The hour-long finale of Family Guy - a two-parter titled "Road to Vegas; No Country for Old Men" - was a perfect representation of the wild extremes of this season.
The first was a darkly-comic adventure with Stewie and Brian in Las Vegas. The second featured Peter getting a harmonica stuck up his butt and playing music with it before leading into a different plot altogether. The two different faces of this season, representing the state of the show as a whole, were all perfectly represented in 60 minutes.
"Roads to Vegas" came in with a high level of expectation for me: some of the show's best episodes have been "Road" episodes featuring Brian and Stewie, especially during this season. Of course, after some of the crazier ones featuring time travel, a trip to Vegas with a cloned Brian and Stewie is kind of tame by comparison.
Still, the episode made great use of duality with the two pairs of Brian and Stewie duos, showing that the characters would act in similar ways given their similar dispositions, but with different results given their circumstances.
Things took a dark turn when their luck reversed by the chance swapping of backpacks: the teleported Stewie got shot by the loan shark who mistook the lucky pair for the other pair, and the unlucky Brian committed suicide in a seeming pact with Stewie, who backed out at the last moment. Then the two that survived met up by chance at the bus terminal, confused about their circumstances, yet glad to see the ramifications of their actions would not come to pass.
It was all perfectly topped off with the coda of Brian and Stewie seeing each other in the afterlife, each mad at each other for legitimate reasons, but not the ones they expect. This wasn't the funniest episode, but the way the parallel stories worked and intertwined was at least extremely interesting, lacking much of the lazy humor that at times plagued this season.
Most importantly, things happened here, and the fact that the dark thread ran throughout the entire story - that one group of characters was experiencing misfortune because of the alternate version of themselves - was compelling. It also served as an interesting character study that maybe says a lot about the two of them: that while they like each other, maybe it's not as much as they said.
Neither would give themselves up entirely for the other when their life was on the line. And then they were comfortable lying to each other's face about it. It was deep for this series and I loved it. Episode rating: 4.4.
Compare this to the second episode, "No Country Club for Old Men." Here, Peter accidentally gets a harmonica stuck up his butt that he can play music with, which naturally leads to him winding up in a country club because Chris is 'dating' a rich girl. Said girl and Chris completely disappear from the story afterward'; it's perhaps the lamest excuse for a story connection that this show has had. Seriously, to call it underdeveloped would giving it too much credit.
Perhaps the only really interesting thing about it was that we got to see a different side of Carter Pewterschmidt, a sniveling side that wants to suck up to the bigger, richer man. Yet, there's always been an undercurrent of pathetic-ness with him, so it really wasn't revealing all that much. Also, "Carter needs Peter's help to geet back to his position of power" is a story that's been done before, much like the "Chris dates pretty girl" setup. It was dull and unoriginal.
That this episode also served as the second half of the hour clearly had the feel of Fox putting its best foot forward with "Roads to Vegas" and then just kind of dumping one off in the back half because, hey, nothing says "let's boost our sweeps ratings with another Family Guy episode instead of airing one of the two million American Dad episodes we have in the can!"
Let's just forget this one ever happened. My rating: 1.5.
What this season as a whole left me feeling was that, honestly, the show is just being mailed in at this point. It's clear at times when the creative staff wants to put in effort that they can make something that's really good.
Usually, these are the Brian and Stewie episodes or whenever they decide to break format like in the Valentine's Day one. But otherwise, it feels like the sitcom is becoming increasingly formulaic to where I can guess which episodes are going to be good and which ones will be mediocre based solely on the description.
It's kind of funny: the series has been accused of ripping off The Simpsons and here it is, entering its own period of decline, where the end would be welcomed just with an acknowledgement that it was important, perhaps with little despair as it fades into syndication. Which is all a shame, because Family Guy still has the ability to be subversive and interesting. It just doesn't always want to be that.
Season rating: 2.4
To check out the best lines from these episodes and the rest of the season, check out our Family Guy quotes page.