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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Family Guy: “Total Recall”

Illustration for article titled Family Guy: “Total Recall”
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Peter Griffin is a supremely self-conscious and sensitive character. He’s got a fragile ego, easily damaged when something doesn’t go his way. He may take pride in some slight change—his deep voice while suffering a mild illness turns Lois on—but ultimately, he wants Lois to stay the homemaker, which allows him to do whatever he wants out of the house. “Total Recall” is a deceptively titled episode, as it backgrounds the titular plot in favor of focusing on Peter’s petty and immature mishandling of his wife becoming better friends with Quagmire and Joe.

Initially, Peter’s choices lead to his sad predicament. Lois’ attraction to his deep sick voice leads him to keep making himself sick, so ill that he goes to the hospital, and forces Lois to take his place in a bowling tournament. Lois proves herself on the lanes, and more than holds her own in choosing Scarlett Johansson over Kristen Stewart over some beers at the Clam. By the time Peter comes back, Lois has ingratiated herself to the point where she’s essentially taken Peter’s place in the group, which agitates him. He asked Lois to take his place at bowling, not to permanently alter his group of friends.


It’s not enough that Peter gets jealous and upset that his friends like hanging out with Lois so much that his presence seems out of place—a derivative conflict that nevertheless delivers some good humor, especially Quagmire’s irrational competitiveness at the bowling alley. Peter tells Lois that she has her groceries and her razors in the shower, while he has his friends, a ridiculous piece of misogyny meant to put Lois in her rightful place—the kitchen.

Not only does the episode reinforce female stereotypes and shame the woman who dares to step outside traditional gender roles, but the final resolution emphasizes her choice to “return to the kitchen”—or rather, to make men uncomfortable by talking about her period so they won’t want to continue hanging out as friends—as the right one because it pleases her emotionally stunted husband. Peter shouldn’t have to change, not when Lois’ choice to remain the sitcom housewife makes her look like such a nice person. This plot has a handful of funny cutaways in an episode lousy with them—Peter’s deep voice contest with Joe, Lois’ softball chatter—but that doesn’t rescue the sour message of the main conflict.

The B-plot is much more light-hearted and fun and far less problematic. Stewie and Brian go on a mission to rescue Rupert, who has been recalled by the toy company that manufactures the teddy bear due to the choking hazard of easily detachable eyes. There were many different ways this could have gone, from an entire episode devoted to an extensive, far-reaching search, to a Willy Wonka-style romp around a toy factory, but buried in this episode as the other story the beats play out in predictable fashion. We’re already getting another “Road To…” episode this season, so a romp through a toy factory taking over an episode probably seemed like too much for one year.

Stewie’s last-ditch effort to save Rupert from the incinerator echoes the end of Toy Story 3, but with different comedic failures. Brian takes a few tries to save Stewie from dropping into the flames, since a Nerf gun and a toy helicopter can’t do what a pogo stick mucking up metal gears can accomplish. But then the plot takes two unexpected turns. First, Stewie tells Rupert he’s ready to go off the pill and to start trying (to have kids), and the final shot of the episode fulfills the early warnings that led to Rupert’s recall. It’s a surprising final note and strangely representative of Seth MacFarlane’s Ted, showing the bear damaging Stewie’s life by, you know, inadvertently killing him. As the zanier plot of the episode, it’s allowed to be more madcap, with more visual humor and adventurous dialogue. That makes for more laughs, but not enough to redeem the central plot of the episode, which denigrates Lois for making new friends outside of her role as wife and mother.


Stray observations:

  • Unofficial cutaway counter: 14
  • Best cutaway: the sentient stuffed animal, that comes back as a kicker right before an act break.
  • Worst: The P. Diddy mouth-shutter scene, which veered a bit too far into stereotype caricature.
  • The Modern Family opening credits seemed pointless, considering the only purpose they served was to reference that show, instead of the King Of The Hill sequence that actually had laughs.

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