In order to judge how far a TV show went for laughs, it’s probably best to quote another TV show. “You’re so far past the line, you can’t even see the line. The line is a dot to you!” An old Friends episode used that line in a very different context, but it neatly visualizes how one looks when they go beyond a mere transgression.
Sunday’s Family Guy might need a pair of binoculars to see the line.
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The episode featured Brian and Stewie taking a trip back in time, during which Brian tips off his past self about 9/11 so that the old him can play hero and stop the terrorist attacks. His effort backfires and accidentally sets in motion a chain of events that leads to a civil war and a videogame-y sort of apocalypse. Brian and Stewie repeatedly flash back in time to fix the mistake, which creates an excess of Brian and Stewie clones. Eventually, all of the clones get together to vote whether to stop 9/11 or let it happen. The latter wins, leading to a round of high-fives (which they acknowledge will look bad out of context).
It sounds custom-made for a “too soon” label, and it probably is. But avid Family Guy viewers live for “too soon” moments, no matter how sensitive the material. It’s “to soon” to perceive the depth of the inevitable backlash, but it is surprising that the episode, unlike the infamous abortion one that didn’t make it to air but was performed live and released on DVD, passed FOX’s broadcast standards.
Whether or not it was appropriate, it does illuminate the latent would have/could have/should have 9/11 questions: it’s in the past, it was awful, and now we know what to do next time. For all the horror it caused, it’s firmly rooted in history.
But Seth MacFarlane & Co. probably just wanted to cause a stir — and some laughter.
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