Suppose they lifted the curtain on Family Guy and showed Seth MacFarlane and Alex Borstein pulling the levers behind the scenes. The results might look a lot like Family Guy: Seth & Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show, which aired on Fox Sunday night, made up of equal parts humor, variety and promotion.
Instead of relying exclusively on animation to poke fun at all manner of celebrities, the special included a segment on discarded screen tests and another on fictitious Fox pilots that never made it to air. The imaginary screen tests included the late Beatrice Arthur in Showgirls, a stiff Gregory Peck in Transformers and a squinting Renee Zellweger attempting to appear wide-eyed in Independence Day.
Though there was little uproarious here, you never had to wait long to be rewarded by at least a chuckle.
If you're keeping score, the show had several base hits and one towering home run. The latter came as Borstein mocked Marlee Matlin, impersonating in song her flawed pronunciation. Just as you began to question the humanity of the cheering audience, Matlin herself entered from offstage. In no time, she made Borstein the butt of jokes about weight. (It's not clear if this was why Microsoft withdrew as sole sponsor of the show or whether the company sensed it would be castigated for poor taste because of other segments. In any event, the show ended up being presented entirely by two forthcoming films.)
Almost all of the humor was out of the Family Guy playbook. On occasion, there were glimpses into the rapport shared by the two hosts. When MacFarlane began crooning Edelweiss, Borstein, a Jew, objected. Austria was complicit in the Holocaust, she asserted.
But, MacFarlane pointed out, if none of that happened (a very oblique reference to the Holocaust), how many Jewish comediennes would you be competing with? Right now, it's you and Sarah Silverman. Tasteless? Absolutely. Funny? You bet.
In this segment and several others, MacFarlane showed off a singing voice that could win him a spot on American Idol or at least provide the necessary firepower for a super parody of TV's top-rated show.
Near the show's end, MacFarlane made a push for another of his creations, The Cleveland Show, by substituting the word Cleveland for the bleep that obliterates profanity. It was a smart way to blend Seth and Alex's off-color humor with a concentrated dose of promotion.