Once upon a time, such terms as "offensive," "sick" and "twisted" were pejoratives. A heavy-metal rock group might use them to commercial advantage, but no TV network would want to be associated with them. Then came Fox. Now it's all changed. As further proof, Fox offers its latest attempt to attract attention and ratings with cheap sleaze: "Family Guy," an utterly excremental animated comedy premiering tomorrow night on Channel 5, right after the Super Bowl. That choice location is an indicator of the esteem that pea-brained Fox executives have for the program. Even if the game is a rout and viewers drift away by the millions, "Family Guy" is almost certain to wind up in the Top 10 shows of the week when the Nielsen ratings come out. The brainchild, for lack of a better term, of alleged whiz-kid Seth MacFarlane, 25, "Family Guy" essentially rips off "The Simpsons." But it owes more to Comedy Central's dutifully gross "South Park." A new generation of sick-coms is emerging, and thriving, on the TV landscape. Cultural pollution? It's probably too late to worry about that now. "Family Guy" is just another tiny drop of toxic waste in the festering Love Canal of the Air. Peter Griffin, the antihero of the show, is a tubby schmo living in suburbia with his wife, three children and talking dog. In one genuinely funny reversal, the dog whacks Peter with a newspaper and says, "No! No!" And as the character of Fonzie made "Happy Days" a hit and Urkel did the same for "Family Matters," one character on "Family Guy" may spell success for the show: A malicious baby who talks with a high-toned accent and sits in his crib plotting the overthrow, even murder, of his parents.
"Damn you, woman," says the child to his mother. "You've impeded my work since the day I escaped from your wretched womb!"
The tot, who looks a bit like Peter Lorre, invents a mind-control ray gun, and at one point presents his mother with a "box of chocolates" a la "Forrest Gump," except the chocolates turn out to be hand grenades. None of this is particularly clever, but it's outlandish enough to catch on -- alas. Otherwise, the writers try to see how far they can go in self-congratulatory irreverence. Early in the premiere, the figure of that outdated racist stereotype Aunt Jemima appears in a window so Peter can make a pun: "Jemima's Witnesses" are always coming around, he says. At a fitness center called Das Gym, a scrawny Adolf Hitler can't lift weights, and a hefty Jewish man is having his muscles pawed by cuties. Meanwhile, an employee at the Happy-Go-Lucky toy company fashions a "GI Jew" doll that holds a bagel in one hand and a gun in the other. Pardon us while we do not laugh. Fired by the toy company for negligence when dangerous weapons get into the hands of children (the "South Park" influence), Peter goes to jail and, upon returning from the showers, reports that "all the rumors about dropping the soap are true." Okay, the joke turns out to be a fake-out (there was, it seems, no homosexual rape), but children, who are always drawn to cartoons no matter how cartoonists may insist their work is for adults, will be asking their parents about the reference. What will their parents answer? Later, purely for shock value, Peter reveals he has purchased a replica of Michelangelo's David, but that its penis broke off. Cut to an effeminate man holding said organ in his grasp and exclaiming, "I shall call you -- Eduardo!' " The best thing that happens on the show is the last thing, when Dad knocks himself unconscious with a baseball bat. Unfortunately, the blow was probably not fatal and he is likely to get up again. Yours truly has been trying to come up with a name for the burgeoning genre of animated sitcoms. Here is the latest attempt: Drawing Room Comedy. May the room in which "Family Guy" is drawn be sacked, emptied, disinfected and burned to a cinder. Anything to keep them from making any more episodes of this smug and amateurish tripe. CAPTION: Peter Griffin and his talking dog, who makes for one of the show's few funny moments. ec