Family Guy Season 1

Starring: Seth MacFarlane
20th Century Fox
RRP: 24.99
Certificate: 15
Available now

As you watch the 14 episodes in this boxed set, comparisons with The Simpsons continually spring to mind. Like Homer, the titular family guy Peter Griffin is a big boisterous oaf with a love of beer and an allergy to hard work. Like Homer, he is supported by an overburdened but devoted housewife - in this case Lois. The couple find themselves in some very similar situations to the Simpsons, as when Peter inadvertently assaults a woman, or when Lois briefly catches the gambling bug.

What set the Griffins apart from the Simpsons are their kids: the image-obsessed, peer-pressured 16-year-old Meg; the overgrown gentle giant that is 13-year-old Chris; and, best of all, baby Stewie. There are shades of Brain from Pinky and the Brain in one-year-old Stewie. He's an evil little creature who desires nothing less than total world domination and the demise of his mother - or, to use Stewie's phraseology, his "matriarchal oppressor". Many a zany plot twist revolves around the tyrannical toddler's devious schemes to avoid the agonies of teething or having to eat his greens. Finally there is Brian, the multitalented and philosophical family dog, who frequently acts as Peter's adviser and conscience.

Like the Simpsons, the Griffins are a family obsessed with TV, and accordingly their series is packed with media satires (including references to American commercials that most British viewers will not be familiar with). A particular speciality of Family Guy is its penchant for taking cosy family shows, such as The Brady Bunch, Happy Days and The Cosby Show, and presenting the characters therein with the kind of hard-hitting real-life issues that they never had to confront within the parameters of their own series.

Sci-fi fans will particularly appreciate the prolific allusions to Batman, Scooby Doo, The Twilight Zone, The Incredible Hulk and The Six Million Dollar Man (with Lee Majors himself providing a vocal cameo), as well as movies including the Star Wars trilogy, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Robocop. Among the best spoofs are the second episode's hilarious exaggeration of William Shatner's gesticulations as Captain James T Kirk, and show 11's "blaxploitation" version of Back to the Future.

As with Fox's more famous animated show, Family Guy contains some particularly un-PC jokes, with Peter mouthing off on the topics of gender, race and disability. Usually (though, it has to be said, not always) the show's moral outlook manages to distance itself from Peter's boorish attitudes. This series is less overtly moralistic than The Simpsons, and is also more adult in content - its level of coarse language helped to earn it the 15 certificate.

It's a shame about the total lack of extra features on the DVDs. However, of all this show's similarities to The Simpsons, the most important one of all is the fact that Family Guy is inventive, consistently humorous, subversive fun.

Richard McGinlay

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