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Gambling is a Family Tradition for the Family Guy
“I see your bet Carter, and I raise you CNN.”
Talk about breaking news. Ted Turner, in a high stakes poker game with some of his wealthy friends, had just wagered the Cable News Network (CNN), the network he founded, that his two pair were good. Michael Eisner, former chair and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, and Bill Gates, billionaire business magnate and co-founder of Microsoft Corporation, were also at the table. Both had already folded. So, who was this Carter guy? Former United States president Jimmy Carter? Former Toronto Raptor star Vince Carter?
“I don’t think I can…”
Neither. His name is Carter Pewterschmidt, the character who plays Peter Griffin’s father-in-law in the animated sitcom Family Guy. And, he certainly had no business playing cards with some of the world’s richest people. Why? Well, despite having the nuts, an ace-high straight, he was actually contemplating a fold. Fortunately, Griffin saves the day by convincing him that he had the best of it.
“If you lose this hand, I’ll divorce your daughter,” he promised.
On hearing that prospect, Pewterschmidt made the call instantly, and without hesitation. CNN was his.
A Family Affair
Poker is a strategy game of risk versus reward enjoyed by millions of people across North America, and the Griffin’s are no exception. Parents Peter and Lois, their children Meg, Chris and Stewie, and their dog Brian, love to gamble. And, when they do, it’s very entertaining to watch.
Family Guy was created by Seth MacFarlane, debuted on Fox in 1999, and has been gracing our television screens ever since. Over its 21 seasons, the series has provided viewers with hours of comic relief by lampooning every form of American culture by using a combination of surreal, dark humour and cutaway gags. Topics like gambling, casinos and Las Vegas have been scripted into the plot on a number of occasions.
The scene above is from an episode called Screwed the Pooch (Season 3, Episode 13), which focuses on Peter’s effort to finally be accepted by Lois’ parents. Things don’t go as planned until he is invited to the poker game, spots a ‘tell’ on the billionaire Turner, and helps Pewterschmidt win big. Thanks to his keen observations, it was the first time Turner had ever lost in the game. “When he bluffs, he blinks twice,” Griffin said, as Turner left the room hastily and angrily. “I first noticed it when he did that Barbara Walters interview, and said he’d be with Jane Fonda forever.”
It should be noted, we’re still not sure if Turner was bluffing or not. He did have two-pair, after all.
Poker Face, What Poker Face?
It’s also interesting that Griffin has no problem spotting other peoples tells, but can’t hide his own. In another episode, Take My Wife (Season 13, Episode 18), Peter himself becomes heavily involved in a cash game. When he looks down at his hole cards, he can’t contain his excitement. First, he unveils a giant banner with the words “Great Cards” written across the front, then circus animals and show girls march through the room in celebration. Finally, when asked if he needs to draw any more cards, Griffin offers up a nonchalant and confident reply.
“No, I’m good,” he said.
They must have been great cards, right?
Visions of Grandeur
“I can’t believe that guy thought I was lying, the only time I lie is when I play poker.”
The scene cuts immediately to Peter heads-up for the title in a high stake’s poker tournament, and the commentator’s play-by-play, “it’s make or break time, $75 million at stake.” $75 million? That’s life changing money by anyone’s standard, especially a man with a wife, three kids and dog. In Roads to Vegas (Season 11, Episode 21), he was daydreaming of course. Wearing a ball cap, headphones and shades, and with the action on him, he decides to bluff all-in. Remember, the only time he lies is when he’s playing cards. The problem? His opponent, who was holding pocket queens, could see Peter’s hole cards through the reflection of his mirrored sun glasses.
Ouch. So much for lifestyles of the rich and famous for the Griffins’.
Like Father, Like Son?
Stewie, the youngest of the Griffin clan, takes after his dad, and to say he’s been inflicted with the gambling bug is an understatement.
“You have to block out the cold Stewie, picture yourself in a warm place,” Brian, the family dog, said to his best friend, as they were climbing a snow-covered mountain.
Sounds like great advice for Canadians right about now, with the recent cold snap we’ve had to endure. In Into Fat Air (Season 11, Episode 1), Stewie does exactly that, and flashes back to his warmer place. A casino. He imagines himself on the Las Vegas strip, entering like a high roller with two showgirls on his arm. The scene then shifts to the craps table, where he’s tossing the dice and winning, with everyone gathered around cheering him on. The roulette table was next and, when the ball lands on number 31, he wins again. As the chips are being shipped his way, the showgirls lean in for a kiss on the cheek. Life is good.
A lot of gamblers would quit while they’re ahead, but not Stewie. This is his warmer place, after all. He moves to blackjack, hits on 16, draws a ten and busts. The showgirls are no longer smiling. One of them is smoking a cigarette sadly, the other gets up and leaves. Later, we see him with beer in hand at the slot machine, where the excitement of two ‘7’s’ is quickly drowned out by a ‘single bar’, and then some more alcohol. It only goes from bad to worse from there, as we next see Stewie unsuccessfully trying to withdraw money from the cash machine. Insufficient funds.
As the scene ends, he’s getting on a bus and the driver asks, “you want the heat on, sir?”
“Yes please,” he said, sinking into his seat with remorse.
In writing the show, it’s fair to say MacFarlane and his producers don’t focus on poker or gambling quite as much as their animated counterparts at The Simpsons do, they did provide early indications it would be a recurring theme on the show. In fact, a dark truth about the matriarch of the Griffin family was revealed in year one. Lois has a gambling problem.
While on a family road trip in The Son Also Draws (Season 1, Episode 6), Peter is driving but needs to use the restroom. Fittingly, he spots a billboard that says, “Craps, Craps, Craps,” and decides to pull off at the casino to relieve himself. In the meantime, Lois decides to try her luck at the video poker machines, and it was love at first site. By the time Peter returns from the little boy’s room, you could see it written all over her face, with glazed over eyes and tunnel vision, she was hooked. She was in the danger zone.
“I never knew video poker could be so much fun,” she confessed, as Peter dragged her from the casino. “You win a few hands, all those lights go off, and you just feel so good inside.”
Peter didn’t feel so good, though, when he returned to an empty parking space. Yes, she lost the family car. That’s life in the fast lane for The Family Guy.