Written by Tío Esqueleto
Seth MacFarlane, the creator/writer/producer of Family Guy, took his show on the road for two packed shows at the beautiful Chicago Theatre. MacFarlane, the voice of family guy Peter Griffin, as well as fan favorites Brian the dog and baby Stewie, to name a few, brought the entire “family” with him for a mini variety show of sorts, aptly titled Family Guy Live! The show consisted of a live table reading, musical numbers, a sneak preview of things to come, Q & A, as well as plenty of R-rated insight into both the characters, and the folks who bring them to life.
The stage was set with nine director’s chairs, an overhead screen, and various life-sized cutouts of the Griffins and friends. After a brief clip reel of greatest bits, MacFarlane took the stage, drink in hand, and welcomed everyone to the ten o’clock show or, “the one we don’t remember tomorrow.” If you’ve never seen him, he is your average 30-something, white male, his voice baring a close resemblance to that of his own “man’s best friend,” Brian.
Next, he introduced us to the rest of the team, which included voice regulars Alex Borstein (Lois Griffin), Mila Kunis (Meg Griffin), Seth Green (Chris Griffin), and Mike Henry, the voice of Peter’s friend Cleveland, and fan favorites: the greased-up deaf guy and the neighborhood senior citizen pedophile, Herbert. Filling out the rest of the chairs were executive producer and writer, Danny Smith, voice actors Alexandra Breckenridge and H. John Benjamin, as well as show writer and voice talent John Viener.
Everybody seemed genuinely excited to be there. Kunis appeared to be a little under the weather, but excited nonetheless. Most of them carried their beer of choice onto the stage with them (no less than three bottles at a time), with Green taking the half-full, fifth of Jack Daniels approach. Borstein, a Chicago area native, came out in a Bears jersey, smack-talked QB Rex Grossman (I know the words “hairy” and “vagina” were thrown around), and instantly had the crowd in her pocket.
They then transitioned into the meat and potatoes of the evening’s festivities: the table read. Viener played the part of narrator, reading the stage directions, while the rest of the cast worked their usual magic. They chose an episode from last season titled “Whistle While Your Wife Works,” in which Lois ends up having to work for Peter as he has blown off some fingers in an earlier seen fireworks accident. For the regular “Brian and Stewie” subplot, this particular episode finds baby and dog feuding over Brian’s new extremely stupid, yet forgivingly hot, girlfriend. As usual, the subplot in this one steals the show. They added a third storyline especially for the night’s event in which Meg and Chris start to work at the same place. The material will be aired in an episode later this season. They were looking for audience reaction to see if tweaks needed to be made down the road. I thought it was a nice touch. It gave the audience a feeling of exclusivity, as well as the cast an opportunity for some much-appreciated improv.
Seeing the cast in action was a sight I will not soon forget. I have a new respect for everyone involved, especially MacFarlane. Most of the time when Peter isn’t interacting with Lois, he’s in a scene with either Brian, or his sex-freak neighbor, Glenn Quagmire. The same goes for Brian. If he’s not in a scene with Stewie, he’s with Peter, and vice versa. Here’s the thing, MacFarlane voices all of these characters, and then some. Watching his face contort back and forth from Peter’s Archie Bunker-like “know it all” speech from the side of his mouth, to Glenn’s wide-eyed “giggity giggity,” to Brian’s deadpan omnipotence, was simply amazing. But it was Stewie, the eyebrow-cocked, purse-lipped nellie, that got the crowd the most. From the minute they first showed Stewie in the opening clip reel, it was quite clear that this was a Stewie crowd. One gets the feeling that there is a Stewie nation out there.
Mike Henry is the cast’s secret weapon. He barely had to glance up from his paper to make the crowd roar. His Cleveland drew thunderous applause with each line, but it was Herbert the pedophile (my, hands down, favorite Quahog resident) that really left them pissing, myself included. He has a way of subtly and precisely whistling each ‘s’ that damn near sounds like an effect done in post production. It is voice-talent gold, and exactly why you came to see it for yourself. Everybody was top notch, but it was MacFarlane and Henry who nabbed the most laughs.
Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly gain any more respect for MacFarlane and his team, they began their brief, but nothing short of fantastic, musical portion of the show. They started off with MacFarlane doing “I Need a Jew” from the controversial episode, “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein.” Seth sang as Peter, while the footage from the original episode played on the overhead screen. It was easy to just watch the original footage, forgetting that it was being sung live on the stage below. The sync was that close, and the vocals that dead on.
Afterwards, Peter and Lois did an X-rated version of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” that included various call-and-response doozies like “you don’t cup my testes” and “you don’t tongue my asshole.” After which, at a good hour and a half into an already filthy show, they thought it a good time to remind us that if there are kids in the audience, it could get “a little blue” as this is the late show. Brilliant. Finally, they rounded out the musical portion with Herbert the pedophile’s rendition of The Little Shop of Horrors’ “Somewhere That’s Green.” This was a song sung to Chris in an earlier episode and, again, I was brought to body-trembling hysterics. This was the highlight of my night.
There was a sneak preview of the upcoming, Star Wars-themed season opener (airing this Sunday, the 23rd). It was wonderful seeing extended scenes of what looks to be a retelling of Episode IV, with Stewie’s Darth Vader demanding the most applause again.
Rounding out the evening was the dreaded Q & A. I can’t stand these things. They are painfully embarrassing cringe-fests for all involved. If you’ve ever been to a disastrous Comic Con panel, this was right up there with the disastrousest. There was, however, one good question. One we’d all been wondering, and that was what did they think of the South Park episodes dedicated to breaking down Family Guy? Their response? They tiptoed around it, but said they were just thrilled to be featured, and that they have an undying respect for the South Park guys.
I have a whole new respect for Seth MacFarlane and the cast of Family Guy. Up until now, I’d always loved the show, but I have to admit, I certainly agreed with South Park’s sizing up of the show on their “Cartoon Wars” episodes. To be fair, they did rip on The Simpsons, but it was Family Guy who was clearly in front of the firing squad for their writing techniques and, further, their use of cutaway jokes that have nothing to do with the plot. It is the Family Guy’s M.O. (along with singing, cursing, and chicken fighting), and it works extremely well for them. Seeing them in action only solidifies this. All I know, is there were nine of the funniest manatees on the planet on that stage that night, and I’m so glad I was there to see it.