‘Family Guy’ Strives for an Emmy in Self-Aware Season 16 Premiere

For a show predicated entirely on random cut-aways and other assorted off-the-wall gags, long-standing animated sitcom “Family Guy” is at its sharpest when it’s tackling incredibly meta situations. Look no further than their shots at the FCC, “Robot Chicken,” or even gags where Seth Macfarlane pokes fun at his own failed shows. There’s an “Orville” gag in “Family Guy’s” future; that’s for sure. So it was no surprise when “Family Guy” brought the laughs in droves during its season-opening quest for an Emmy, leading to an episode full of famous TV parodies where no genre is overlooked.

The structure to “Family Guy’s” Emmy-reaching episode felt refreshingly rearranged, tackling shows in the form of extended vignettes instead of doing the usual string of gag after gag. That old formula is definitely the show’s bread and butter, but the style with which the show approached all of its Emmy-winning contemporaries provided a lot more wiggle room to sneak in more punchlines, and that’s one winning strategy. One particularly memorable vignette combined “The Big Bang Theory,” “Transparent” and “Modern Family,” complete with Sofia Vergara and Julie Bowen lending their voices to the mashup. Louis CK also drops by, making sure to comment on how far his star has fallen for “Family Guy” brass to be able to get him to do this.

The show does a good job of poking fun at their comedic contemporaries, but it isn’t until they turn their attention to the drama landscape that the season premiere really hits a new level of great, blending “Breaking Bad” with elements of “Homeland” and “The Wire” with purposely convoluted dialogue. We’re even treated to an Aaron Sorkin walk-and-talk. This show really puts no one on a pedestal.

Unfortunately, one of “Family Guy’s” biggest issues is its tendency to use self-deprecation as a crutch, something they do often instead of actually tying things together. The 16th season premiere is no different in that respect. First, a few members from the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences let Peter know, in no minced terms, that “Family Guy” is a garbage show with lazy writing, where instead of resolution we just get the characters sitting in the living room voicing their pleasure with everything being back to normal. Of course the very next scene is of the characters in the living room voicing their pleasure about how everything is back to normal. Sure, it’s a good laugh, but pointing out your own show’s shortcomings shouldn’t excuse them. It’s a common “Family Guy” trope, the blow of which is only lessened here by a live action chicken fight starring Ty Burrell.

Every season the worry surfaces that “Family Guy” will bleed the absurdity well dry, but every season the show manages to endure and reinvent itself. Still, with every season the show also becomes just a bit more meta, which raises the question of how much self-deprecation is healthy, and how much is just grasping at cartoon straws? “Family Guy” may not net an Emmy, but they still have viewers’ hearts.

Family Guy” season 16 premiered Oct. 1 and airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.