Brought back from the dead by DVD sales and Cartoon Network reruns, “Family Guy” begins its new life with a slightly more assured mix of satire and non sequiturs while still displaying the kind of hit-miss joke ratio that doesn’t quite belong in the major leagues. Given the crush of consumer products surrounding its return, the show itself is almost an afterthought, and the young men, teens and moppets who glommed onto its fast-paced formula should be satisfied if Fox’s freshly animated batch of episodes can sustain the premiere’s hare-brained irreverence.
Creator Seth MacFarlane continues to rely upon the comedic theory that quantity trumps quality. As a result, he peppers his shows (the other is “American Dad,” which also joins the Sunday lineup Sunday) with enough gags about pop culture, bodily functions, homosexuality and politics so that even if every fourth one hits, there are enough occasional laughs to offset the frequent groans.
The best moment actually comes before the opening credits, as patriarch Peter (MacFarlane) informs the family they’ve been canceled. Asked what it would take to precipitate a comeback, he proceeds to list nearly 30 since-defunct Fox series that would have to die (“Freakylinks,” anyone?) before there would again be room on the schedule.
Because of the emphasis on shtick, “Family Guy” plots are always a BYO affair. The impetus here is that Peter’s wife Lois (Alex Borstein) feels the romance has gone, spurring them to embark on a second honeymoon. That leads to a peculiar “North by Northwest” spoof and run-in with Mel Gibson (celebrity voice impersonated), who is planning a “The Passion of the Christ” sequel modeled after the “Rush Hour” movies, with the undeniably funny tagline “Let He who is without sin kick the first ass.”
As for the rest of the Griffin clan, talking dog Brian and homicidal baby Stewie (both MacFarlane) bond in the parents’ absence, as the kid at one point quietly knits a “Die Lois” pillow.
Television of the absurd remains a balancing act, and MacFarlane (who wrote the premiere) seems more accomplished this time around in being juvenile without becoming annoying. That said, he still occasionally topples over the line, as evidenced by a “Pinocchio, go ahead and tell lies” bit that was stale when I was 12.
Yet if this and “American Dad” (whose latest installment is mildly improved versus the unimpressive pilot introduced following the Super Bowl) will never be “The Simpsons” or even “South Park,” they clearly cater to a naughty-boy niche. Loosely translated, that appeal can be traced to the Freudian (or was it Jungian?) conclusion that when it comes to comedy, flatulence never goes out of style. Either that, or Jeff Spicoli’s hypothesis that if you’re stoned enough, everything is pretty funny.
Perhaps that’s just a long-winded way of saying that the less anyone tries to think about “Family Guy,” the more they’re apt to enjoy it.