Episode 1 | North By North Quahog

There had better be some animation if it’s a Sunday night on FOX. Since The Simpsons became popular, the FOX network has been at odds with itself about prime-time animated programs. Other executives who believe all animation should be directed at children and has no place in the prime time lineup must continuously contend with the executives who see animation as a cost-effective way to not only fill programming spaces but also earn a profit. Even while philosophical debates will continue, you can’t argue with a pile of money, and since FOX canceled the show, Family Guy has been raking it in.

Family Guy was the top rated program in the Adult Swim block of Cartoon Network when it was canceled. Records have been broken for DVD sets, and sales of Family Guy stuff are strong. Not bad for a show that was terminated three years ago due to “underperformance.” This Sunday, the network finally comes to their senses and debuts their new Animation Domination block, showcasing the eagerly anticipated fourth season of Family Guy and the show plays like it never left (although mysteriously, there’s a live action sitcom right in the middle of it, unless they secretly shipped the production of Malcolm in the Middle to Korean animation house Akom).

The show picks up precisely where it left off after an opening that lists every FOX sitcom that has premiered and been cancelled since Family Guy left (and there have been a lot of them). The break and the show’s subsequent success on DVD and cable have actually given creator Seth MacFarlane more time to work on character dynamics and sub-references. From an obvious “what if Ralph Cramden really did make good on one of his promises to send Alice “to the moon”” to a shot at genetic manipulation, FG maintains exactly the style of humor that its audience has grown accustomed to and memorized from the nightly broadcasts on cable.

While the parents are away, Chris and Meg’s parents must be replaced by Brian and Stewie. Stewie is given the opportunity to take charge because Brian doesn’t appear to have the requisite power to discipline the two kids. Fans of the two won’t be let down as Brian takes on the passive “father” character while Stewie immediately transforms into the dictatorial mother figure. The Brian and Stewie pairing has always been one of the series’ strongest points. As per usual, some of the comedy is so nasty that you almost feel bad for laughing at it, which shows that FG is succeeding in its goal.

MacFarlane and his co-conspirators have made sure to use this episode to re-introduce the series to America. A number of background characters appear but most of the major supporting characters are absent. Although making jokes about Mel Gibson and Passion has developed into a cottage business and most of the gags have, quite simply, lost their humor, Family Guy still finds some humor in it.

What remains to be seen is whether the show can triumphantly return to broadcast airways or serve as another illustration of a show that can succeed in some platforms but fail in others. The comedic stalwart Police Squad was one of the few prior instances of a show returning to network television after popularity in another platform. (With Color) The network revived the series and made a big deal about how it related to the original Naked Gun movie after its unexpected box office success. The show continued to fail.

During Cartoon Network’s late-night Adult Swim block, where fans are seeking for a little more edge to their animation, Family Guy and fellow FOX Network exile Futurama have flourished. We’ll have to see if that audience is really ready for the biting sarcasm that Family Guy delivers up on a weekly basis because King of the Hill features humor more in line with the WB Network’s Blue Collar TV and FOX’s main animated comedy, The Simpsons, has long since lost most of its edge.

If not, late-night cable and DVD sales are options.

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