ditching Meg to party with college kids on a spring break vacation, and getting hooked on drugs during a short-lived modeling career in which she completely shirked her responsibilities as a mother. Lois has made it abundantly clear that she has put everyone else’s wants and needs before her own for long enough. She is going to do what she wants, when she wants, regardless of the consequences.
Peter and Lois’ two oldest children, Chris and Meg are an interesting pair. Chris tends to take after his father in both physical appearance and level of intelligence whereas Meg seems to take after Lois, but in entirely different ways. Chris is in many ways the comic relief and source of some of the weirder storylines of the series such as his ambiguous relationship with an elderly pedophile named Herbert that lives down the street and the “evil monkey” that lived in his bedroom closet for many seasons. Much like his father, Chris also has a deeper side to contrast his almost constant uneducated antics. Early in the series, he was a highly regarded painter, and more recently he went on a date with a girl from his school with Downs Syndrome he had a crush on, only to find out that she wasn’t very nice. When she began to treat him poorly, he defended himself and decided that a girl that isn’t willing to treat him with respect isn’t worth his time at all. Meg is much more like her mother Lois. Though they don’t look much alike, they are both fed up with Peter’s rude behavior as well as Chris’ willingness to pile onto whatever cockamamie scheme he’s up to at the time. Much like Lois, Meg has reached a point where she can no longer afford to care about what’s going on around her anymore. This causes her character to wander into strange territory for a young girl. She has repeatedly been involved in relationships with older men, including Mayor Adam West and Peter’s best friend, Quagmire. She has talked about suicide, pulled out clumps of her hair and even yanked out one of her own teeth just to make a point. All of these are pretty clear examples of a person that has been pushed to the brink of insanity. However, she is undoubtedly aware of where she stands within the family, as unfortunate as that may be. In fact, in the episode entitled Seahorse Seashell Party, Meg ends up standing up to the rest of the family for being so mean to her, and it actually works. But without Meg to bully, the family begins to attack each other. Meg later confides in Brian that she feels bad about her family having turned on each other without her as the “lightning rod” on which they usually take out all of their aggression. She even says “if I feel bad, they don’t have to” which implies that she continues to put up with the disrespect from those she loves because she loves them.
The youngest of the Griffin clan, Stewie, and the family dog, Brian have developed what is arguably the most well balanced and entertaining one-on-one relationship the series has to offer. Their chemistry as a duo is undeniable which is most likely why the creators of the show have paired them in their own adventures time after time. Stewie is an infant with a rather complex set of emotions and, given who his parents are, a questionably high level of intelligence. Early in the series, he was bent on ending his mother’s life and had a seemingly unending arsenal of futuristic weaponry to get the job done. Unfortunately for him, she always seemed to just evade his countless attacks. As the show progressed, and after his invention of the time machine, Stewie’s motivations moved away from killing Lois (with a few notable exceptions) to meddling with the past and occasionally the future. This opened the show up to exploring different timelines and dimensions like in the episode Road to The Multiverse which, along with the Star Wars parody episodes, added a sci-fi element to the show that until then, seemed to be missing. Along for the ride on most of Stewie’s time travel adventures is Brian. Once a well educated, well spoken, and somewhat minimally featured character in the series, Brian has become a clear favorite among true Family Guy fans. However, his intelligence and motivations as a character have also made a few dramatic shifts since the earlier seasons. In more recent episodes he can be seen abusing alcohol, getting into altercations with friends and neighbors and even writing a self-help book that he himself claims is garbage just to trick people into buying it. He has been reduced to a drunk, egocentric emotionally charged character that seems to bounce from one emotionless sexual conquest to the next, often not realizing the consequences his actions have on those around him. That being said, It would be unfair to not mention that Brian, like each of the other members of the Griffin family, has had many moments of emotional clarity and openness that have had a positive impact on the show as a whole.
Are the Griffins poised to become mainstream America’s favorite television family anytime soon? Probably not. But it could be argued that the way the show is structured is intended to portray a more realistic view of the average American family. A family that we can all relate to on some level or another. A middle class, working family that from time to time may argue or say something insensitive to each other or even fight a giant chicken through town and onto an airplane and into space, causing millions upon millions of dollars in damage for a reason so insignificant that neither of them can remember why they started fighting in the first place. Not the cookie cutter version of the nuclear family that unoriginal sitcoms have been pounding into our heads since the nineteen sixties. The Griffins might not always have a moral to teach us or even have a cohesive story to tell in each episode, but that’s part of why we love them so much. We never know what to expect, just like with a real family. That and because the one thing that they most definitely do have to offer is an uncanny ability to make us laugh at what others wouldn’t dare joke about. From random cutaways featuring country music star Conway Twitty to family road trips full of unforeseen follies, there is something for everyone on Family Guy (if you look hard enough).
By Bill Wallis