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R.I.P.

Will Neal | Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Warning: Full spoilers ahead for anyone who has avoided the Internet for the past 2 weeks.
Never thought I’d have to throw out a spoiler warning for “Family Guy,” but if last week’s episode is any indication, it’s easy to see that anything can change. During a panel at San Diego Comic Con this past summer, the producers of the beloved animated series announced that in their upcoming season, one of show’s characters would be killed off in order to “shake things up” in the series. And no, we’re not talking about Seamus the four-limbed peg-leg sea captain, or the infamous giant chicken, but rather a core member of the show – a member of the Griffin family.
When the news hit the Internet, fans speculated every logical possibility (it’s got to be Meg or Chris, right? I mean, what have they done lately?), but would have to wait 5 months before finally learning the answer. On November 24th, Brian Griffin, America’s beloved talking, left-winged canine and the show’s voice of reason, was killed off from “Family Guy.” After being brutally run over by a car, Brian bids goodbye to his sobbing family on his veterinary deathbed by telling them, “You’ve given me a wonderful life. I love you all.” Quite the tear-jerking moment for a series that once featured a two-minute long vomiting scene. As promised by the producers, the show wasted no time in filling the void as Brian’s role was immediately passed on to a new dog, Vinny, voiced by “The Sopranos” Tony Sircio. By the end of the episode, it seemed that everything might as well have been back to normal for the Griffins.
What’s most surprising about this story isn’t the fact that Brian was killed off, but rather the uproarious reaction from the public. Series that have suffered from a declining relevance and popularity have occasionally pulled off similar stunts.
Take Superman for example: when the fans stopped caring about America’s most iconic superhero, the writers decided the only way to draw in the public’s interest was to murder Superman in a very dramatic fashion (Sounds familiar, right?). The story of The Death of Superman jumped to the front of the headlines across the country and while hotheaded fan boys rioted over the news, the more solemn followers wore black armbands out of respect for their fallen hero. While Superman was brought back to life several issues later, but the loss still hit the public like the loss of … well, a beloved dog.
The public’s reaction to Brian’s death is, while not as extreme, certainly still something to note. A number of stations and websites made the story a leading headline, longtime fans cursed Seth MacFarlane’s name, and even a petition hit the Internet on the site “Change.org” with more than 125,000 signatures (the site’s fastest growing entertainment petition) to “bring back America’s dog.” It became abundantly clear that Brian was a fan favorite of the show.
The fact of the matter is, because a number of future episodes entitled with his name, that Brian will more than likely return to the show.
The death was a publicity stunt – as simple as that. Friends who I know stopped watching the series years ago asked me whether I had “heard what happened to Brian on ‘Family Guy’.” For the first time in years, people were finally talking about “Family Guy” again. The same show that was once brought back from the dead by popular demand, but lost the magic and humor that made it special over time. The same show that was critically voted number 5 on the list of top animated series/ movies of all time, but later fell victim to bland jokes, storylines, and time fillers that include 4-minute cutaways to Conway Twitty performances and the entire music video to “Dancing in the Street” (no lie). “Family Guy” knew they needed to reignite their fandom, and dramatically did so.
If we can realize anything from this story, it’s the emotional impact that any fictional character can have on the public. Many of us grew up with Brian and the rest of the Griffins, and whether or not we realized it (as ridiculous as it sounds) he was important to us. Hopefully, like the resurrection of “Family Guy” itself, it won’t be long before Brian makes his triumphant return and the fans can, once again, have their dog back.
Contact Will Neal at wneal@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.