In the fall of 2013, beloved family dog, Brian, met his demise. Brian was an extraordinary dog capable of communicating in English with his family members who was often seen walking on two feet. Despite that though, he met a rather ordinary end for a dog when he was unceremoniously struck by an automobile. Life goes on though, and the Griffin family to which he belonged turned to a new dog: Vinny. Like Brian, Vinny was a remarkable specimen as he too could speak English and chose to walk on two legs, plus he functioned as an Italian stereotype and even appeared to have connections to the underworld. The audience latched onto Vinny, and while no one could replace Brian, we all accepted that these things happen and the best thing we can do for Brian is to never forget him.
Of course, that was all bullshit. No one cared about Vinny and Brian Griffin was as unlikable as basically every other member of the Griffin family at the time of his death. And these deaths never stick, so no one was surprised when the show brought Brian back a mere two episodes later as part of Family Guy’s Christmas episode that year.
Brian Griffin had once been one of the few voices of reason on Family Guy. Despite the fact that he was a dog, he seemed like the most real of any of the Griffin family and many of his problems seemed to stem from the fact that he existed in this unreal world. He seemed to deal with the craziness of being Peter Griffin’s dog with booze and therapy and he seemed to delight in needling the youngest member of the family, Stewie, who was always threatening to kill someone or take over the world, but Brian saw through his bullshit. The two were foils and didn’t seem to really like each other, which is partly what made their team-up episodes, like “The Road to Rhode Island,” so successful.
After Family Guy’s cancellation and return to television, Brian underwent a change. Instead of being the voice of reason, he was made a narcissist who manipulated women and was happy to stand on a soap box and lecture folks on things he had no business speaking on. He took on the role of uninformed liberal capable of regurgitating popular talking points with no subtext. In short, he became insufferable as basically every character on the show took this route, just via different means.
In a show basically devoid of charm (and that’s by design), about the only charming aspect would become the Stewie and Brian relationship. Once adversaries, the pair are now best friends. They understand each other and accept each other’s deficiencies. Their relationship seemed to be solidified in the Season 8 episode “Brian & Stewie” in which the two get trapped in a bank vault over a weekend. Since then, not only is Brian Stewie’s best friend, he’s probably a better father to him than Peter and there’s genuine warmth between the two. This being Family Guy though, their relationship can’t just be sweet so the writers also added a weird subtext where Stewie appears to desire sex with Brian. Why can’t we just have nice things?
I have long since ceased to care about Family Guy as it’s not a show I particularly enjoy. It is a frequent contributor to Christmas though, and “Christmas Guy” felt like an episode worth revisiting. We get to relive the era of Vinny and a story about a baby just wanting to get his best friend back for Christmas is certainly a sweet way to approach the holiday. And it should be better, and definitely shorter, than the other major Brian and Stewie Christmas story “The Road to the North Pole.”
The episode begins with a lovely exterior shot of the Griffin house covered in snow and all decorated for Christmas. Given how inept Peter (Seth MacFarlane) is at virtually everything, I am amazed at how well the decorations look. Maybe that’s just the one thing he’s good at? The family is inside watching television and it’s a version of Home Alone with capable robbers. It’s an observational piece where the robbers enter a house and immediately take note of things like toy cars on the floor and frozen stairs so as to avoid them. When the Kevin character appears at the top of the stairs, they just shoot him and he tumbles down the stairs, dead. We then find out that the family is gearing up for the annual Christmas Carnival that takes place at the mall. Lois (Alex Borstein) is particularly thrilled about celebrating Stewie’s (MacFarlane) first Christmas by sharing the carnival with him. Upon saying that, Stewie says “Again?” which is a clever way for the show to acknowledge that no one ages. I think the one-year-old Stewie has celebrated Christmas a dozen times at this point. This also sets up an awful cut-away joke about how Peter enjoys teasing the clerk at Tiffany’s into thinking he’s actually going to buy something. The joke is that no one in their right mind would believe Peter because he showed up wearing Sbarro wrappers for shoes.
An exterior shot of the mall lets us know the family has already made the short journey. Stewie is decked out in an elf costume and Vinny (Tony Sirico) makes a few comments on it causing Stewie to ask him if he only uses adjectives sarcastically. Vinny, predictably, responds with sarcasm. The family soon notices that there’s no Christmas Carnival, or really any sign of the holiday for that matter. Stewie suggests whoever is responsible will suffer for it and Vinny makes a smart comment that “tough don’t sell in curly-toed shoes.” Stewie suggests to Vinny that he go buy more cologne setting up another worthless, but at least brief, cut-away.
Lois approaches a security guard to inquire about what happened to the carnival. She addresses him as sir, and he tries to correct her by saying “officer,” but she puts him in his place with a “No, it’s sir, and barely sir.” After the guard hangs his head in shame, he explains he doesn’t know using the term small cog to describe his role in the decision making process. This prompts Chris (Seth Green) to comfort his father by saying “See dad, you’re not the only one with a small cog,” clearly referring to his dad’s penis. Both Lois and Peter respond in unison saying “I told you that in confidence!” so apparently husband and wife are both disappointed in the size of Peter’s penis.
Stewie then asks if Santa was killed by Muslims, intentionally mispronouncing the word Muslims. This sets up yet another cut-away as Peter declares he hates being disappointed. This one is Peter in a restaurant commenting on the quality of the coffee, only for the server to tell him it’s Folger’s and call him an idiot for liking it. There’s a tag at the end about how Folger’s is only worth drinking if you’ve been tricked into it. I’ll give them a little credit here as when I saw the joke setup I thought they were just going to have Peter play Chris Farley’s character from the same bit on Saturday Night Live.
We’re shown another exterior shot of the Griffin house only it’s nighttime now. Peter and Lois are in bed discussing the events of the day. Lois is worried about Stewie as he seemed so disappointed in the carnival’s cancellation. She remarks he’s been acting out all week and Peter brushes off her concerns with a “He’s a baby, how bad can he be?” We’re then shown the family seated for a meal and Stewie is loosening the cap on the salt shaker. Meg (Mila Kunis) takes it and goes to sprinkle some salt on her food only for the top to fall off completely and out pops a giant snake! It bites her and she instantly swells up to gargantuan size.
We change scenes, and get this, there’s another exterior shot of the Griffin’s house to mark the change! Back to daytime, and the family is once again watching TV so we get another Christmas movie parody joke. This time, it’s Miracle on 134th Street and a guy is shown running to his car in a panic because he left his phone in it. The miracle, and the joke, is that the car has been left undisturbed and his phone is fine. Vinny then enters to say he talked to a bunch of guys and a girl (allowing for him to be casually misogynistic) and found out that the mall’s owner cancelled the carnival and he is none other than Carter Pewterschmidt, Lois’s father. Vinny is then shocked at this twist letting out an exaggerated “Oh!” He then takes his leave as he has to get the “Ohs” out as he keeps saying it over and over. Off camera, we hear them gradually decrease in intensity.
Peter resolves to dealing with Carter, but first has to ask Lois if he’s The Little Caesar’s guy. She responds in a manner that suggests this is a frequent question from Peter and he’s relieved to know that Carter is not, in fact, The Little Caesar’s guy. He then likens Carter’s attitude towards Christmas to a gluten-free Santa, setting up yet another cut-away of a Santa waking a kid up in the middle of the night to ask about what the cookies were made out of. It’s yet another dud of a joke.
We then setup the next scene with an exterior shot of Pewterschmidt Industries. Carter (MacFarlane) is seated at his desk filling out some paperwork only pausing to flip off the window washer outside because he dared to make a sound. His secretary then calls to tell him the guy who’s face is on all the money is here to see him and Carter hastily cleans up his papers and welcomes the obvious fake in. It’s Peter, who demands Carter bring back the Christmas Carnival! Carter declines telling Peter he hates Christmas because everyone assumes a rich guy like him will give them expensive presents while giving him nothing in return. Peter vows to return Carter’s Christmas spirit to him and then asks if he can take something home with him from his office. Carter tells him no, and he replies with an “Aww, too bad, because I was gonna pick you!” Carter then confirms that Peter is a weird guy.
Exterior shot of the Griffin house! This time, from a different angle though. Seriously guys, we don’t need to see an exterior shot of a building before every scene! Especially a familiar setting like the home of our main characters! Anyway, Peter is struggling to zip-up his coat and refusing Lois’s help because he’s a man-baby. Vinny is there to comment on how crappy it is to have a father who hates Christmas. He then goes off on a tangent about how his old man drowned in a bird bath thanks to a cop, but left directions to “Kick Jimmy in the sack. Go Eagles.” When Lois offers condolences, Vinny brushes them aside and tells everyone his dad was a scumbag. Lois and Peter then start discussing the issue at hand, but they’re in front of a window so obviously we’re supposed to ignore them and see what happens outside. Stewie appears, and he rips down the neighbor’s decorations and molests a snowman before apparently setting off a nuclear explosion that destroys everything in sight. Lois talking about her dad’s disgust towards Christmas leads to another cut-away, this time of Carter going down Santa’s chimney on June 16th in a “how do you like it?” joke. It’s not funny.
We get another repeated exterior shot of the Griffin house. We didn’t even change settings this time! We’re still in the same place! Did they really need to kill this much time? Peter and Carter are in the kitchen and it’s not explained why Carter would bother coming over. Peter is trying to put Carter in the Christmas spirit by showing him how to write a Christmas letter. He informs Carter it’s acceptable to embellish, so Carter reads the letter and the embellishments are all ridiculous like Peter becoming the starting quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Peter tells him to read what he wrote about him only to find out the only truthful thing in the letter is Peter noting that Carter bought a tiny stool for his balls. The camera zooms out so we can see the stool in use and Carter is pissed because he doesn’t want people to know that.
We then get an exterior shot of a generic hotel and Peter and Carter are seated on a bed. Peter has a carton of eggnog and tells Carter this will put him in the holiday spirit. Cater tells Peter he hates eggnog, but Peter won’t take no for an answer. It then gets really uncomfortable as Peter forces the nog on Carter and it’s clear this is intended to be a parody of a sexual assault or violent, degrading, piece of pornography. Carter ends up covered in frothy, white, eggnog and Peter starts filming him and instructs him to degrade himself in various ways. It ends with Carter sitting up and telling Peter “You know, I still don’t like Christmas, but I kind of like what we just did.” Apparently, Carter has some odd kinks.
I bet you can’t guess what’s next! Exterior shot of the Griffin house! Peter and Carter are standing outside the bathroom and Peter tells Carter that Christmas is the one day a year where you masturbate like any other but then feel shame afterwards. He goes into the bathroom for a very short duration, and then comes out hanging his head sadly with his shirt untucked. Carter tells Peter that none of this is working and as he explains Vinny casually walks by causing Carter to interrupt his ranting to remark “Huh, different dog.” Peter confirms this and adds that he’s Italian or something too. Carter then goes back into his rant and Peter tells him he had no idea that Carter was Jewish. Carter, shocked at the suggestion, asks if that’s how he’s coming off and Peter confirms as much.
Smash cut to the exterior of the mall only now it’s all decorated for Christmas! There’s even a giant banner promoting the carnival with Carter wrapping an arm around a seemingly uncaring Jesus. Inside, the place is fully decorated now and Peter is excited to see the Chinese carolers from A Christmas Story are there singing their rendition of “Deck the Halls.” Peter then tells the audience their beloved holiday classic is extremely racist, which is a gross exaggeration and ruins the observational joke. They could have just had Peter give a disapproving look or something and it would have been funnier.
Vinny then asks Stewie what he’s going to ask Santa for Christmas. Stewie isn’t sure, but once he’s seated on Santa’s lap and faced with the question he looks to his family and the camera pans from each member and rests on an empty space beside Meg. Stewie then starts sobbing and tells Santa he just wants his friend back. When he explains in further detail, Santa deadpans “You want me to put a dead dog under your tree,” and it doesn’t come off like a question. Stewie confirms this, though immediately after he sees a kid walk by with his parents and a new bike and he adds “and I’d like a bike,” with a whimper.
After yet another exterior shot of the house, we see Stewie all alone watching television. It’s another holiday parody, A Year Without a Santa Claus or Sex and there’s just some uptight dad bitching to his kid about his wife being busy all of the time. Vinny then enters the picture wearing glasses and a sweater. When Stewie asks what he’s doing, he corrects him by saying he’s Brian and does an Italian version of Brian’s “catchphrase” of “Whose leg do you have to hump to get a dry martini around here?” Stewie is not impressed, but Vinny says he put a lot of thought into this gimmick by reading up on politics and even outlining his own novel “Wish it. Want it. You blew it.” He reads some of it to Stewie and it’s just another vessel for Italian stereotypes that goes on too long. He then tries to cheer Stewie up with an early Christmas present, but the box contains a severed foot. Vinny says that was supposed to go to someone else, and we cut to a group of gangster types getting ready to celebrate the death of Johnny the Foot something, only their gift contains a train. They then go into a schtick of trying to figure out who the train refers to getting more and more specific and it just goes on and on and is never funny.
Vinny then gives Stewie his real gift which is a bowling shirt. Vinny says it’s a versatile garment that can be worn for any occasion, as long as it’s at the beach or adjacent to a beach, but Stewie seems unimpressed. Vinny then decides they should head to the toy store where Stewie can pick something out for himself. They do just that and Stewie is still in a mood since the toy store before Christmas is usually picked over. Vinny tries cheering him up by pointing out there’s tons of good stuff and demonstrates with some bronze, sheep, bookends that shine a sad light on Vinny’s childhood.
Stewie soon notices someone familiar in the store. He follows the kid only to realize it’s him! Vinny is angry and hungry, so he goes to punch a sandwich while Stewie investigates further. Vinny then returns with a black eye and an angry, personified, sandwich. Stewie asks Vinny for his help, but he’s not really sure what he’s after. When Stewie says he needs help stealing something Vinny is suddenly all-in. Stewie explains the other Stewie is him from the past. He time-traveled to the future to get a new Jolly Farm game he couldn’t wait for. Stewie asks Vinny to distract him so he can steal the time travel device in the other Stewie’s backpack. Vinny assures him he knows just how to distract another Stewie.
Vinny then intercepts Stewie after he’s made his purchase. He asks the past Stewie if he’s ever done any modeling, and Stewie says “not professionally” clearly ignoring the events of the episode “The Son Also Draws.” Vinny continues to butter him up and Stewie actually starts stripping away layers as he poses allowing for the current Stewie to steal the time travel device from the backpack. He retreats to a storeroom and Vinny soon appears telling him he should probably hurry up as the other Stewie is changing into tap shoes for some reason. Stewie explains he intends to travel back in time to save Brian, causing him to realize this will undo his family adopting Vinny. Vinny, now realizing he was duped into helping Stewie significantly alter his life for the worse, seems a bit sad at first, but then lightens the mood by saying “Hey, I’m man’s best friend, not some stupid baby’s!” He gives Stewie a smile and then sits like a traditional dog would allowing Stewie to pat him on the head and assure him he’s a been a good dog (I do love it when the dog characters on this show behave like actual dogs for brief moments). Vinny then stands and announces to a Georgette that he’s coming home and walks out of the scene causing Stewie to ask aloud to himself “Who the hell is Georgette?”
Stewie then hops on the time travel device and we’re taken back to the past with no establishing shot – it’s a Christmas miracle! Stewie and Brian are setting up their street hockey game and Stewie realizes he forgot his kneepads inside. He awkwardly informs Brian of this suggesting he was using them for some depraved sex act, before running inside. Future Stewie then appears and as the car destined to kill Brian screams around the corner, Stewie is able to tackle Brian and spare him. He then starts celebrating Brian’s un-death, which confuses Brian. Stewie goes on to explain he traveled from the future to save him, for when Brian died a little piece of him died as well. Brian is still confused since he just witnessed Stewie destroy his time machine, but Stewie explains how he ran into a past version of himself in the future which reminds him that he needs to send the time device back. We then see Past Stewie angrily waiting in the toy store as he says aloud to himself he’s starting to think Vinny wasn’t a real modeling agent. He then makes it creepy by adding “and I don’t think that other guy was a real Penis-Butt Inspector!”
As Stewie finishes his explanation to Brian, he starts to fade away. By changing the past, he’s erased his own timeline. He’s not sad though, but rather happy to have saved Brian. His “dying” words are “Merry Christmas, Brian,” which must be a little confusing to Brian since I don’t think they’re near Christmas in his timeline. Right as he vanishes though, the now present Stewie returns (conveniently with a new hockey stick after the ones he set down in the road were run over) and asks Brian who he was talking to. Brian replies, “A pretty awesome guy,” with a warm smile, only for Stewie to mock him by suggesting he marry the guy. He punctuates the jab by hitting Brian in the balls with his hockey stick and then does circles around his writhing body chanting “Stew-S-A” over and over.
A final exterior shot of a snowy Griffin house ushers in our final scene. The family is celebrating Christmas by opening their presents. Chris got some oven mitts and an unfunny joke is attached to it. Brian then gives Stewie his Christmas present and it’s a picture of the two of them in Christmas attire with the caption “Friends Forever” underneath. Stewie tells him it’s wonderful, and Brian informs him that Stewie gave him the greatest gift of all and that he’ll elaborate further some day. Stewie then looks concerned and questions Brian if they’re pregnant? Brian corrects him, but then adds that Stewie’s his best friend and he tells him he loves him. Stewie begins to respond warmly, but then gets stern and informs Brian that he’s been making creepy eye contact with him all morning and that he wants it to stop! Smash cut to credits!
Well, that was a mostly unfunny romp through the Christmas season with some genuine sentimentality tacked on at the end. The episode was a rather unique setup for Family Guy as it was like two, distinct, stories that occurred consecutively rather than at the same time like a traditional A and B plot. We had the first half of the episode which was devoted to Peter trying to get Carter into the Christmas spirit, and then the second half which was all about bringing Brian back. If the writers were just trying to disguise the fact that they wanted to resurrect Brian for Christmas then they did a good job as the episode did not point in that direction at all, until Stewie climbed onto the mall Santa’s lap with less than 10 minutes remaining. Stewie’s grief was handled well though and I did like his interactions with both Vinny and Brian. This being Family Guy, they found ways to punctuate those tender moments with jokes. They didn’t always land (like the weird sandwich bit), but they didn’t take away from the moment, but rather just cut out some of the overripe sweetness of those moments. I did like how they teed up a warm closing scene only for Brian to just completely botch it which felt like the right note for a Family Guy Christmas episode to end on.
Aside from that though, the first half of the episode was a real slog. Almost none of the observational humor Family Guy strives for really landed, but they sure kept trying! The Home Alone parody was all right, but the others were lame. The eggnog scene was gross for multiple reasons, and none of the cut-away jokes accomplished anything aside from eating up time. And what is up with the need for exterior shots before every scene?! The Griffin house did look nice, but I didn’t need to see the same shot over and over! The only thing I did like was Carter finally coming around on Christmas because he was afraid of people mistaking him for a Jew.
This Christmas episode of Family Guy ends up being memorable because it’s the episode where the show brought Brian back, even though he hadn’t been gone very long. Only one episode separates this one and “Life of Brian,” his death episode, so it’s easy to question if the show didn’t let Brian stay dead long enough to really sell the gag. It’s also Family Guy though and no one watches it for anything more than a sequence of jokes. The actual characters are rarely of any importance. Were fans happy to have Brian back? Did they like Vinny? Did they even care he died? I don’t know, but I do think it was a fun storyline to run with and they wrote themselves a nice out of Brian’s death. Aside from that detail though, this isn’t much good. You’re still better off with watching the inaugural Christmas episode from Family Guy if you must, and I think I enjoyed the Patrick Swayze one more that we looked at a couple of years ago.
If you want to watch “Christmas Guy” this holiday season it should be relatively easy to track down. I think. Adult Swim used to air every Christmas episode from the show this month, probably more than once, but lost the rights to air Family Guy this year so now it’s on the Disney family of channels. I’m assuming channels like FXX will schedule the Christmas episodes like they do for The Simpsons, but it is a bit of an unknown. The show is available on DVD and to stream as part of Hulu, which is probably the easiest way to watch it. If you enjoy Family Guy, and it’s fine to do so, then you probably like this one more than I do and will enjoy it. If you’re someone who does not care for Family Guy then you’ll likely hate this so seek holiday cheer from other sources.
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