Boffo DVD sales for its first three seasons put "Family Guy" back on Fox after cancellation struck in 2002.
It's an amazing but true story that's turned a bit sour lately with two cash-milkers - "Family Guy: The Freakin' Sweet Collection" and now today's release of "Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story."
Billed as "all-new, outrageous, uncensored!" this direct to DVD "movie" is more or less a spliced together collection of three unaired episodes. Continuity or even a semblance of logic has never been a priority with "Family Guy." Still, surly baby Stewie's search for his real father turns out to be less coherent than Bob Dylan trying his hand at ventriloquism.
Creator Seth MacFarlane and company have bookended "Untold Story" with before-and-after sequences tied to the film's big premiere at a Quahog, R.I. multiplex. Perhaps you'll wonder why Stewie (voiced by MacFarlane) gleefully snaps the neck of an Entertainment Weekly reporter who dares to ask him a question along the red carpet. In a commentary track, MacFarlane explains that EW "was not very nice to us" at the time this segment was put together. He hastens to add that the magazine subsequently made amends.
"Family Guy," lately a key player in Fox's Sunday night lineup, remains a hit-and-miss blend of serrated pop culture snippets and various coarse goings-on in the Griffin household. But this latest DVD offshoot has way too high a percentage of leaden, tasteless humor, emitting a foul Pauly Shore-like, let's-make-a-buck "Bio-Dome" smell.
One of the lower blows has Stewie telling Brian the talking dog: "Did you know Lance Armstrong is dating Sheryl Crow? You know, it really speaks to her character that she can get past the whole 'He had cancer' thing and still find him sexually attractive. It really speaks to her character. I respect that."
Meanwhile, bulbous, loudmouthed family patriarch Peter Griffin briefly becomes a local TV star with his "What Really Grinds My Gears" segments. Lindsay Lohan bugs him, which is understandable. But then Peter envisions a job in which he provides "nighttime heat for Lara Flynn Boyle" by draping his big bared gut over her like a blanket.
MacFarlane says "Grinds My Gears" derives from a John Candy expression in the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles," which come to think of it would be a better overall DVD investment than "Untold Story."
OK, though, some of the jokes work OK. During a time travel 30-some years into the future, geriatric Peter and his wife, Lois, are watching "Law & Order: PCAMPIEOFTD" ("Petty Crimes Against Municipal Property In Excess Of Five Thousand Dollars").
There's also an amusing impersonation of an incoherent Roseanne Barr (by Alex Borstein) and a snarky reference to Ellen Cleghorne that's almost certain to soar over the heads of "Family Guy's" 18-to-34-year-old target audience. (Hey kids, she was part of the "Saturday Night Live" cast from 1991-95.)
Credits for "Untold Story" say that Drew Barrymore, Adam West, Jason Priestley, Tori Spelling and Joy Behar lent their voices to the proceedings.
Most celebrities are merely on the receiving end, including, of course, the easily targeted Britney Spears. The joke on her is coarser than even she deserves, particularly being a new mom and all.