The blogosphere has been ablaze since Sunday night's episode of Family Guy in which Brian Griffin, the family dog and baby Stewie's best friend, was mortally run down in the street. There had been rumours swirling around that a prominent member of the animated cast was about to meet their end, but they did little to dampen the surprise and in some cases tears of the audience. Some of those tears have turned to anger as a number of fans have started petitions to resurrect Brian.
The writers and producers of a show can do whatever the hell they want with their program. If they want to kill off a character be it for shock value, to underscore an omnipresent danger, or just plain follow what's happening in the books (cough, cough, winter's coming), that's their prerogative.
Full disclosure, Brian was probably my fav character on Family Guy and I was pretty bummed after seeing the episode. But that's Seth MacFarlane's decision, and I understand that. However, for the sake of a critique, I can quickly sketch out a few compelling reasons why I would say it was a bad decision. And I make the case not out of sentimentality -- I mean it was a bad decision thematically, structurally, and worst of all, poorly executed.
For starters, the show is about Brian and Stewie, their crazy adventures away from the family during which we watch their friendship evolve. Although Peter occasionally is the one to say that Brian is his best friend, we rarely ever see the two of them doing anything together. When they are together, Brian is an ancillary bar pal to Peter who gets up to shenanigans with Quagmire and Joe more than anyone else.
This leaves Brian in the company of Stewie for whom he has found a role as straight man/foil to Stewie's schemes. Just recount the number of episodes featuring solely the dog and baby going on road trips, inter-dimensional expeditions, and even at one point trying to take over for Santa Claus with disasterous results. Most of the musical numbers throughout the series have been duets featuring Brian and Stewie in the style of classic Bob Hope buddy comedies.
Even in 2007, audiences recognized the duo readily enough to have them open the Emmy Awards.
In his final appearance last Sunday, Brian is ultimately killed by a faceless hit and run driver. Which would be fine if it had been set up earlier in the episode but instead it occurs as the pair are arbitrarily playing road hockey ---after having just narrowly escaped from another dangerous inter-dimensional time travelling misadventure!
After so many dangerous, time-travelling hi-jinx with Stewie during which they've rescued Mort from Adolf Hitler, revisited the pilot episode of their own show, prevented then restored to history the life of Leonardo Da Vinci, the events of 9/11, and navigated a bizarro multi-verse -- after all that, Brian gets hit by a car, because pets get hit by cars sometimes.
Then as a reason to thwart Stewie from using the time machine he's used in tons of episodes before, he can no longer procure a special part he needs from his terrorist supplier because he was a Muslim who drew a picture of Muhammad and, you know, Muslims kill Muslims who draw pictures of Muhammad.
Finally, and in my opinion the most compelling reason why killing off Brian was a bad decision, is that he was the most well-thought out, complete and humanized character on the show. Over at Hollywoodlife.com, Andy Swift explains that killing off Brian was permissible using an excerpt from Quagmire. It's a tirade at the dinner table about how awful Brian's behavior can be at times. Without missing the irony, I will cite the exact same excerpt to support the opposite:
In one biting rant from Quagmire, the writers of Family Guy accomplished in that episode something they could not do with any other character on the show -- lay out all his human character traits. Brian is clearly established as a love-struck yet jealous best friend, a pretentious yet unaccomplished intellectual, a liberal feminist yet at times, misogynist partner. He runs the full gamut of contradictions, goals, fears, and foibles.
Meanwhile, all Peter has are random cutaway gags, an array of crazy vehicles, and recurring extended sequences battling a giant chicken.
Stewie commiserates with Vinnie, Brian's replacement.
If Brian's death is to have any impact, it will come from Stewie's character building on the emotions that were alluded to in his scenes with Brian's replacement, Vinnie. Maybe Stewie can explore new dimensions of his character just as The Simpson's Ned Flanders did after the writers killed off his long time wife Maude. Or not -- it's their show after all.
"I don't know, sometimes it's all too much... Life. Everything.
Just having the gun here, knowing there's a way out... it helps."
Personally, if Brian had been marked for death all along, I would have given him his exit just after the season eight episode Brian & Stewie in which the pair find themselves locked together over the weekend in a bank vault. After having tied up the subplot about his feeling's for Lois in season six's Play it Again Brian, locking Brian and Stewie up together forced a moving confrontation about friendship and Brian's existential angst.
The poor dog revealed his own planned suicide in an episode that quite thoroughly revealed his contradictions and finally developed in full his friendship with Stewie. With nothing left unsaid, this would have been the perfect time to make a classy exit, even under the tires of hit and run driver.
Of course then again, it is a cartoon and if Optimus Prime can come back to life, I'm sure Stewie can tinker around with his gadgets and there's no shortage of Brian DNA kicking around Quohog...