The Simpsons did its mountain climbing episode back in 1998, during the ninth season of the show. American Dad offered its take last season. So Family Guy’s 11th season premiere isn’t just late to the party; it’s retreading territory that the knock-off that now regularly surpasses it in quality has already covered. An oversized, ridiculous goal isn’t something new in animated sitcoms, and it’s not really a problem to employ a successful episode framework. No, what sinks “Into Fat Air” is the motivation for the Griffins’ excursion to the world’s tallest peak.
In “King of the Hill,” Homer is trying to live up to his son’s expectations about just how drastically he’s turned his health around by climbing to the top of The Murderhorn. In “The Vacation Goo,” Francine just wants her family to share something together after finding out that Stan has implanted fake memories of all their vacations using CIA technology. And if that shared meal happens to be the body of a cruise line employee recently crushed to death in an accident, so be it. But “Into Fat Air” isn’t about internal family conflict or bonding; it’s about the Griffins’ petty competition with other people.
The Griffins have dinner with the family of one of Lois’ ex-boyfriends, which makes Peter so jealous that he acts in an expectedly discourteous fashion at dinner. But this other family is pretty snooty, and sends its son to a private school, so Peter responds by saying his family will climb the mountain as well. What makes this a weaker motivation is that it serves no purpose other than to assert dominance over another family for dubious reasons. Homer wants to impress his son, and Stan tries to combat rapid aging, but Peter just wants to win and shove it in someone else's face.
I used to look forward to every episode of The Simpsons that had the titular family in a foreign country because of how ridiculously unnerved the members would get when surrounded by a different culture. That, and it was always funny to think of all the countries they got banned from visiting again. But the Griffins’ short jaunt around Nepal before their ascent attempt, buying a donkey with sunglasses and sitting in at the Yak Shack, a comedy club with a yak performer, doesn’t really put them in contact with a foreign culture. They don’t have a Sherpa guide, and they don’t have the necessary equipment. It’s just another expositional setting used to set up tangential sequences.
The ascent itself is comically inaccurate—Peter uses a GPMS machine, different from a GPS device because of the moody and sensitive female voice— which is strange, since the slow, methodical journey seems like a place that an impatient character like Peter might be able to mine some laughs. Not many of the jokes land during this act, but the Adam West Batman wall-climb reference with Sammy Davis, Jr. is a nice callback and reference to the Quahog mayor. The Griffins get to the top of Everest, but it doesn’t really feel like an accomplishment, or the point of the episode. They just get to the top, find out they’ve been beaten, and that’s the end of that.
Which brings us to the moral dilemma played for dark comedy: On the descent, the Griffins find their rivals’ son frozen to death, and since they don’t have any food, cannibalize him. Stewie points out that they didn’t eat the dog before another person, which, fair point. This is really the only bit of laughter the show wrings out of this. Considering American Dad also used desperation cannibalism in an episode—back in 2007 during its third season—this is some particularly suspicious copycat humor.
The only parts of this episode that didn’t feel cobbled together from previous episodes and other shows (the mountain climbing plot, the cannibalism sequence, the family dinner gone awry) were the cutaways, which is pretty typical of Family Guy at this point. I’m of the opinion that any kind of joke that involves Brian talking out the thoughts and emotions of a dog is going to be funny, so some of that material worked for me, as did the extended tangent of Stewie slowly losing his shit in Vegas backed by Earth, Wind, & Fire’s “September.” But adding up all of those side jokes doesn’t equate to a full episode. It’s anticlimactic, like when you realize there’s about 11 minutes of action in a three-hour football game.
- Welcome to another season of Family Guy coverage. I’m doing double duty here and on American Dad each Sunday, so unlike this week when there were screeners for each premiere, it’ll take a bit longer for each review to post.
- Unofficial Cutaway Counter: 12, but that depends on how you count the elongated gags like Quagmire knocking at the door, or Peter oiling his pecs with salad dressing.
- Best cutaway/tangent: Any time there is dog-related humor with Brian, it’s funny to me, so I liked the cut to another dog realizing Brian marked his territory on top of Everest.
- Worst tangent: Several candidates, but God and Jesus naming Nepal as they went around the globe was pretty darn unfunny. And the Scottie Pippen gag: It’s 2012, let’s keep that one on the shelf for a good long time before bringing it back again.
- “I’m told James Woods High leads the nation in teacher-to-student thing resting.” You know, if there’s one really great line like this one that makes my roommates and me laugh so much that we have to pause and rewind so we don’t miss anything, that’s at least a minor victory.