Violence in comedy has a long
and storied history. Who can forget the classic scene in Monty Python and
the Holy Grail when King Arthur hacks off the limbs of the Black Knight?
“’Tis but a scratch” is one of the most memorable understatements in the annals
of comedy. Then there’s Dan Akroyd’s parody of Julia Child, where he implores
the audience to “save the liver” while a simple cut on his finger turns into a
bloodbath. And, of course, there’d be no Three Stooges without some
impeccably-timed slapstick violence. Indeed, the term “slapstick” traces back
to commedia dell’arte, a form of theatrical performance that began in
Italy in the mid-15th century which featured exaggerated
physicality. When an actor pretended to slap someone, a wooden club-like object
was struck to produce a loud smacking noise – hence, “slapstick.” This is all
to say that we here at the PTC recognize the relationship between violence and
comedy. But there is a fine line between hilarious and gratuitous. The April
11th episode of American Dad (Sundays, 9:30 p.m. ET)
crossed that line, earning it the title of Worst TV Show of the Week.
The episode revolves around
Roger’s budding career in law enforcement. After cowardly leaving Fran to fend
off a mugger by herself, Roger enrolls in the police academy. He immediately
becomes a dirty cop after only three hours of being on the force. Roger becomes
the right-hand man of venal detective Chaz. When Stan threatens to expose their
corruption, Chaz abducts Stan and forces Roger kill him. With gun in hand,
Roger says, “I guess we all knew it would end up like this. It didn’t have to
be this way, you dumb son-of-a-bitch…whose name is Chaz.” Roger suddenly points
his gun at Chaz and fires, but the gun isn’t loaded. Chaz chases Roger,
threatening to shoot him. From an elevated position, Roger drives his elbow
into the top of Chaz’s skull, causing his head to inexplicably explode. The
explosion is replayed five times, including close-up shots from different
angles. Chaz’s eyeballs and ears separate as his head completely
disintegrates. Brain matter oozes from his ear-hole. Blood gushes from Chaz’s
decapitated torso as he falls on his knees and collapses in a gory headless
lump. Rogers lands on the ground and utters, “That was unexpected.” Really?
One key feature to a successful
comedic bit is the element of surprise. American Dad (and Family Guy)
creator Seth MacFarlane’s brand of comedy revels in excessive sex and violence.
So to see a head explode for no good reason during one of his shows doesn’t seem
out of the ordinary. Rather than surprise, this scene highlights what is wrong
with MacFarlane’s shows. More often than not, they merely turn up the volume to
distract audiences from the lack of true ingenuity.
Violence for no apparent
reason, cause, justification -- or comedic pay off -- is the very definition of
For graphic violent content,
American Dad has been named Worst TV Show of the Week.
Parents Television Council,
Clean Up TV Now, Because our children are watching, The
nation's most influential advocacy organization, Protecting
children against sex, violence and profanity in
entertainment, Parents Television Council Seal of Approval,
and Family Guide to Prime Time Television
are trademarks of the Parents Television Council.