I’ll admit to cautious optimism when I saw the logline for “Meg and Quagmire,” if only because Family Guy telegraphed this eventual plot move all the back in “The Thin White Line” in season three. I honestly thought that the Meg/Quagmire pairing could potentially create good humor. In that episode years ago, Quagmire asking Meg her age was a decent joke establishing just how little Quagmire cared about anyone he couldn’t hit on, but it was no surprise that seven years later the show went back to that shallow well and carved out an entire episode for that eventuality. Meg turns 18 since that development doesn’t fundamentally alter the status quo of the series, and it’s only logical that the second she becomes “legal” Quagmire would come knocking. Much like the oddly serious “Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q” in the fall, tonight’s episode shortchanged what could have been a very serious episode by relying too heavily on in-episode tangents and time wasting.
Since I’d rather start with a positive comparison, I was impressed that I couldn’t shake the How I Learned to Drive similarities for the first half of the episode. Paula Vogel’s 1997 play is more about incestuous sexual abuse instead of a lustful neighbor, but Quagmire’s unsettling seduction tactics lined up with Uncle Peck’s attempts to gain Lil’ Bit’s favor. He texts her with age-appropriate mindless slang abbreviations, helps her “study” chemistry, and on their first date addresses Peter as “Mr. G.” Even though it’s deeply uncomfortable, there is something oddly fascinating about how Quagmire completely alters his personality to break down every wall Meg has in order to seduce her, straining to seem young enough to gain Meg’s trust. Meg is an inherently lonely and saddening character. She would trust anyone who gave her the time of day, but there is no sincerity to Quagmire’s interest. As he tells Peter, it’s just the way he is: Meg is 18, so he goes for it even in the face of Peter’s protests.
One of my roommates made the observation tonight that there are two big types of tangents/cutaways in a given episode of Family Guy: ones that reveal something in the past, removed from the “present” plot, and tangents that just waste time in the present and delay getting back to the actual plot of an episode. Tonight is a good example of Family Guy overusing the latter category. Peter’s speech to Quagmire about Meg not obeying him, his second monologue that closes out the episode, the War Games conversation, and others all feel like useless padding. It’s as though the writer’s came up with ten minutes of an actual episode, then instead of ten minutes of more plot decided that looking at their watches was a better idea. The episode starts with Peter, Lois, and Meg at the Teen Choice Awards, an elaborate setup for some pretty good jokes – all the fake teen idol names with “Chad” were amazing – but overall very few of those sequences managed to find anything funny.
The production cycle of animated shows came into play tonight in a way I found particularly interesting. It’s something I’ve wanted to write about for a while, since only animated episodic shows like this have a production schedule that far in advance. This episode had been listed on the Family Guy Wikipedia page as produced but unaired for around a year, meaning it was just sort of hanging around on the schedule. I couldn’t help but see Quagmire as something similar to Michael Fassbender’s character in Shame. The same movies about Glenn Quagmire would probably be adjusted to the title Shameless. He doesn’t admit to an addiction, but accepts what his natural behavior will be. That accidental character similarity aside, I wonder what a show like South Park would do if they decided to rush a Shame-themed episode about sex addiction. It wouldn’t look anything like this serendipitous bit of scheduling. Family Guy has the opportunity to look a serious episode in the face and try to find little corners of humor in a stark situation, but always chooses to look away and pitch to cutaways instead. That’s the structure of the show by and large, but that doesn’t make it any stronger.
By the third act, most of the discomfort is gone, and the show shifts the focus away from Quagmire seducing Meg and onto how Peter and Lois go into animated-third-act-action-mode in order to save Meg from her first adult decision separate from her parents. Up at Glenn’s cabin, Peter simply raises his voice enough to get Meg to listen to him, and it’s yet another sad moment in her life. She isn’t allowed to make her own decisions, even when it’s making a huge mistake at the hands of an obvious pervert. I didn’t really want to see Meg and Quagmire actually seal the deal, that’s about the last thing anyone wanted to see, but Peter exerting his misplaced paternal instinct felt like a copout all the same.
- Unofficial Cutaway Counter: 10. A pretty high count this week, and that’s part of what made this episode so disappointing.
- Several candidates for the worst cutaway: the Mexico girls, Peter literally kicking ass and taking names, and Mort’s Jewish Fight Club could all win the dubious honor.
- When Quagmire was telling a work story to Meg, it took me a minute to realize that he’s always been a pilot. That’s a detail that I’d completely forgotten since it’s mentioned so infrequently.
- My favorite fake teen idol names from the Teen Choice Awards: Chad Chadinson, C. Zachary Chad, and N.Y.T.F.$.
- When Peter notices the highway traffic was due to the road not being fully animated, it led to a meta poke-the-animator joke that’s been done better everywhere from Monty Python all the way to Spongebob Squarepants. It was audaciously lazy.