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Weekly Alibi The Family Guy

By Devin D. O'Leary

FEBRUARY 15, 1999:  After watching the Denver Broncos steamroll over the Atlanta Falcons in the lowest-rated Super Bowl in a decade, after seeing Fortune 500 companies spend millions of dollars to air the same crummy commercials we saw last week and after witnessing Big Bad Voodoo Daddy drive what is probably the final nail in the whole "swing revival" movement with an embarrassingly hokey half-time show, at least we had a brand new TV show to look forward to. Unfortunately, the show that FOX chose to gift us with in the plush post-Super Bowl spot was "The Family Guy." By my tabulations, the animated sitcom scored about as well as the Falcons.

In the wake of "South Park," it seems like every network wants to program edgy, adult cartoons. FOX, a network which seems to be betting the farm on such animated fare this season, is adding three new toons to its nightly line-up. Eddie Murphy's stop-motion opus, "The P.J.s," has already premiered. Matt Groening's long-awaited (and long-delayed) sci-fi series "Futurama" is slated to bow sometime in March. "The Family Guy," which debuted after the Super Bowl and will join the regular schedule next month, rounds out FOX's cartoon-heavy schedule (along with "King of the Hill" and "The Simpsons"). I doubt the network can support five prime-time toons, and I can tell you right now which one is primed for the chop. (Hint: Eddie and Matt have no reason to sweat.)

The brainchild of 25-year-old animator Seth MacFarlane, "The Family Guy" has been described as a mixture of "The Simpsons" and "Married ... With Children." In fact, that's exactly what it is. There's a bloated, bungling, beer-drinking father, a doting wife, an underachieving older son, a mopey younger daughter, a baby and a dog. Sound like any other animated families you know? Possibly ones already ensconced on FOX? Toss in some of the foul-mouthed familial animosity of "Married ... With Children," and you've got "Family Guy" to a T.

Surely FOX isn't pinning all its hopes on this redundant and generally laughless series. The initial show featured some weak attempts at the frantic joke-a-minute pace of "The Simpsons"--the result was more spastic incoherence than rapid-fire humor. "The Simpsons" has taken years to work up to its current visual and verbal pacing. Trying to come out of the gate at this breakneck speed is not advisable. The plot for the first episode (dad gets fired, doesn't have the courage to tell his wife and ends up bilking welfare for thousands, thanks to a computer error) seemed recycled straight out of "The Simpsons'" trash can.

There were several attempts at originality on display in the series--nearly all of which failed. The family dog, for example, is smart and can talk. (Nice try, but I saw that last week on UPN's "Dilbert.") The baby is an evil genius and spends the entire show trying to murder his mother (a joke that, I must confess, totally escapes me).

I give "The Family Guy" about three weeks before viewers file for divorce and the show ends up in the same short-lived animated purgatory as "Stressed Eric" and "Fish Police."

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