Format: DVDMultiple Formats, Animated, Box set, Closed-captioned, Color, Full Screen, NTSC
List price: $39.98
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The third and final season of Seth MacFarlane's late, lamented Family Guy finds television's most dysfunctional cartoon family even more animated than usual. As MacFarlane notes in a bonus segment about the controversial series' censorship battles, he was inspired to go for broke, thinking that the series, already juggled like a hot potato in the schedule (at one point, it aired opposite the mighty Friends), had been cancelled. Just as Spinal Tap walked the fine line between "clever and stupid," so did Family Guy gleefully mock the line between "edgy and offensive." Case in point is this set's holy grail: "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein," not aired during the series' original run, in which clueless Rhode Island patriarch Peter Griffin is convinced that if his lumpen son is to be rich and successful, he must become Jewish. Like The Simpsons, Family Guy lends itself to multiple viewings to catch each densely packed episode's way-inside "one-percenter" gags (so-called by the creators because that is the percent of the audience who will get them), scattershot pop-culture references, surreal leaps, and gratuitous pot shots at everyone from, predictably, Oprah, Kevin Costner, and Bill Cosby to, unpredictably, Rita Rudner. Also like their Springfield counterparts, this series benefits from a great ensemble voice cast, with surprising contributions from a no-less-stellar roster of guest stars. Yes, that's actually Kelly Ripa as her "real" self, a heart-devouring alien in "Family Guy Viewer Mail #1," and June Foray popping in as Rocky the Flying Squirrel in "Brian Does Hollywood." Family Guy's stock has recently risen with its addition to Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" lineup, a much better fit than prime time. To see Peter invite Charles Manson to a party for Sharon Tate ("but only if you don't embarrass me") is to marvel how much of this ever got on the air. Happily, it is on DVD. --Donald Liebenson