When the novelty album Family Guy: Live in Vegas was released in 2005, Seth MacFarlane described the album as a “blend of the rich, lush arrangements of the classic-era Rat Pack Vegas shows combined with the fart jokes of today.” A reviewer deemed it “mainly for fans,” with messages that “may offend.”
Which fairly describes the Family Guy Live performance on Saturday evening at the Sony Centre, where the cast of voices behind the edgy, animated television series showed up for a live reading of a surreal script, broken up by cartoon clips, a live orchestral soundtrack and too much in the way of inside banter. In other words, a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in the pants.
MacFarlane himself described it as “Bob Hope, but for the 21st century.” I’ll call it a Family Guy love-in, with MacFarlane and actors Alex Borstein, Mila Kunis, Seth Green, Mike Henry and writer Danny Smith reading from a script of a past episode (Farmer Guy, from this past season, the 11th of the series). The narrative involves the Griffin family being uprooted from Quahog, R.I., when patriarch Peter (voiced by a side-mouthing MacFarlane) buys a farm. A meth lab is discovered in the basement of the farmhouse; black humour ensues.
Family Guy is a sort of a warped All in the Family, with the Bunker’s neighbours being The Simpsons instead of The Jeffersons. The cult-favourite series is the brainchild of comedy mogul MacFarlane, who burst even further onto the pop-culture scene as the host of this year’s Academy Awards, which earned him widespread criticism – and pockets of praise – for his audacious political incorrectness. “So nice to be somewhere where I don’t have to be tasteful,” he cracked early on. Minutes later, backed by a 40-piece orchestra, he launched into Prom Night Dumpster Baby. Comedic actress Alex Borstein added a naughty novelty number. The tone was set.
No doubt a few in the audience were there to be in the same room as the professionally adorable Kunis, whose lines drew hoots and hollers of approval from the frat-boy set. During a shambolic, highly uninformative question-and-answer session at the end of the performance, she received a marriage proposal. Boyfriend and fetching actor Ashton Kutcher, if he were in the crowd, may have judged her reaction. (British tabloid the Daily Mail reported that the power couple were “coolly clad, comfortable and clearly content in each other’s company” as they jetted into Pearson International earlier in the day.)
Family Guy Live, which had been presented in Los Angeles, Chicago, Montreal and New York on previous occasions, was something of a diversion for this year’s JFL42 festival. (The title is shorthand for Just For Laughs, with the “42” standing for the number of acts over the event’s 10-day schedule.) The other headlining performances, scattered over various venues, were traditional stand-up acts. Among them: Aziz Ansari, Bill Burr, Marc Maron, Hannibal Buress, Janeane Garofalo and Sarah Silverman.
It is no coincidence that MacFarlane and crew arrived on the eve of Family Guy’s season-opener on Fox. Clips from this season’s episodes were shown, and it was mentioned that a cartoon-crossover event involving The Simpsons would happen. In a sense, Family Guy Live serves as promotional junket for the franchise. As for the entertainment value, the performance was for fans only – all in the family, as it were.