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There’s a scene from a “Family Guy” episode from a few years back that still makes us alternately laugh and cringe upon repeat viewings: A barbershop quartet giving Peter Griffin a musical primer on vasectomies. “A vasectomy's a medical procedure – one that makes you half a man…Say goodbye to manhood. Goodbye!” they croon.
The sequence strangely came to mind this week amid an intriguing story in The Hollywood Reporter about guys’ TV viewing habits that places “Family Guy” as the most-watched broadcast comedy among young men. The show is No. 1 with Hispanic and African American men 18 to 34, and places second overall – just behind top-rated “American Idol” – among all young men for non-sports network fare.
The article delves into advertising demographics and the psychology of what draws guys to programs. But we don’t need experts to tell us that “Family Guy” packs everything a young man seeking 30 minutes of delightfully mindless entertainment could want: "Die Hard"-like battles with a giant chicken. A comical sex maniac next door (Giggity!). Cool retro guest stars (Adam West, KISS). Frequent forays into fanboy fantasies (the "Star Wars" parodies). An unabashed, manly love of musical production numbers ("Shipoopi!" There, we said it – now try to get it out of your head). A boy and his dog who take buddy movie-style road trips, including ventures across time and to the North Pole, where they recently saved Christmas from an exhausted Santa and inbred elves.
But we're guessing the strongest appeal of Seth MacFarlane’s comic creation rests in Peter, the sitcom dad who put the “id” in “idiot.” There are no expectations placed upon Peter, other to be the kind of self-obsessed moron who, on a whim, starts his own country (“Petoria”) or wreaks havoc with a chopper (the “Petercopter”).
Even the badly flawed Homer Simpson became the emotional center of "The Simpsons" – he's not capable of initially doing the right thing, he but he knows enough to realize when he’s done wrong. Peter is a clueless cartoon of a man – and guys love him for it.
"Family Guy" isn't an irreverent look at manhood as much as an escape from it. We’re guessing the show holds an attraction for young men just starting to feel weight of responsibilities, allowing them to live a vicariously consequence-free life in the safe confines of an animated comedy.
Then again, maybe guys love the show because it features an evilly inclined talking baby whose best friend is a boozing talking canine (who happens to be the only introspective male character on “Family Guy”).
There's a danger of killing the joy of comedy by over thinking it, especially when considering a program that asks little more of us than to just show up. We’re looking forward to a 10th season of a show that not every mother could love, but guys apparently can’t get enough of – even when we’re squirming and giggling through songs about vasectomies.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.