'Family Guy' Couldn't Pick a Worse Time for Its Terrible Parody of Jay Z-Solange Elevator Fight
Let's start with an incomplete list of major happenings in the Knowles-Carter camp since May 2014: Beyonce and Jay Z's joint On the Run tour and HBO special, the Jay-spearheaded worldwide launch of the Tidal streaming service, Beyonce's Super Bowl Halftime show appearance (and the "Formation" video that debuted the same weekend), the release of the Lemonade visual album and a subsequent world tour (including an instantly iconic layover at the VMAs), and the countless artistic interpretations and conspiracy theories about Bey and Jay's marital discord that ensued.
That lengthy list tips to why it was so jarring to see Family Guy flash all the way back to the infamous elevator fight incident from two-and-a-half years ago -- when Solange Knowles appeared to attack Jay Z in a Manhattan elevator in silent surveillance footage posted by TMZ -- for a throwaway gag on Sunday (Oct. 2) night's episode. "You've seen what happens when people hold in their aggression for too long -- don't forget, I was in that elevator with Jay Z," show patriarch Peter Griffin informs wife Lois. That entree leads clumsily into a cutaway with Peter on the elevator with Jay, Bey and Solange as the latter begins slapping and kicking her brother-in-law, with Griffin offering "Hey, don't kick him, muddy shoes, he's got a white suit on!"-type color commentary.
Timeliness has never exactly been the raison d'être for Family Guy or creator Seth MacFarlane, of course, and in most cases, it'd be pointless to fault a show built on a foundation of Joyce DeWitt and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo references for not keeping up with the news cycles. But Family Guy's thoughtless "LOL little sister from famous family acting nuts in an elevator" joke is just as guilty of bad taste as bad timing, and indeed, it premieres at just about the worst, most insensitive moment possible for such a poorly considered, unfunny one-off.
Largely, that's because that list up top leaves off what should be its most recent entry: the release of Solange's gorgeous, unsettling, and absolutely masterful A Seat at the Table album, last Friday (Sept. 30), two days before the episode's airing. A stunning achievement for an artist of any last name, A Seat at the Table is both intensely personal and topical, raising important questions about race, identity and history, and inserting itself right into the center of the 2016 cultural discussion.
The album caps a year of notable activism from the younger Knowles sister, ranging from honoring victims of police killings Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in song, to going on a Twitter spree decrying the white audience members who berated and degraded her and her family at a Kraftwerk show in New Orleans. Solange has been an artist of considerable renown and relevance for far longer than 2016, but this was the year that it should've become obvious enough that even the Family Guy creative team might have taken notice.
From the gag, though, it's pretty clear that they haven't. Not only do they draw Solange -- 27 years old during the 2014 incident -- to look like a 12-year-old irate at having her iPhone taken away, but they don't even bother to identify her (or sister Beyonce, for that matter), with the Jigga Man apparently being the only celebrity of the three recognizable to Peter. During a weekend when the younger Knowles sister was rightly celebrated in nearly all corners for her staggering, substantive work, it had to salt the moment a little to know that to a subset of mainstream pop culture, she was still just Nameless Crazy Elevator Girl.
Again, not like anybody is expecting peak wokeness out of Family Guy in its 15th season, and indeed, drawing the ire of PC watchdogs is probably a sign to the show's creators that they're doing something right. But there's a difference between poking easily irritated regions of cultural over-sensitivity and calling back to a woefully out-of-date gossip story to callously diminish an artist currently doing work of timely significance. If these are the kind of swings the show is gonna take at referencing modern-day pop culture, maybe it's better off staying in the Reagan years.