The Pop Formula, or What Happened to Family Guy
So, uh, anyone remember when Family Guy was funny? Why did it stop? How did a really good show that had some very genuine moments start to simply fester off and die? It stopped being about Family. Believe it or not, there was a time when Meg was not simply a punching bag, Stewie was not full on gay, Peter wasn’t that stupid among other things. Furthermore, there was a time when the episodes actually had decent stories that really did move along well. Looking at the first to most recent seasons of Family Guy on Netflix, and the acute viewer might notice that while the visual aesthetic of the show has gone up, the plot, writing, and actual hilarity of the show has gone down a toilet (cue cutaway gag). While I have always liked Family Guy, and to an extent I still do, I think one can see how a small viewer ship (those first couple of seasons) actually may have benefited the show. It’s a strange thing with popular culture that seems to be more a rule or some kind of formula:
- Create something that totally flips the script, it’s totally original, genuine, and has incredible quality.
- It starts to amass a small niche audience.
- The niche audience starts tell their friends about it, and people say, “I guess that sounds alright”
- The sequel comes out: the next season, the next album, the next book in a series, or a new film by a director, or a direct sequel to the first film within a series.
- People watch the sequel and begin to go back and look at how it all began, and now the thing is really picking up traction, it grows and swells, and by the time the third part of this thing comes around, a decent audience has built up. This is the exposition of the pinnacle.
- Now that the Thing has become a legitimate thing, the creator of the Thing is getting a bigger paycheck than he was in the beginning, so now he’s spending time doing one of a couple of things: a) he’s not a douche and he spends a decent amount of money on the show to make it a little bit better without sacrificing quality. b) He’s still not a douche, but he’s starting to invest in other things: maybe another show, a movie, something that they’ve always really wanted to do. c) This guy is a douche, and he decides to spend his paycheck buying yachts, tigers, and whores to fill his heart while he complains viewers are complaining at him because he left the goddamned show to rot and fester in its luminescence without realizing that it’s dying now. More often than not, you will get Type C. This is the climax of the pinnacle.
- Now the Thing is on autopilot: the creator is back every week, but now he has a room of writers, animators, and creators. He contributes a little here and there, tells them the general idea of where everything is going to go. He has a seven hour work week for the most part; the rest of the time, he’s at home watching a show better than his. He keeps getting more and more royalties; his audience continues to amass, and people who just got on board and surprised that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be, while those loyal, dedicated fans continue to watch the slow death of their favorite thing.
- Now, the Thing is really going down hill. The Type C creator is off doing other things, he’s spending about ten minutes a day, maybe not everyday, more like every other day, sitting down to talk about this thing while his lackies do all the work for him. He’s being recognized on the street, he’s walking red carpets, he even has his own scandal. The show continues to suffer greater and greater blows, each season, while amassing more regular viewers, is flatlining in fart jokes and murder plots.
- The viewership has flatlined. The quality has flatlined. Every week, it’s the same basic, mundane, mindless thing. Every episode costs 1.5 million, but you could make this at home in your bedroom with 30 bucks, and to be sure, it might even be a little bit better. Blog posts and articles are talking about you wanting to end the series to go on and do better things even though you’ve been saying you’ve been doing better things for years now, and none of it was all that great. Your movie flopped. Your book flopped. Your fashion line and restaurant flopped. Your show is all that you have left, but you’ve gotten so fed up with going into the studio for thirty seconds a week that you just wish it would end. The show has been renewed for 10 more seasons. You weep.
- It’s the final season. At least. And yet, you’re sadder than you ever thought you would be. Not because where the show once had 300M viewers, it now only has 3, not because reviews have panned your show as a total bust, no one takes you seriously anymore, and you have more money than you, your grandkids, great grandkids, and their kids, plus Bill Gates could ever spend in one lifetime. You weep because you lost the thing you once cherished so much. You lost it all. Now you do it all again, for the high, for the money, for the fame. You’ll do it all again.
And they do it again and again, and somehow we all fall pray to it; we succumb to the mediocrity and the idiocy like it’s the norm. I suppose that nothing gold can ever really stay.