When you're a satirist and an edgy comedian/artist like Seth MacFarlane, you wear it as a badge of honor when your stuff is deemed too intense for television. So MacFarlane must be beaming with pride that it's happened to him twice. The first time was in dealing with issues of religion. This time it was MacFarlane's tackling of the subject of abortion that got FOX shaking and shivering so bad they punted it straight to DVD. But MacFarlane does very well on DVD; it was DVD sales that brought back from cancellation, after all. And while feeling a little lean all by itself, "Partial Terms of Endearment" has all that zany Family Guy comedy we've come to know and love. Plus, it does a solid job of exploring both sides of the abortion debate, acknowledging compassionately and harshly at the same time that it is a complicated issue. Even more impressively, MacFarlane and his team have the guts to take a side with the closing line of the episode.
The second Family Guy episode deemed too controversial for television, "Partial Terms of Endearment" was intended to air as part of the series' eighth season. But because of its depiction and handling of the subject of abortion, FOX was apparently too nervous to let it air. It's a little disappointing, because it's really no more or less shocking than anything else they do on Family Guy. All FOX did was draw attention to the episode and basically admit that there is apparently at least one topic they are absolutely terrified of discussing.
It's also a shame because there are some genuinely funny moments in the episode, and casual fans of the show may now never get to see them. Lois runs into an old female college friend she used to date, experimenting with lesbianism as part of her college experience (hey, that's another controversial angle!). When the friend, Naomi, indicates she wants to propose something important to Lois and Peter, he becomes convinced it's going to be a three-way.
When she shows up with her husband, Peter decides he can go along with this as well, proceeding to a hilarious series of costumes as they attempt to discuss the important topic of Lois being a surrogate for the pair, and Peter attempts to seduce all of them into the bedroom.
Eventually, the truth is fully realized by everyone, and Lois agrees to go along with it. But when a car accident kills the couple after Lois has become impregnated, she has to decide what to do with the unborn child. This is where the episode starts to tackle the abortion issue. It probably isn't fair to the anti-abortion movement that their spokesperson was ultimately Peter, considering he's been classified as retarded in a prior episode. But I suspect this was more than intentional on the part of creator Seth MacFarlane. He tends to wear his liberalism like a badge of honor across all of his shows.
FOX admitted their biggest concern with the episode was with the advertisers and fear of lost revenue during a tough economy. That's right, we can chalk up another victim to the tough economy. Of course, if FOX is netting some coin (and you know they are) from this DVD release, then they might be making even more coin on this as a direct-to-DVD than they would had it aired as a regular episode. It's certainly getting a lot more attention this way, which is probably just fine for MacFarlane as well.
On the other side of that, it's a shame that this move by FOX means that we still believe as a country that we're not ready even to have this discussion openly. Instead, we have it in political campaigns and with shock-blitz advertising and protests by the anti-abortion movement. It's a valid discussion that should be had, but for some reason it is still being kept almost completely in the dark and out of the social consciousness. It's as if we're willfully pretending it doesn't exist in the hopes it will just magically sort itself out.
Neither side is going to easily give in, and because it's a moral issue there's really no place for the government to step in and say anything (though that doesn't always stop them). It's just a shame we're showing our immaturity as a nation by forcing an animated depiction of the discussion off of our television sets for fear it might upset people...or, more specifically, the people who make the decision whether or not to advertise on FOX. Granted, it's a free economy and they do have the right to choose to boycott a show or an episode with issues they don't agree with, but it's disappointing that FOX didn't even let it get to the point of seeing if they would object. Instead, it was a knee-jerk reaction based on fear and apprehension.
Kudos to FOX and the producers for cleverly packaging the Seth and Alex's Almost-Live Comedy Show as an additional feature on this DVD. It's not emphasized on the front at all, but it is a way to get it out there in case there is any one with poor enough taste to have thought it was worth owning. In actuality, this was one of the worst variety shows in the history of the television medium, offering virtually no entertainment value. There was a lengthy and mean-spirited segment poking fun at Marlee Matlin's deafness, and the fact that Matlin herself appears did nothing to make it funnier or easier to bear. Alex Borstein proves rather limited as a comedienne and impressionist. MacFarlane, on the other hand, is capable, funny, and even has a good singing voice, but he never seems to quite figure out what he wants the special to be. It features clips from Family Guy, musical numbers, corny interactions, and not a single laugh.
The remainder of the disc offers animatics of the episode, which are only for the hardcore animation enthusiasts. Their staged table read of the script is a huge disappointment as well, as several of the core cast aren't in attendance. It winds up being overly long and sucks all the laughs right out of the episode. The only redeeming extra is the opportunity to download nine original songs from the show, and Family Guy has always delivered when it comes to bizarre original musical numbers.
Buy it for the episode. If you're really into the craft of animation, check out the animatics extras, as well as the audio commentary by Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, writer Danny Smith, and director Joseph Lee. But never -- no matter if your kids have been abducted and are being held at gunpoint -- never, ever watch that horrible travesty of a variety show. There's no way to remove it from the disc, so you'll just have to brainwash yourself into not seeing that it's there. It'll be worth it.