The animated show Family Guy has been on the air for over 12 years now, which is longer than the lifespan of a lot of dogs. So, maybe it should come as no surprise that Brian, the Griffin family’s dog, has finally died. In the end, old age didn’t get Brian, even though the joke of a talking dog might have been getting a little long in the tooth. Like a lot of dogs, Brian died when he was struck by a car.
Brian was always the intellectual of the Griffin family; one of the running jokes of the series is that Brian saw himself as a struggling writer, always working on a new screenplay, novel, essay, or short story, while the rest of the family was satisfied with whatever was on television.
He was also one of the most popular characters on the show, perhaps because he lacked the mean-spirited selfishness that characterizes the rest of the characters on Family Guy. Despite his pretensions, he served as more of an Everyman than the main characters. Chuck Jones, who directed some of the most famous Warner Brothers cartoons of the 50s and 60s, once described the difference between Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck as being that Bugs is who we all want to be, and Daffy is who we all fear that we really are. That’s not entirely true of Brian. He definitely had his ugly side, including a famously transphobic vomiting scene when he found out that the woman he was romancing was transgendered. But he was probably as close to an admirable person as you would find in the world of Family Guy; and the humor of Peter Griffin’s character clearly does play on the fear of being like him.
Which brings up the question: where can Family Guy go without Brian? The episode doesn’t leave the Griffins dogless; at the end, they get a new dog, Vinny, who’s voiced by Tony Sirico, best known for playing Pauly Walnuts on The Sopranos. Vinny is a much tougher, cruder dog than the studious Brian.
Brian’s closest bond in the Griffin family was with Stewie, the megalomanic infant genius, who’s always concocting plans for world domination. Normally, Stewie would have been the one to save Brian via time travel, but he had dismantled his time machine at the beginning of the episode. (Presumably in deference to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who this weekend.)
Executive Producer Steve Callaghan says that “Where Brian was sort of a match for Stewie intellectually, Vinny is a good match for Stewie because he doesn’t let Stewie get away with any crap. He’ll call Stewie out on his B.S. freely.”
Will this work for the show? It’s hard to tell. Right now, Tweets are flying back and forth, expressing surprise and shock, with many saying that the producers should have killed off one of the kids. For Callaghan, that would have been a step too far. “It seemed more in the realm of reality that a dog would get hit by a car, than if one of the kids died,” he told E! “As much as we love Brian, and as much as everyone loves their pets, we felt it would be more traumatic to lose one of the kids, rather than the family pet.” Time will tell if last night’s episode was a failed gimmick or a real change in the show.