NEW YORK (AP) – As everyone must know by now, Fox’s animated series “Family Guy” lives to lampoon human nature and human frailties, and does so without fear or favor.
There’s something bracing about “Family Guy” as it blows its whistle on a society that seems to grow ever coarser and more mean-spirited, while individuals squawk at any hint of disrespect directed toward them and wilt at every trigger word.
For anyone weary of today’s reflexive correctness, the show, with its deft blend of the ingenious and the rude-and-crude, provides a counteractive safe space where no low blow, regardless of how low, is inadmissible. And so it carries on, as porky patriarch Peter Griffin and his family and friends begin their 16th season on Sunday on Fox.
With that in mind, show runners Rich Appel and Alec Sulkin recently shared some details of what lies ahead – including the series’ 300th episode, which won’t be just a milestone, Appel promises, “but one of our best.”
The season premiere, said Sulkin, “will be our shameless grab to win a [best show] Emmy” – an itch so far unscratched by the Television Academy.
As Peter embarks on his own For Your Consideration campaign, he will make “Family Guy” more like proven Emmy-winning shows, including not just comedy but also dramas and reality.
Guest voices include Sofia Vergara, Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen, Louis C.K., Bill Maher, Christina Pickles and the late Adam West.
“We’ll have a special episode where (precocious toddler) Stewie is in therapy for the entire half-hour,” said Sulkin, “with the therapist played by Sir Ian McKellen.”
“Stewie actually learns something about himself,” said Appel – “as opposed to everyone else’s therapy.”
Another episode, titled “Three Directors,” will tell the same simple story – Peter losing his job – within the half-hour, “but each version is told in the style of Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson and Michael Bay,” Appel said.
“We have an episode where Brian (the erudite, articulate family dog) and Stewie go back to Victorian England and play Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson,” said Sulkin. “That seems like something we might have done before, but we actually hadn’t.”
The series, which premiered in 1999, was created by Seth MacFarlane, who handed over the reins as showrunner in 2010 to pursue other projects, including the two “Ted” films and, currently, his new Fox sci-fi series “The Orville,” which he created, wrote and stars in.
But he continues to voice a number of favorite “Family Guy” characters, “and while he’s recording if there are things that he doesn’t like, or DOES like, he will let us know,” Sulkin said.
One of MacFarlane’s signature elements in the show is its cutaway gags and comic asides. Peppered through each episode’s 22 minutes, those cutaways are where some of its sharpest and most devilish comedy resides, and where the series takes its wildest flights of fancy.
“It’s one of Seth’s brilliant strokes,” said Appel. “The cutaways predate YouTube and Hulu clips, and anticipated the shared content of my kids’ generation. When people watch 30- or 60- or 90-second bits that they like, that they think is funny, they’ll follow the trail to the whole show those bits came from. ‘Family Guy’ is popular because hopefully it’s good, but the cutaways serve as a lifeline to the show in some ways.”
Another MacFarlane masterstroke continues unabated: the considerable naughtiness of “Family Guy.” This means ongoing discussions with the network over content.
“Rich has a background in law,” said Sulkin, “so when we have issues that are brought up by Standards, he is particularly good at making arguments to get us around some of those issues.”
“I think what Alec is saying is: as a comedy writer, I’m a great lawyer,” Appel cracked.
“Rich just made several valiant phone calls trying to defend a bit in an upcoming show which is a play on the ‘I Love Lucy’ chocolates-on-a-conveyer-belt scene,” Sulkin said. “But instead of Lucy, it’s Peter. And instead of chocolates, it’s little Dixie cups filled with truckers’ urine for a drug test. Those are the kinds of things that we fight for.”
“It’s not exactly what my mother imagined when she paid for my law school,” Appel said, “but it’s something.”
He didn’t say who won this particular debate.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at email@example.com