Family Guy satirized the Tea Party this week. It just doesn't do it all that well.
In "Tea Peter," Mort reopens his pharmacy after the fire that burned it down, and Peter winds up getting enamored with a "Come In, We're Open" sign. So he hangs it up on the door of his house. This leads to people coming in as if the Griffin household is a business and the items inside are for sale, which Peter gladly indulges in.
But Joe then shuts it all down because it's an unlicensed business. This leads to Peter joining the Tea Party and trying to disband the city government. How do you think that went?
Seth MacFarlane is a noted liberal, and the politics of the show follow the same track, so an episode mocking the rise of this provocative conservative political movement was inevitable. The problem is that the show forgot to make it funny.
Satire by definition doesn't have to be humorous – the use of exaggeration can be satirical as well, and that appears to be the goal here. However, satire is best when it has something interesting to say about its subject, and I don't think the episode had much to say that hasn't been said in the past few years of political discourse.
The extended lead time of animated shows means that they can't be very timely with parodies, but considering how long the Tea Party has been around in American politics, I'm surprised an episode like this wasn't made sooner. In fact, it could have been made two years ago and not much could have changed.
And, really, I think the characterization of Tea Party supporters as just basically anarchists seemed like too much of an exaggeration to be funny. I may lean liberal myself, but the anarchist characterization pushed past the point of exaggeration into just plain inaccurate. The mention of big business being behind the movement, often in phony ways like Carter Pewterschmidt posing as "Joe Workingman," is something that the show needed to spell out for the people they were trying to reach, but it felt like they were just stating the obvious to anyone even barely paying attention.
In fact, the only real surprise in the episode was that the word "movement" was used several times and yet Peter never made a poop joke.
This is the problem the sitcom has when it gets political: it can focus too much on trying to get its agenda across and not enough on the comedy side of things. With some more subtlety, the message may have come across a lot better, but subtlety is not a thing to really expect from Family Guy. So, I guess I'm just saying that these kinds of episodes are ones that the show just needs to stay away from because they generally don't go well.
The outing was only really funny in unrelated bits, or in silly character moments, like in Herbert's two appearances. There was even a callback to Quagmire's proclivity for giraffes when there's mass lawlessness in Quahog. On the whole, this episode did nothing more than state the obvious, and in a way that was neither profound nor at the very least entertaining.
It's a shame because the series at least does have guts – not to mention the ability – to be political and to take a fairly definitive stand on issues, yet it often whiffs on the execution. Read through our Family Guy quotes section for a look at what did work, at least.