Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Road To the Multiverse - Family Guy

Family Guy's Season 8 debut "Road to the Multiverse" found Stewie and Brian leaping between alternate universes a la Sliders with Stewie's hand-held 'timer'. The jokes are often crude, offensive and sometimes fall flat, but when they work, they're brilliant.

They start off with a universe where Christianity doesn't exist and as result the "Dark Ages" didn't happen(?) which means science and technology has surpassed that of their own universe. When Brian asks Stewie what happened to all the religious inspired art and culture, Stewie takes him to see the alternate version of what is painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The second universe they visit is a Flinstone's inspired one with the obvious Peter/Fred and Lois/Wilma cliches. They try way too hard to riff on the Flinstone's penchant for adding ROCK-like suffixes to words. The result is a SMURF-esque mess where ROCK becomes verb/noun/adjectives.

The third universe finds Quahog and the United States as a Japanese version that was conquered during the Second World War. It's no Philip K. Dick "Man in the High Castle", but it wasn't meant to be. Played for cheap fart jokes and racial/cultural stereotypes it's one of the weaker scenes for me.

The fourth universe they arrive in seems normal at first until they discover that everyone has two heads, one happy one sad. Some fairly lame jokes follow only for the scene to end with two-headed baby Stewie making out with himself. Ewww.

The fifth universe they jump to finds them stuck in a glacier with the device out of reach of both of them. Brian finds when he wags his tail the ice melts a little, so Stewie must get him "worked up" to the point where his tail melts through and they can reach the device.

The next universe, their sixth lands them in bizarre universe where everyone has to poop all at the exact same moment and are dancing on the spot trying to hold it in. WTF?

The seventh universe they visit finds them in a Disney-esque animated world (done in the style of Beauty and Beast) where Peter extols the virtue of pie, while Lois and anthropomorphic animals and inanimate objects join in the song. Stewie and Brian are intoxicated of this universe until they find out that its a very anti-semitic one, sending up Walt Disney's rumoured anti-Semitic leanings. A little too over the top for me, but fun to start with.

The eighth universe finds them in a Robot Chicken version of the Family Guy where the crudely stop motion animated versions of Peter and Chris are watching tv sitting on the couch. Stewie and Brian have an argument with them and Stewie yells "How does it feel to be on a major network for 30 seconds?" Chris Griffin swears at them before they leave. The in joke here being that Seth Green who does the voice of Chris Griffin is also an executive producer and voice actor for Robot Chicken series.

The 9th universe is a bombed out post-apocalyptic world where they discover Sinatra was never born, therefore Kennedy was never elected President, Nixon was elected and botched the Cuban Missile Crisis causing world War III. The scene while brief provides one of the more funny and tasteless jokes involving Lee Harvey Oswald and Mayor McCheese.

The next is a bizarrely animated 'low resolution blocky universe' that looks like a cross between bad Korean anime and retro Game Boy graphics. The Griffins of this universe have a brief nonsensical argument that leaves Stewie 'frightened'.

The next two universes are the quickest and best sight gags of the entire show. In the 11th jump, they land in a world with fire hydrants from horizon to horizon. Brian simply says "Love It", Stewie says "Hate It" and they teleport out. The 12th universe is awash in a sea of nearly nude men wearing speedos, holding balloons, with a prominent rainbow in the background. Stewie this time gets to say "Love It" and Brian says "Hate It" before they jet.

The 13th find the duo in a universe where Brian is a real dog and Stewie a real baby. It doesn't take them long to leave this universe behind.

The 14th universe is "where everything is depicted as a Washington Post Political Cartoon." Brian pretends to get the political satire, while Stewie calls him on it.

The 15th universe has a sole inhabitant who is "a really far away guy who yells compliments". Its absurd and funny.

The 16th is the universe of "misleading portraitures" in which really far away guy makes a brief appearance.

The 17th and final universe they land in is a "Planet of the Apes" take off where Dogs rule the earth and have pet humans. In this universe the Griffins are a family of dogs and Brian is their pet human. Brian 'accidentally' smashes the hand held device. Stewie frustrated with the role reverse seeks his revenge on Brian by "doing his business" in the park. In this universe Stewie the dog confides in Stewie the human that he too has perfected multiverse travel and can help him get back to his own world. Dog-Stewie points out that Human-Stewie must have had the "shuffle" feature on his timer turned on hence the random jumping around between universes. When Stewie and Brian escape to their own universe Human-Brian makes the leap with them as well, only to come to a tragic end.

For me I appreciated the sight gags and the action that happens off screen, but is described in several of the universes. The plot device of the hand held timer was great since allowed Stewie to give the audience a thumbnail sketch of each universe just like Al was always giving Sam in each Quantum Leap episode without wasting time.

Definitely worth a look. If you are in the United States you can probably find this on a streaming site such as Hulu.com, outside of the US you might have to hunt a little harder for a copy of it, if you were like me and missed when it first aired.


  1. I did enjoy the episode, but I feel like "Family Guy" has done this kind of thing before and better. Maybe I'm thinking of "The Road to Germany", but I feel like there's been others (or maybe on "American Dad"?) Can anybody think of other episodes in this genre?

    BTW, I love your web site and blog. I've been a fan of this kind of literature and TV for a long time, and it's great to see someone who has put so much thought into the genre.

    I noted in your description of "Time After Time" that HG Wells might have been the first time travel author. Some argue that Charles Dickens was the first because "A Christmas Carol" is in many ways a time travel story, bringing us to Scrooge's past and future. (And along the way, the story posits alternate realities, too.)

    Sorry that this is a bit off-topic, but I wasn't sure where to email to you or otherwise comment relevantly.

  2. Hal, thanks for the feedback.

    I haven't seen "Road to Germany" episode of Family Guy yet.

    There was one episode in the series "Duckman" that I thought handled the divergent universes well. See my review here - it's brief.


    info@timetravelreviews.com is a good way to get a hold of me.

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