Family Guy makes a lot of offensive jokes. This is nothing new, and not something that’d really be worth spending a lot of time talking about in this space, because duh. But it’s important to note, for Family Guy and all comedy like it, that the show hides behind its refusal to take anything seriously. Unfortunately, that means the show can never say anything seriously. “Baby Got Black” is the rare episode of the show that seems like it might have maybe had a tiny impulse to say something interesting. It falls totally and utterly flat, first because, well, it’s Family Guy, and second because it’s not very funny.
The episode starts with a bet to see who can stay awake longest between Peter, Quagmire, and Joe. As part of the bet, the three make prank calls to everyone they know with a dead wife before starting to hallucinate. The problem with most hallucination scenes in TV is that they’re less fun than actually hallucinating and rarely capture the loopy and surrealist quality of legitimate dreams (or hallucinations). That doesn’t change here as we get a brief bit of Quagmire and Peter turning into pizzas or Quagmire fantasizing that Joe is Cheetarah from Thundercats. This is all silly and bland, but that impulse does pay off later in the episode with the elaborate Footloose cutaway, which is probably the best part of the half-hour simply because it’s so random.
Next, we get to the main “plot” when Jerome’s daughter Pam hits on Chris at a restaurant, leading to a “blossoming” young romance. Kevin Michael Richardson has always been fun as Jerome on this show and Principal Lewis over on American Dad, and he’s pretty much the only reason “Baby Got Black” doesn’t collapse into absolute garbage. Initially, this plot focuses on the ways the Griffins deal with race: Lois claims she voted for Obama “once” and lists every black person she’s ever seen on TV. Brian makes pompous remarks about how considerate he is toward “Dr. King.” Peter is actually pretty cool about the whole thing. But instead, Jerome turns out to be the racist one, claiming he doesn’t want his daughter dating a white boy. The plot here strikes me as something the writers actually thought might have been smart—maybe someone just really recently watched Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?
So there’s a germ of an idea. But… everything is just so, so unfunny. The big centerpiece of Peter’s attempts to get Jerome to stop being a racist is a big musical number about white people’s contributions to society (including The Cleveland Show). Jerome’s reaction just about captured mine: “That song only made me hate white people even more.” That’s especially a bummer since Family Guy and American Dad have done some pretty successful madcap musical-type things in the past. (I generally like Seth MacFarlane’s singing voice!)
Eventually, Chris and Pam run away (prompting unflattering comparisons to another episode in Fox’s Animation Domination bloc, tonight’s Bob’s Burgers) and Peter and Jerome go looking for them. In the process, Peter learns that Jerome has to deal with being pulled over by the cops all the time, treated like a criminal because of his race. Peter, who has never had to experience police harassment, realizes that he has benefited from what we might like to call white privilege, a “teaching” moment that gets just a few seconds of the episode. On very, very rare occasions Family Guy can commit to an emotional moment (something it did well in “Life Of Brian”), but it has to really commit, and this is just boring. Finally, predictably, Jerome and Peter stop Chris from getting laid and everything just ends on a note of forced acceptance. “Baby Got Black” tries to enforce a traditional, sappy sitcom ending on 20 minutes of bad racist jokes (even if they’re directed at everyone). It’s not a good look.
- Unofficial cutaway counter: five.
- Stewie makes a joke about St. Francis! (Who is also a clue on today’s New York Times crossword.)
- “I was hoping they’d be darker.”
- “Black racism is the biggest problem facing the country today.”
- I think I also would’ve liked this more if Chris and Pam actually had some sort of “emotional” connection, rather than Chris just really wanting to get laid. It made the whole thing a lot more cynical.