Well we're at the key point in my personal quest to decide if the old adage "The first three seasons of Family Guy were the best" is true or not (well as true as a personal and highly subjective opinion can be), with the fourth season. I've looked at seasons one, two and three previously, so I now have a point of reference to compare with. Of course I'm judging via the UK "Fourth Season" boxed set, which does not contain the originally broadcast fourth season for some reason. I suspect it's because the people who make the Region 2 Boxed sets felt they needed to milk a few more precious euros out of those people living on the right hand side of the Atlantic Ocean.
The fourth season of Family Guy exploded back onto our screens (after the shows second cancellation) in the year 2005, returning on a tide of exceptional DVD sales like a fat man in a clam. Now the truth is at this point that people were so excited that the show had returned from the grave that there was a lot riding on this season. Die hard fans would love it regardless (die hard fans will eat freeze dried dog doo if it's branded by their favourite show), but the more casual audience would have to be recaptured and sucked back in.
The honest truth is the show succeeded at this, but only just in my case. The thirteen episodes which make up the [UK] fourth season are a mixed bag, while the comedy is as raw and witty as it's always been, the stories told vary from one episode to the next. Episodes like North by North Quahog, The Cleveland-Loretta Quagmire, Petarded, Breaking Out is Hard to Do and Peter's Got Woods are excellent. But the others remain a somewhat mixed bag, at times fantastic but at times quite weak.
No episode exemplifies this more than The Perfect Castaway, which opens with an incredible series of jokes and cutaway sketches before dipping off into lame and recycled (Peter eating Joe's legs - which is a tired variant on a dull joke) humour and even going back to a tired old Family Guy trope (Brian's "thing" for Lois, which is the second most boring joke in the show after the continued mistreatment of Meg).
Now this might sound like I don't like the fourth season, and if I'm honest I don't feel it compares well to the second or third season, but it does hold up when placed alongside the first season. And that's not a bad place to be, because in essence this was a relaunch of the show and when judged to that standard it's a solid season.
More importantly, in Blind Ambition Ernie the Giant Chicken returns - he's my favourite running gag and I appreciate the rare appearances he puts in. It could have been so easy to over use him, but instead he just appears occasionally. A light touch, combined with the unexpected suddenness of his appearance keeps the gag fresh and exciting.
There is no doubt at all that the shows animation is of a far superior quality when compared to the previous seasons, it's smoother - slicker and the 3D CGI sections are close to seamless in appearance. The hints of brilliance suggested back in the third season episode 'Emission Impossible' come to fruition in this season. Some of the sections in episodes are an absolute joy to watch. Now the 3D sections don't quite compare to the staggering Futurama ones, but they do blend in very well without jarring, which is a big thumbs up point.
Ultimately the fourth season of Family Guy is a solid affair, many of the cut away jokes are superb - "dueling farts", "the fire truck nature documentary" and the entire season opening gag of "we'll be back on only if these shows are cancelled" are amongst some of the best ones the show has ever used. And the episode 'Peter's Got Woods' is nothing short of fantastic. But this season doesn't rank amongst the finest Family Guy moments, it's just a solid one.
Commentaries on selected episodes
"World Domination: The Family Guy Phenomenon" Featurette
Deleted Scene Animatics
"Score!" - Music of Family Guy Featurertte
Multi-Angle Table Reads
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Run time: 270 mins
Subtitles: English HOH