Spoilers below for anyone who hasn't yet watched Family Guy's Season 19 premiere.
After so many years of viewer debates about whether or not Stewie Griffin was capable of being understood by other family members (beyond Brian), Family Guy directly addressed that issue with its Season 19 premiere. The episode, fittingly titled "Stewie's First Word," finally let the character become verbal, and it obviously happened during the most inopportune moment for all involved. That's right, Stewie totally dropped a big swear word in the middle of church.
Family Guy's showrunners Rich Appel and Alec Sulkin were kind enough to answer some of my questions about the Season 19 premiere via email, and not only concerning Stewie's first word, but also about the excellent Curb Your Enthusiasm and Caillou references that came up. When I asked if they had any other possible scenarios for how Stewie's first word would go down, here's their bloviation-free response:
This first word had to be Stewie’s first word. It’s in the Talmud.
I'm not sure why, but it feels entirely proper for Stewie to have hollered out "Fuck!" in the middle of a mass headed up by Chris Parnell's priest, especially in response to one of the bigger one-two punches in a modern child's life: shitty WiFi and a lack of snacks. Anyone who has a kid with mobile tech addictions knows full well that a lack of Internet is akin to abuse, as is dashing someone's cookie-based expectations.
Now, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the Talmud doesn't actually have any references to Stewie or anyone else from the Griffin family, and it probably also doesn't mention Mort Goldman or his family members. But the Jewish holy text is as good a segue as any to flip to that Curb Your Enthusiasm reference.
Speaking as an audience surrogate, Brian asked Stewie why everyone else was able to hear him now, despite the fact that the duo had been communicating for ages. After acknowledging that most of his thoughts were still unrecognized by others – such as his opinion that "Greta Gerwig is a national treasure" – Stewie became frightened by the notion that he might only be able to speak if anger is his guiding influence, at which point Brian pointed out that he would be just like Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David, stand-up coming Lewis Black and everyone on Twitter.
Stewie tried to combat that by yelling out more kid-centric topics, such ice cream and firetrucks, which is when the instantly recognizable tuba from Curb's theme song started to play. I asked Family Guy's showrunners about using that track – Luciano Michelini's "Frolic" – within the episode, and here's how they answered.
We just love Curb. That music is one of the best joke punctuations in comedy history. We love Larry and we wanted to honor him by stealing from him.
Considering just how influential Curb Your Enthusiasm has been for TV comedy in the past 20 years, there are tons of shows that have overtly tried to steal Larry David's confrontational genius for their own successes, usually without much success. Thankfully, Family Guy's musical reference was purposefully on the nose and an obvious nod to the ongoing HBO classic. And how weird was it to hear those notes in the middle of an episode, as opposed to the end of one?
On the opposite end of the bald-headed spectrum from Larry David is, of course, the educational animated series Caillou, which centers on the titular four-year-old and his endless fascination with seemingly everything that he's ever seen or heard or shared any amount of space with. Lois believed that Stewie's TV habits inspired his F-bomb, but Brian pointed out that the only thing he watches is Caillou. Lois' attempt to binge-watch episodes did not go so well, as she passed out from boredom during Caillou's attempts to figure out why he was still bald, bringing it all back around.
Here's how Family Guy's Rich Appel and Alec Sulkin explained the decision to point their crosshairs at the polarizing Caillou for the season premiere, which is about as dark as one could imagine.
Many of the writers have young children, and we’ve all had to endure the Canadian-Bataan death march that is Caillou. We felt others should feel our pain.
Family Guy is no stranger to poking fun at children's programing, of course. Remember when it took on the Teletubbies? And all those Sesame Street and Muppets references? Not to mention all the Disney jokes. Still, few youth-skewing characters have inspired the kind of sheer ire that Caillou has invoked since its debut in 1997, just two years before Family Guy started.
With a new star having been cast to voice Cleveland Brown after Mike Henry vacated the role, Family Guy will once again be airing every Sunday night on Fox at 9:30 p.m. ET. While waiting for more, head to our Fall TV 2020 premiere schedule to see what other fan-favorites will be returning to the small screen soon.