Ah, Season 13, Episode 2: “The Book of Joe.” Kinda has a familiar ring to it. As an episode title, “The Book of Joe” appears to be a weird biblical allusion to the book of Job (at least, it appears that way to my Sunday Schooled self), although I’m a little unsure of whether Family Guy’s writers just wanted to make a shallow pun (Joe does write a book in this episode, after all), or if I’m expected to dig into the subtext to compare the sufferings of Joe the cartoon character to those of Job the Bible character. I don’t want to do that in any sort of depth, and this is Family Guy, so I won’t. It should suffice to say that, yes, Joe is subjected to a lot of bullshit due to Peter’s shenanigans, and Job went through a good deal of bullshit of his own. Let’s leave it at that. Any more would be too much.
The episode kicks off with a pool party in Joe Swanson’s backyard and is quick to establish that Joe has pool-party-hosting anxiety - not a trait that I’ve identified in him previously, but who knows - primarily based on his fumbled use of notecards to keep his party banter on track when the Griffins arrive. I enjoyed that joke well enough in spite out of its out-of-nowhere-ness, but I was a little more confused by Peter pointing out that Cleveland was using temperature-checking as a pretext for cleaning off his feet in the pool. Why are Cleveland’s feet dirty? He has shoes, he lives in a nice house just down the street, he’s had multiple bathtubs installed on the second floor - I don’t get it, really, but I did laugh when Cleveland eventually moved on to overtly rinsing off dirty paintbrushes (“Is the pool too warm for paintbrushes?”).
As the pool party wears on and Joe is unable to get the Griffins moving towards the door (another pool-party-hosting fail, I suppose), Peter wanders into Joe’s writing studio and discovers mock-ups of “The Hopeful Squirrel,” a children’s book about a squirrel in a wheelchair that Joe has been writing under the pseudonym "David Chicago." Peter cranks out a few lackluster jokes about dongs and Bono’s sunglasses but otherwise encourages Joe to pursue his dream of publishing the book and inspiring special-needs kids, and it’s immediately clear where this episode is headed: Peter is going to hijack the book, shit all over Joe’s dreams, and ultimately learn a valuable lesson about friendship. And that’s more or less exactly how the episode plays out.
Peter becomes the “face of The Hopeful Squirrel” after taking over for Joe at a live reading at a local bookstore (the bookstore morphs into a Target during Peter’s conversation with Joe’s agent, which is a great visual gag and also sadly topical); from there, he gets to work on a sequel with the help of Quagmire and Cleveland after Joe angrily extricates himself from the dirty business and Peter’s questionable motives. Again, there’s probably some kind of forced conversation to be had here concerning the cynical manufacturing of pop personas in the year 2015 - such manufacturing exists. artists are doing it all the time, maybe Peter re-packaging the artistic output of Joe and becoming David Chicago constitutes related commentary - but I can’t quite bring myself to believe Family Guy has that sort of agenda. I think Family Guy just wanted a reason for Peter to use his high-pitched squirrel voice. During a brainstorming session for the sequel, Quagmire suggests that the book incorporate laser-eyed cats, which is all well and good, but what really got me was Cleveland’s excited and thoroughly indecipherable question/statement, “And if there’s a bison!” Peter is appropriately confounded. Predictably, Peter’s new direction for The Hopeful Squirrel 2 (buzzsaws, hookers, drugs) does not sit well with the audience of parents and kids, and he is accordingly fired. He and Joe make nice (“Friends?” “Frasier.”), and that’s that.
Along the way, Peter and Lois have a string of successful non-cutaway jokes, which furthers my theory that there’s plenty more genuine humor to be mined from that relationship. In their routine, sort of mundane moments, Peter and Lois have a rapport that effectively conveys that they love each other, but also that sometimes they just tolerate each other. Obviously, these are cartoon characters, but Peter and Lois are a natural fit and continue to play off each other well (much like the oft-used Stewie/Brian pairing). Peter, upon Lois hopping into bed after leaving the bathroom: “Did you just poop and then get into bed without underwear on?” I realize that’s two weeks in a row of Lois-pooping jokes that I’m deeming successful, but as long as they’re funny to me, I can’t very well complain. Then again, my sense of humor remains steadfastly juvenile, so I can’t exactly speak for everyone. Even funnier was Lois’s subtle dig at Peter for having the gall to have his fight with Joe on the same week as her “big fight” with her sister, which causes Peter, not taking the bait, to go immediately into silent, neutral-face mode and follow that up with, “Goodnight, Lois.”
Meanwhile, in the B-story, Brian stages a meet-cute with a jogger at the local “Hot & Muggy” coffee shop by pretending to be an avid runner himself. I don’t recall having ever encountered Hot & Muggy in Family Guy before, but I’ll go ahead and say it: that’s a hell of a pun right there, and it might be my favorite part of the episode. Curiously, Brian’s fake-jogger routine is an almost shot-for-shot remake of a scene from the movie “Hall Pass” starring Owen Wilson (you’d think that the writers for Family Guy and Hall Pass would be on a similar enough wavelength to be aware of each other’s material, and yes, I’ve seen Hall Pass...more than once), but what worked there works here as well. Brian gets a date with Jogger, Brian shows up to date with Jogger, Jogger suggests they go for a pre-date jog, Brian almost collapses, Brian gets an endorphin-infused runner’s high and achieves spectacularly animated nirvana, complete with Korean moon and “black guy” sun. From there, Brian progresses through a number of increasingly alarming “serious runner” stages: he adopts the requisite lingo, turning down Lois’s offer of breakfast because it’s nothing but empty calories and he needs “fuel”; and he signs up for a marathon, eventually over-training himself into a skeleton with a bunch of creepy, easily-chafed nipples protruding from his chest and stomach. When Skeleton Brian snaps his leg into at least three disconnected pieces at the starting line of the marathon, Stewie asks, “Brian, why does everything you touch turn to garbage?” It’s a good question - at this point, Brian has a well-established tendency to pursue activities and act pretentious about them until he gets what’s coming to him, as he does here. At least the character is consistent, I guess.
All in all, it was an okay episode with some ups and plenty of downs. Nothing to see here, folks, although you won't hate yourself if you have twenty minutes to kill.
No Meg! The Meg-less Episode Count is now: ONE.
The only cutaway that even halfway worked for me actually worked the WHOLE way: Cee-Lo shopping for pants was fantastic. “Yeah, I need to find something a cartoon apple would wear…?” Also, was that actually Cee-Lo doing the voice work? Sure sounded like him.
The most under-the-radar joke was also one of the best: when Tom Tucker introduces his talk show as “Cross-Legged Chat,” Peter quietly crosses his legs.
I might be the only one, but I was thoroughly - and delightedly - caught off guard when Stewie’s plan to get Brian to try and itch his ankle through his cast backfired.