[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Family Guy” Season 16, Episode 5, “Three Directors.”]
At the end of three back-to-back-to-back parodies of Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, and Michael Bay’s respective works, Peter Griffin asks Lois “which director thing was your favorite?” “Honestly, I didn’t care for the episode,” she says, right before the credits end, production titles pop up, and another episode of “Family Guy” fades into the ether with the nearly 300 others.
And if we’re being honest, we’re with Lois. “Three Directors” is introduced by Peter, speaking straight to camera, explaining that they decided to “ask” three Hollywood directors to tell their version of the same story: Peter gets fired.
It’s not that the seemingly random spoofs from “the three who did not say no immediately” were unwanted; sure, the most recent movie from any of them was Bay’s “Transformers: The Last Knight” — and that was released more than four months ago — but their work is timeless and easily recognizable, so why not spend a random half-hour in Season 16 lampooning creatively graphic violence and unnecessary 180-degree shots?
Well, for one, a lot of the targets were too easy. “Reservoir Dogs” parodies, homages, and general references have been done to death in the 25 years since its release, and “Family Guy” had nothing new to contribute. This is still the show that thinks it’s clever to say, “Here’s Christoph Waltz to fire you in a weird accent,” and then watch as he does just that. (You see, it’s funny because Waltz appears in multiple Tarantino films and is not of American descent.)
It didn’t help itself by cramming all three directors into one episode: The simple story of Peter getting canned, told three times in a row albeit from each auteurs’ varying visions, still felt rushed and rarely could cinephiles glean insightful knowledge of the directors’ oeuvres in six-to-seven minute arcs.
Still, there were highlights:
- The opening title card reads, “Presented in 1,000,000 FILM,” which, while impossible, is still funny for the all CAPS emphasis on “film.”
- The “intermission” — especially in a six-minute “film” — is also an easy but nice touch, especially when Peter pops up to remind the audience that “cinema is an event.”
- “Someone order a wet-haired black guy to help with your revenge and sometimes speak louder than necessary?” – Cleveland, delivering one of the few race-related jabs at Tarantino, in an episode that needed many more.
- When Peter shows up for the final fight with his boss, a “Kill Bill” sequence starts up as Angela appears with Trisha Takanawa and the Crazy 88s. “Peter, I”m standing here because I’m the only recurring Asian character on the series,” Takanawa says, which works as self-skewering move for “Family Guy” than a poke at Tarantino.
- “Peter, you can tell I’m different because my weapon is different,” spoken by the leader of The Crazy 88s, is a much better rip on QT.
- Considering Tarantino is arguably Harvey Weinstein’s most famous collaborator, that the parody of his work has no reference to current events makes it seem extra dated. Understanding how animation works — it takes time, people — provides a valid excuse, but it doesn’t change the interpretation.
Of note: This is Carrie Fisher’s penultimate episode on “Family Guy.” She voices Angela, Peter’s boss (pictured above).
- Perhaps the most illuminating moment of this all-too-brief bit was Peter’s introduction, describing Wes Anderson: “A guy who makes you feel like you ate a pot brownie and woke up in a greeting card.”
- Stewie’s narration is fine, but just think if they would’ve gotten Alec Baldwin or Bob Balaban. It’s an in-house gig and that’s fine, but these kind of little touches were what made the episode feel like a missed opportunity overall. (That and the Waltz joke.)
- It’s not that Peter riding a unicycle is funny, it’s that they cut to a close-up of his bike lock and the numbers are, as indicated onscreen, “The Birthday of Marcel Proust.”
- The foreign language cover of “I Got You Babe” that played is one of the most subtle nods of the entire half-hour.
- “Thanks for watching, white people,” appears on the gravesite gate for family patriarch, Peter. Not bad, but again, this joke has been made hundreds of times for many years.
- After the segment ends, Peter asks, “Wouldn’t it be nice if all of Wes Anderson’s movies were actually that short?” This is a particularly infuriating and unnecessary joke for Anderson fans because Anderson has never made a movie over two hours, and most of his movies are less than 100 minutes. The joke could apply to anyone you think makes bad movies, so its lack of specificity deadens the satire. Anderson makes short movies — why imply he makes long ones?
- Literally everyone being an obscenely jacked dude or a scantily clad, big-breasted lady is just dumb enough to be kind of, sort of funny.
- When paired with the image of Peter showering with his motorcycle, it really works.
- Right before a climactic battle scene, Joe and Cleveland blatantly point out their name-brand equipment: “My Microsoft Surface!” Joe emphasizes twice. “My Samsung Gear watch says the same thing.” While not as funny as the actual video tallying up all of Michael Bay’s product placements, it’s a good nod to it.
- OK, here’s where this “director thing” loses its way: When the aforementioned fight actually starts, Peter says, “Let’s have a fight with so many quick shots and close-ups you can’t tell what’s going on.” This is, to a point, accurate: Bay’s use of a stupefying number of edits to build action has been a point of contention throughout his career, but the episode only uses it in that specific scene, whereas Bay uses it all the time. If the episode had been cutting quickly throughout and then amped it up to the point of zero coherence, perhaps this gag would’ve worked. Instead, it was just silly and predictable — much like the rest of “Three Directors.”
- Also, even though the episode ends with Peter unexpectedly surviving his fight with a Transformer, Michael Bay doesn’t do a lot of fake deaths. “Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor,” and “13 Hours” all feature real deaths, and not enough “Transformers” movies utilize the fake-out to make this a relevant point of parody.