In his My World Of Flops entry on the 2011 slog New Year’s Eve, the lovely and talented Nathan Rabin unfavorably compared Garry Marshall’s film to bad television, unworthy of the implicit bump in reputation it would get simply by being a film. Marshall has committed quite the odd filmmaking sin with holiday vignette compilations Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, enlisting scores of bankable actors to bring two moribund, cliché-laden scripts to life in order to take advantage of a market opportunity on a holiday. They are the film versions of Jack Donaghy’s evergreen disaster relief benefit in “Operation Righteous Cowboy Lightning”: designed to be trotted out whenever appropriate for the date on the calendar, seem timely in order to grab more attention than befitting their quality, then disappear until next year.
As such, those films rightly deserve to be ridiculed, and “Valentine’s Day In Quahog” does just that, mimicking the holiday vignette format to give a wide cast of characters a small plot arc within a larger narrative of strange Valentine’s Day stories. Not everything is effective satire, and the troubling ethnic jokes continue, but there are more than enough funny moments to make this an above-average episode.
The opening voiceover introduces the trite, universal sentimentality of a film trying to make the most average, general, bland statement on love. The credits ape the Valentine’s Day trailer, right down to that obnoxious Black Eyed Peas song (which could refer to nearly any of their songs, but it’s “I’ve Got A Feeling”). The best part of that opening sequence: the “Featuring songs from:” title card, which hits every possible cliché Top 40 soundtrack selection for the type of film reverse engineered from a marketing perspective.
I didn’t care for Peter’s throwaway line, “here’s a song your girlfriend probably likes,” but other than that, it’s a spot-on recreation of that trailer, even throwing in a bit from Love Actually, which started the current trend of overstuffed holiday romantic comedies (even though it’s actually a pretty good film).
Family Guy chooses to focus on the overly strange, wacky love story, something that’s memorable if totally unrealistic, forced to seem plausible due to the power of love on a Hallmark holiday. I’ve never seen either Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve in its entirely, but have been subjected to various parts of both films on airplanes, so I can speak to a bit accuracy in structure, cutting across central and tangential stories
Lois and Peter spend the day in bed, but he fields a call from an ex-girlfriend and portrays the exact opposite of a romantic husband. Meg has a date with a cute boy who only wants to harvest one of her kidneys—but she holds him to the promise of spending Valentine’s Day together. Creepy old pedophile Mr. Herbert has a grand-niece with a crush on Chris, and Mr. Herbert helps her woo Chris, Cyrano De Bergerac-style. Stewie arranges a meeting between Brian and all of his ex-girlfriends at the same time. Mayor West woos back his wife after he finds out she’s seeing another mayor. And in the two most surreal arcs, Stewie goes back in time to the Summer of Love and mistakenly kisses his mother, and Quagmire gets electrocuted after kicking out a one-night stand, and wakes up to find he’s been turned into a woman. It’s an appropriate mix of playing on defined character traits—Brian’s revolving love interests, Meg’s desperation, Quagmire’s misogyny—watered down and streamlined for a few-minute plot placed in the overall framework.
In a stylistic parody like this, the cutaways tend to interfere more than usual because they keep Family Guy from really committing to a different structure. The Consuela cutaway is a good example that takes up some time while only making one passable joke about Arizona’s misguided approach to illegal immigration. And a gag about Peter’s night breathing bookends the episode, seemingly designed to give a quick and easy end to the final mockery of romantic montages and cut to black. Peter has a few more one-liners that ring false, particularly the terrible bit about Indians and toilet paper. When the style works, it’s easier to try and sweep those uncomfortable, unfunny moments under the rug and forget about them, but when they fall so flat, they can’t be completely ignored.
This is a proficient parody of an easy target, skewering the bloated, monotonous romantic vignette films that somehow made a dent at the box office over the past few years. It’s not a standout, but “Valentine’s Day In Quahog” manages to avoid being just another Valentine’s Day episode by deriding the most basic examples of the form.
- Unofficial cutaway counter: 8
- Best cutaway: for sheer tenuous audacity, I’m going with the Ringo cutaway, which turned the line “every girl has her own version of Prince Charming” into a joke about how no girl really had a crush on Ringo Starr. Though the connection was iffy, the joke landed.
- Worst cutaway: Consuela and her husband reuniting across the border. Arizona deserves the ridicule, but the Windex bit… just, no.
- There were quite a few returning guest voices tonight, including Drew Barrymore and Jessica Biel—I assume mostly for the scene with Brian’s ex-girlfriends, but feel free to make note of who all came back as what character.
- Family Guy already celebrated the 200th episode in its production order, but this was the 200th episode aired, so now it has officially passed that broadcast milestone.
- This joke can go back to 2008 where it was already tiresome: “Am I dull white guy? Of course I like Coldplay!”