Has Brian’s unlucky love life finally turned around?
Warning: Full spoilers for the Family Guy Season 17 premiere below.
When a show has been on the air as long as Family Guy, any attempt to shake up the usual formula is generally a risk worth taking. South Park has changed things up by pursuing a more continuity-driven approach in recent years. Family Guy has never been that ambitious, but occasionally fans are treated to a multi-episode storyline where the events of one episode actually carry over to the next. Kicking off Season 17 with another two-parter is a nice way to welcome the series back. That said, “Married… With Cancer” left me questioning why this storyline actually needs a second chapter in the end.
Brian is probably the most frustrating character on the series. In some ways, he’s the most complex member of the Griffin family, with more emotional foibles that generally give the writers more room in which to play around. But Brian also tends to be the most obnoxious of Family Guy’s main cast. So much of the show’s Brian-related humor centers around his performative wokeness and his desperation for others to recognize how progressive and open-minded he is.
The concern coming into “Married… With Cancer” is that the humor would again center on these elements. After all, this is an episode predicated on the notion of Brian marrying a terminal cancer patient knowing full well she’s a problem he’ll only have to deal with for a few weeks. But to their credit, the writers start off this new romance on the right footing. The first half of the premiere is all about building that relationship and establishing a mutual attraction between Brian and Jess (Happy Endings’ Casey Wilson). Whatever else might have motivated Brian to marry Jess, at least that relationship feels more genuine than most of his past romances.
It helps that Wilson brings so much warmth and charm to her role in those early scenes. She helps establish Jess as a likable new addition to the mix and someone who’s more than just a throwaway love interest.
Sadly, if not unexpectedly, all of that pretty much goes out the window midway through the premiere. No sooner are Brian and Jess married than they learn that Jess is no longer dying and Brian is faced with the prospect of spending a lifetime with a woman whom he barely knows.
That would be a perfectly good plot catalyst if the writers didn’t pull a complete 180 with the characterization of both Brian and Jess. It’s like a switch is flipped and Brian goes right back to being the self-absorbed jerk he’s generally written as. And as for Jess, she immediately morphs from tragic but likable love interest to gross, off-putting slob. Suffice it to say, this episode burns through its allotment of fart humor really quickly.
It’s difficult to understand why this episode needed to make such a hard, abrupt transition. Why not continue exploring the course of this relationship on a more logical path? Why not slowly build up the resentment and hostility between the two characters rather than going from 0 to 60 right after the wedding? Again, nothing about the second half of the episode makes it clear why there even needs to be a second part. What is there left to tell with this story now? It’s just frustrating to see the premiere start out so strong and then turn sour so suddenly.
One strength “Married… With Cancer” retains throughout is the fact that it relies less on cutaway gags and non sequiturs than your typical Family Guy episode. We don’t even see a great deal of the rest of the Griffin family this week, outside of the entertaining dinner sequence. The comically heavy-handed cancer puns work well, as does Peter’s botched attempt at throwing a boomerang.
A couple other gags stand out in the premiere. Brian making fun of Fox and its use of invasive pop-up ads is something we’ve seen done before, but it’s still funny. Poor Son of Zorn…
The Kanye West cutaway also works well, in no small part because it wound up being so appropriately timed in light of Kanye’s latest ridiculous tweetstorm and SNL appearance.