Wednesday, September 26, 2007

An Open Letter to Seth McFarlane: The O.J. Simpson Solution

Okay, folks, this is a long post. Before I start, yes, I am working on the next Cartoon Geeks podcast, wrapping up Comic-Con and talking about some of Dragon*Con. Anyway, here's the rant:

Seth McFarlane
Fuzzy Door Productions
c/o 20th Century Fox Animation

Century City, CA

Dear Seth:

First of all, I know that addressing you personally – even in this impersonal open letter – is probably upsetting to you. Get over it; given how many people feel about your cartoons, you should be used to that by now.

I have to touch on the reasons for that contempt, though, for the sake of those reading this letter over our shoulders. We have to establish the ground rules of this relationship. Well…since the beginning of Family Guy, you’ve hated plot and coherence, dumping them whenever you can do a cheap laugh instead. This wouldn’t matter if you were writing a sketch comedy like Saturday Night Live, where continuity doesn’t matter. But you’re writing a sitcom that people are expected to revisit, week after week. In continuing forms, plot and consistent characters are essential.

That was why, when Trey Parker and Matt Stone tackled Family Guy in two episodes of South Park, the attack hurt. As conceited, stupid and racist a character as Eric Cartman spoke coherently – yes, Cartman spoke coherently! – about the faults of Family Guy. They weren’t doing affectionate mocking, or even the contempt they hurled at O.J. Simpson and the parents of Jon Benet Ramsey, whom they outright called murderers in past episodes. Parker and Stone were mad, and they weren’t alone. They reported that they “got flowers” from Matt Groenig and other animators after the show aired.

On my part, I’ve tried to be tolerant. I liked the somewhat nostalgic audio CD you released, “Family Guy Live in Las Vegas,” because you let your characters sing and be “themselves.” That bought you a pass from me for a long time. But it was spoiled by another fault of yours, your nostalgia for the 1970’s. It’s a fetish you worked to death, and it was expressed again in the current season opener, the one-hour episode with the highest rating of any Family Guy episode, your satire of Star Wars Episode Four: A New Hope.

The Harvest is blue...George and Seth too.

It puzzled me why George Lucas let you do this episode entitled Blue Harvest, even letting you show up at the Star Wars panel at San Diego Comic-Con to show clips from it. He did use The Force on you a little bit; reports are that you had to tone down the theme of incest between Leia and Luke from your original scripts. In the Family Guy version, that would have been between Chris and Lois – mother and son. But still, he let you do your parody, and the reason why became clear when Michelle and I saw the rest of the panel.

After watching Star Wars Episode Three: Revenge of the Sith, many of the mundanes in the audience called it “The end of Star Wars, thank God.” Lucas said everything he intended to say in that film, he closed the circle, he exhausted the subject, no matter how many novels and video games he lets other people create. At Comic-Con, Lucasfilm’s big new projects were Lego Star Wars games and other things, nothing even vaguely new or interesting. Not even the proposed animated Clone Wars TV series is setting fandom on fire. I think Lucas has given up. He only continues to crank out Star Wars stuff because it was his biggest success. This being the case, he saw little harm in your nostalgic, but wiseass, parody of it.

To close out this airing of personal complaints, so I can get to the point of this letter, I wonder if you knew how you appeared in front of the San Diego audience. In your previous public appearances, in your personal Adult Swim promos, your embarrassing speech at Harvard and your appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, you tried to project bravado and confidence – even looking like a street corner pimp in leather jacket on Kimmel’s show. But you couldn’t talk well and you weren’t funny. I suspect you are personally shy, as are most animators and writers, and you don’t hide it well. You didn’t really hide it at all in San Diego, facing an audience of a few thousand Star Wars geeks ready to take it out on your hide if you showed anything upsetting.

If you’re shy, Seth, just be shy and admit it. It didn’t hurt Chuck Jones, John Kricfalusi, or for that matter George Lucas. It might even make people hate you less.

The Bastard Daughter of a Thousand-Pound Maniac

Okay, now that we know where we stand, to the point. The clips you showed in San Diego showed most members of the Family Guy cast in some Star Wars role. You dodged the question of what Meg Griffin would look like in the finished episode. Now, we know. She was the Garbage Masher Monster. Again, you spit on her.

Of all the awful things you do in Family Guy, from the matricidal gay baby Stewie to the recurring appearances of Peter naked (with his huge gut hiding his penis for the Fox censors) your abuse of Meg Griffin is the most annoying to me. Always, she is dateless, she is theoretically ugly, unwanted, friendless, and the object of everyone’s contempt. About the only thing you did in apology (and given your disdain of continuity, maybe it “didn’t really happen”) was an episode where Meg got a makeover and actually had sex. So you could spoil that for her, her first sexual experience was part of the opening gag of a Saturday Night Live episode.

I’ve puzzled over why you hate Meg so much, making her peripheral to most episodes when not actually dumping on her. Maybe you have a sister you hated. Maybe her character was forced on you when you first pitched Family Guy to Fox. Their other failed animated show The Oblongs had an all-eccentric cast, and maybe they felt they needed a normal character as the center for the show. And maybe that irritated you, so you take it out on the “normal girl” whenever you can.

You developed her brother Chris from a mouth-drooler to someone who could hold a conversation and instigate plots. Heck, you made him Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars parody. Even Stewie, the most detestable character on the show, has grown; as The Great Luke Ski said in his tribute song, “Getting Giggity With It,” Stewie has become “the reincarnation of Doctor Zachary Smith,” a waspish homosexual intellectual. Hey, anything besides his constant attempts to kill his mother is an improvement. But you don’t really want to do anything with Meg.

Seth, take it to your logical conclusion.

Well, you’re a big guy now, Seth. You brought Family Guy back from the dead. Actually, Adult Swim did, by doing what the idiot programmers at Fox refused to do; running the show on a regular schedule and promoting it. But you’re taking the credit for the revival anyway, something you Hollywood types always do. While The Simpsons and South Park have been cranking out new and vital comedy for a long time, without being cancelled, fans haven’t appreciated their consistent quality; they want flash, and Family Guy returning from the dead was flash. You have “capital” now, Seth, the same way George Bush did after September 11. So I’m suggesting you use that capital for something you’ve clearly wanted to do for a long time.

Kill Meg Griffin. Kill her dead. Kill her deader than Kenny McCormick, who keeps coming back, like the South Park Jesus. Don’t even give her the benefit of a “big death” episode, with a tearful goodbye and tender last words said to her father, mother and brothers. Kill her the way the droopy-breasted teacher, Ms. Choksondick, was killed on South Park, summarily and with no lingering importance.

There’s an important reason why you should kill her, besides your obvious hatred of her. Every appearance of Meg Griffin “getting it” makes you look misogynistic. You can get away with impugning her mother Lois, since she’s an adult and clearly as eccentric as the rest of the cast. She earns what she gets. But Meg, who does nothing, gets abuse.

Your treatment of other female characters, even ones you could slam for overt sexuality, is relatively even-handed. But you enjoy beating up an innocent, frustrated teenage girl! That looks bad, Seth. Even O.J. claims he still loves Nicole.

(In discussing this with Michelle, she suggested that Seth got turned down for dates in high school, and this is his revenge. I don't think so. He doesn't treat other sexy females in the show like "skank-ass ho's" the way he does the quiet, despairing Meg.)

Without Meg on the show, you and your writer
s – the manatees, as South Park called them – can go forward without constraint. You can put the Griffins into really kinky situations without Meg tsk-tsking them, and taking crap for being nice. You could add a neighborhood teenage girl and get her involved with Chris. Sexually involved, giving Chris more character development and more kinky things to do. God knows that sexual reference is beloved by Fox; the only thing they censor is people like Sally Field who protest your unofficial CEO, George W. Bush.

And by killing Meg quickly and pointlessly, as pointlessly as nearly all of your plots, the fans won’t even notice she’s missing. It was like when Dan Blocker died on Bonanza, not like when John Ritter died on Ten Simple Rules. I have to explain it in terms of old TV shows, since that's all you understand, Seth.

And finally, you could even rub your fans’ noses in it. You can redo the “Broadway musical” open of the show, leaving a blank space where Meg used to be. Don’t rearrange the characters to fill in the hole left by her absence. Leave the image visually unbalanced. It would tell the audience that you’re daring, resourceful, and outrageous. That’s an impression you’re eager to project, to distract from your desperate shoveling of bad jokes onto your paper-thin plots.

So indulge your inner Phil Spector, Seth. Don’t kiss the girl, kill her. And never, ever feature anyone dressed in a pink hat again.


Thomas E. Reed