During the original run of Family Guy before its initial cancellation, Meg Griffin was the easy punching bag as the show’s worst character. She was lined up to be the Lisa Simpson of the family, but never became reliably endearing and didn’t get enough funny stories or even great one-liners. Meg faded into the background, forgotten when she wasn’t involved in an episode, and groan-inducing when she showed up. Since Family Guy returned, however, the show became increasingly aware of Meg’s unpopularity and used the rest of the Griffin family to pile an avalanche of insults onto the character, ripped from the mouths, or perhaps more accurately, the keyboards, of viewers. Meg has been the permanent butt of an endless string of jokes for six seasons, wearing out the crutch so completely that it barely registers any kind of laugh. “Seahorse Seashell Party” tries to turn the tables, giving Meg the floor to air out her grievances against the rest of her family for just how badly she’s been treated.

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After watching all of the delayed hurricane-centric “crossover” episodes across The Cleveland Show, Family Guy, and American Dad, I’m still a little impressed that the producers went largely with bottle episodes and waited until the very end of the 90 minutes of television to put all three fathers onscreen together. The cutaway counter was far lower this week than for the premiere, with the Griffins basically just stuck in their house during the hurricane. The television gets knocked out, so they only have each other to talk to, and eventually, they start going after each other, before they just start to lay into Meg, as always.

It begins with Peter starting a game of “Fingerbang” with the rest of the family, using his hand as a fake gun and yelling “BANG!” until Meg joins in, at which point it’s obvious the family would turn and face the sexual connotation as a way to insult Meg. Lazy? Check. Obvious? Check again. Laughs? None.

Peter has always received free rein to do anything he wanted in the show without moral repercussions, so when Meg finally gets fed up with her family piling on her for the umpteenth time, it would seem logical for her to turn on her father, the ringleader. But no, she turns on Chris. Her three monologues to her brother, mother, and father are as on-the-nose as possible, but the real barbs come out in the speech to Lois. The mother/daughter element came the closest to landing, but even though Meg’s speech makes Lois break down and apologize, she isn’t the parent who treats Meg the worst. That would be Peter, who again gets off the hook, because when Meg turns her anger towards him, the show tries to undercut her comments with comedic beats for Peter. The fight rises to the point where Peter gets reduced to a child, with everyone yelling at each other, and then on top of everything, Meg comes to the realization that by allowing her brother and parents to relentlessly lob insults at her, she holds the fabric of the family together. Peter, Lois, and Chris need a “lightning rod to absorb all the dysfunction,” and Meg is that person. The mythology of the show actually goes about justifying how horribly it treats Meg as a way to hold together a family that endlessly tears each other down. That tears down any kind of emotional reaction to Meg finally standing up for herself, undercutting the progress in favor of simply shrugging and making backbiting behavior all the more acceptable.

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Meanwhile, in the completely random B-plot, Brian trips out on mushrooms while the Griffins are trapped in the house during the hurricane. Stewie catches him taking the baggie out from under a hallway floorboard and is thus the only other family member who knows what’s happening to him as the night wears on. Though it didn’t contain very many jokes, this plotline at least featured some nice animation during Brian’s hallucinations.

While Brian shudders in Stewie’s crib, he freaks out during a bad trip, but that trip doesn’t inform anything else going on in the house, nor does it connect with anything else. We don’t see what’s going on with Stewie while Brian is up in his own head, and in the third act when Meg starts yelling at Peter in the same way she just yelled at Lois, the Brian plot gets dropped entirely. That is, until the very end of the episode, when Stewie looks at the camera and describes the episode as a parable about drug use. It’s painful, since Family Guy has used this device before and with much greater success. Even as a commentary on how secondary the drug trip was to the episode, it fell flat, which at this point is expected for any kind of self-referential element.

I tend to like Family Guy best when it’s running on all comedic cylinders, firing jokes and references in rapid-fire succession. At least then some of the jokes stick, and on a good night, a lot of them find laughs, and that makes for a good half hour. This far into the show’s run, shifting to a much more dramatic bottle episode and reaching for emotional payoffs felt far too little too late. Nobody cares about any member of the Griffin family the way we care about every last Simpson. I feel bad about Meg becoming the scapegoat. Not because she’s a good character, but because instead of tweaking and working to make her appreciated or comically valuable, Family Guy spent years going down the path of least resistance and simply joined the fan chorus of hatred. One episode of pointed, forced justification for that shift doesn’t change a thing.

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Stray observations:

  • Unofficial Cutaway/Tangent Counter: 5
  • The G.I. Jose, National Geographic Italian man/black woman fight, and broccoli/Brussels sprout fight filled out the racist joke quota for the night. None of them registered a laugh with me, but I thought the vegetable one seemed the cleverest.
  • The Fletch reference during charades was tonight’s instance of shoehorning in a reference to something the writers like that had absolutely nothing to do with anything.
  • Nobody laughed at the “Stewie Just Said That” joke, right? The Twitter reference during the callback seconds later also felt particularly forced.
  • There was enough in the tripping out plot for Brian to make a much better episode than this. There was a way to make Brian’s drug trip tie into the family fighting. I can’t believe this episode didn’t go in that direction.
  • I'll get into this with later episodes, but I find the relationship between production order and airing order very interesting with animated shows where serialized continuity doesn't come into play. This episode was originally scheduled to air last season, but it fits right in now without missing a beat. I think there's something to be said for an animated show trying to create a season arc, which is something that gets lost when episodes are produced as self-contained half hour segments that must function as interchangeable parts.

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