January 30, 2014
Seth MacFarlane to write Family Guy: the novel
by Andrew McGrath
That Seth MacFarlane would make another film after 2012’s dreadful but extremely lucrative Ted didn’t come as a surprise. The surprise was the recent announcement that MacFarlane, who has written mostly for television during his career, had written a novelization of his upcoming film, A Million Ways to Die in the West, a comedy about a man who spends his life avoiding danger in the Wild West until his girlfriend leaves him for someone else. The official description of the book makes it sound mild-mannered enough, but it doesn’t seem to capture that Seth MacFarlane humor that made him famous:
Mild-mannered sheep farmer Albert Stark is fed up with the harsh life of the American frontier, where it seems everything and anything can kill you: Duels at high noon. Barroom brawls. Poisonous snakes. Cholera-infected drinking water. Tumbleweed abrasion. Something called “toe-foot.” Even a trip to the outhouse. Yes, there are a million ways to die in the wild, wild West, and Albert plans to avoid them all. Some people think that makes him a coward. Albert calls it common sense. But when his girlfriend dumps him for the most insufferable guy in town, Albert decides to fight back—even though he can’t shoot, ride, or throw a punch. Fortunately, he teams up with a beautiful gunslinger who’s tough enough for the both of them. Unfortunately, she’s married to the biggest, meanest, most jealous badass on the frontier. Turns out Albert has just discovered a million and one ways to die in the West.
MacFarlane is best known as the creator of the animated show Family Guy, which gained popularity from its absurd, irreverent humor—particularly its frantic pace and non-stop (and rarely relevant) pop culture references. MacFarlane has since leveraged that success to create shows like the Family Guy spinoff The Cleveland Show, which has been described as “Family Guy in blackface” ; Dads, which has been widely panned for its racist humor and predictable writing, and currently holds a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes; and his 2012 film debut, Ted, which follows the “bromance” between Mark Wahlberg, a human male, and a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking teddy bear. The New York Times review for Ted best captured the formula for a Seth MacFarlane comedy, stating, “Sexual and flatulence-based gags are accompanied by the usual side dishes: warmed-over pop-cultural references and cheap-shot jabs at celebrities and ethnic minorities.”
Though it has a spotty track record so far, we can expect the MacFarlane formula to be used in A Million Ways to Die in the West: a talking horse, a washed-up star from the eighties, and an endless stream of time period jokes about minorities. Whether the same formula can be used successfully in the novel—and whether the jokes will land without visual aids—remains to be seen.