When Family Guy has a special episode (not to be confused with a VERY special episode like Blossom), the show doesn’t suffer from the marked change in structure or tone.
If anything, episodes such as "Yug Ylimaf" shine because they break through the monotony that the series can occasionally experience.
With Stewie and Brian experiencing time flowing backwards, working to try and prevent his unbirth by fixing his time machine, this meant two things:
- Family Guy basically becomes science-fiction like all the other time-travel episodes, with Stewie’s explanations of why everything is happening.
- People doing things backwards is ripe for humor.
The writers and animators clearly loved the “let’s see everything happen in reverse” sight gag. They loved it so much that they kept going back to that well again and again. It was clever, but seeing another Peter and Giant Chicken fight play out backwards got a bit old.
Still, it provided ways to provide plenty of fan service: seeing Cleveland back on the show, free from the nightmare and excuse to generate syndication money that is The Cleveland Show. The origin of the Greased-Up Deaf Guy was finally revealed! Lacey Chabert got to play Meg again! But all of this just felt like it was being hammered over our heads, though at least the jokes were often cleverly layered, with stand-out quips within the backwards sequences. Repetitive, but of a higher caliber than the garden-variety half hour.
However, much like the episode where Brian and Stewie went back to the pilot, there’s a marked increase in quality compared to a normal episode. It feels like the writing is on point, with a focused story to tell, yet there’s something different about the feel of it. These episodes may be gimmicky in a way, but there’s a purpose behind them that drives them to be better. That Brian and Stewie have the best chemistry among the characters is definitely part of it, but even the rest of the show perks up because of it.
I’d love to see more of this. Not necessarily time traveling, or even just a focus on Brian and Stewie, but just more of this kind of quality. Not knowing what’s next, and seeing the humor that comes out of when the show does something unexpected is just plain refreshing, and I’m glad to see that the show can still be really good... 200 episodes later.