We comics geeks have — or rather had — this informal rule about superhero death called “The Bucky Clause.” In comics, no one stays dead except Captain America’s WWII sidekick Bucky, Spider-Man’s beloved Uncle Ben, and Jason Todd, the second incarnation of Robin. I say had because although it held true for quite a while, all three of those characters have returned to life one way or another. In the four-color world of comics, death is like a really bad pimple: It might screw up your one hot date, but in the long term, it’s little more than a temporary inconvenience.
So, for those of us who grew up with the Bucky Clause and watched its inevitable demise, the news that Brian the Dog is coming back to Family Guy is about as surprising as hearing that December comes after November.
Of course, most cartoon and comics characters wait at least a year, if not a decade or more, before emerging from the grave. Brian was killed off on the Nov. 24 episode and is slated to return Dec. 15, giving him a total of 21 days on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. Even Superman stayed dead for a few months before coming back.
Officially, the network hasn’t made any statement confirming Brian’s return, but the Dec. 15 episode includes him in the cast of characters, and several plot summaries list him in the coming season. In a fall 2014 episode, he’s supposed to fall in love with a character played by Maya Rudolph.
At this point, there’s no question that the Family Guy creators are bringing Brian back; the question is whether his death was an incredibly stupid move on their part or a genius marketing ploy.
When Brian’s death was announced, producer Steve Callaghan said that the decision to off one of the show’s most popular characters came about because, “We thought it could be a fun way to shake things up.” And it did that. The Griffin family replaced their old dog with a new, streetwise hound named Vinny, voiced by former Sopranos cast member Tony Sirico.
And so far, the fans have hated every single moment of it.
Almost immediately, there was an outburst of Twitter rage at the killing of Brian, followed by an online petition to bring him back. As of this writing, the petition has 128,305 “signatures,” calling for Brian’s return.
At first glance, killing Brian looks like the most boneheaded thing that the producers of Family Guy could have made. Brian was the linchpin of the show, perhaps the only thing that kept it in balance. I’ve never been a fan of the show myself. Unlike The Simpsons, whose characters were flawed but basically decent people, Family Guy has always felt ugly and mean-spirited to me. Its humor is often dripping in misogyny and racism, dressed up as irreverent “political incorrectness.” And even I mostly liked Brian, who usually seemed to be the show’s single point of moderation and humanity. Having him killed in a hit-and-run would have clearly thrown the whole dynamic out of whack.
And yet, all this fuss could be the fans dancing to exactly the tune that Seth MacFarlane and friends were hoping to set. In recent years, Family Guy‘s ratings have been steadily declining. It’s still one of Fox’s top shows, and there hasn’t been any solid threat of cancellation. But still, a show can decline for only so many years before the higher-ups start casting an eye on the ax sitting in the corner. With the death and resurrection of Brian, people are talking about Family Guy more than they have for years. It might have been a massive screw-up, but maybe not. Time will tell. In the meantime, the mutt with the martini is back.
What do you think? Is this the most boneheaded play in the show’s history, or cunning media maneuvering? Tell us in the comments below.