Criticism. Essay. Fiction. Science. Weather.
Re-uncancelled for the First Time All Over Again.
After Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy
premiered in the coveted post-Super Bowl spot it went on the move in a serious way. Scheduling became so convoluted that it was hard to find the show and in some places season two episodes aired before season one episodes. For good measure, Fox cancelled an episode they thought would offend Jews because it made fun of anti-semitism. Alright.
From there it was off to the internet. Episodes were easy to download and prevalent in college dorms. The marketed version of this phenomenon is, of course, the DVD
and the first two seasons of the Family Guy
quickly became one of the best selling teevee DVDs ever. From there it was on to cable (Cartoon Network and TBS) where the show and its insanely loyal
following helped set pay-cable ratings records, also. And, as of this month, it's back on Fox. A nice complete circle.
The problem is, Family Guy
was already uncancelled 3 months ago. In February, American Dad!
, the new show from MacFarlane, came on the air and with it a premise strikingly similar to Family Guy
's: overbearing father, too-patient wife, son, daughter, two characters that talk who should not. The difference is American Dad!
is still free to do the things that make MacFarlane's jokes
The original 51 episodes of Family Guy
get frighteningly close to the pinnacle of the comedy of the unexpected. If laughter is a result of surprise, Family Guy
take one, so free-form and random it often spends more time on its non-sequitors than the nominal plot, is great comedy
. Now, of course, beholden to all those young men and women (men and woman is probably more accurate) the writers have the freedom to do whatever they want, except the unexpected. They know perfectly well that the popularity of the killer baby, the drunk dog and the oaf father brought their show back from cancellation. And so, last night, that is what was served up. That and an enormous pair of animated breasts. The other characters, the neighbors and newscasters and the mayor, did not make appearances. Stewie
, the matricidal infant, was his charismatic self but he was given lines, not a subplot to take over the world. The episode was forced, especially in comparison to the American Dad!
that followed. No one expects anything of the barrel-jawed title character of that show and he is free to surprise and amuse as he sees fit.
Knowing Peter Griffin and his family so well does not make them funnier. Their bizarre broadcast-internet-DVD-cable-broadcast ride to uncancellation has given them new life and old jokes. American Dad!
, on the other hand, is the song Skynyrd
does after they finally play Freebird
just to shut up the drunk guy in the back, and it's more entertaining as a result. MacFarlane's happier. I'm happier. At least, for 50 episodes or so.
Recently, students from MIT - the petri dish of academia where all species of scientific genius collide, and, sometimes, with the addition of alcoholic fluid, fuse and procreate - held what was billed as the first ever Convention for Time Travelers
. This inter-chronological shindig, the students proclaim, is not only the first ever but shall remain the only ever conference of its kind, as the wonders of time travel would render further conventions unnecessary: anyone with the capacity for trans-epochal leaping could simply hop into his nifty contraption
or press the chartreuse button affixed to his ultra-futuristic unitard or close her eyes and click her ruby-encrusted heels together and, presto-changeo, would manifest almost magically at the very first ever and only Convention for Time Travelers. Of course, if the attendees were in it for the mouth-watering cornucopia of 21st-century snacks and noshes such as Krispy Kreme and Hot Pockets, they'd have to transport themselves to the very beginning of the gathering, before those greedy 26th-centuriites gobbled up every last Skittle. Sure, it seems presumptuous of these young scholars to assume that theirs is the first and only ever Convention for Time Travelers when clock jockeys
of the future would probably snub their nerdy hosts for a fête in the virgin forests of primordial Provence. But hey, let's give these kids a break -- it's a party.
Not surprisingly, all this got me thinking about time travel and its potential pluses and pitfalls
. Any educational background I have in science comes straight from Star Trek (The Next Generation
, thank you very much) and high school textbooks, so you'll have to understand that my musings are non-technical in their nature.
Let's tackle the pros. If we had the ability to drop in on the past and venture prematurely into the future, many benefits might be enjoyed. For us historians, we could travel back to dates of interest and ascertain the veracity of our extrapolations and inferences. Who built Stonehenge
? What made the dinosaurs go poof! When was the universe born? Where was the first hamburger
made? Why does Kubla Khan
end so abruptly? Did Versailles
smell as putrid as they say? All these and more could be answered with absolute certainty. And for the humanitarians among us, remedies for all sorts of diseases and maladies, maybe even the common cold!, could be shipped in from the future and distributed among the suffering and afflicted. No more importing cheap pharmaceuticals from Canada for us Americans. And, of course, let's not forget the gamblers. A whole new breed of losingless bettors would be born, never to know the debilitating depression that follows a devastating loss to the bookies. Life could be sweet.
But, of course, there are ample negatives in the time travel equation. Sure, everyone knows that by journeying to the past we risk altering the present and by extension the future. And that's just plain dangerous. But I am more concerned with the dangers presented to our quality of life were we to be able to jump out of the present any time we chose. That is to say, I am deeply perturbed by the prospect of a predictable existence, an entire life comprised of events like that surprise birthday party your cousin slipped and told you about, but nine times worse since you even know what presents you're going to get. If you knew the identity of your future spouse would you date no one else? If you were sure that your team would win the World Series
, would you watch every game of the season, and even listen to a pre-season bout on the radio while you drove your pregnant sister through a blizzard to the hospital so she could deliver the child you already knew would grow up to be a schoolteacher and die of natural causes at the respectable age of eighty-two? And, if you were positive that Mona Lisa smiled at the monkey that da Vinci placed atop his head instead of saying "cheese!", would you like the painting as much? What about the white truffle-coated artichoke that came with the essence of pomegranate and rose-water dipping sauce? Would you miss eating the tastiest meal of your life if you knew that it would give you a digestive infection and land you in bed for three days? These are just some of the key questions the students at MIT might have asked themselves before they so audaciously decided to play Agathon
to a pan-millennial Symposium. Because if those mathletes had performed the cost-analysis I complimentarily proffer here, surely they would have calculated that the price of telling bedtime stories to our great-great grandchildren and taking leisurely strolls with our great-great grandmothers is mighty high. Yeah, time travel's awesome and sweet and all that, but it runs a slow second to uncertainty.