This episode wasn't the best, and it wasn't the worst. It was a thing. As a whole, I felt like it held together better than a lot of other episodes. But on an individual, scene-by-scene level, there were very few laughs. I appreciate that the show is apparently honing its story-telling skills, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist that it should still be funny. From time to time, at least.
It worked... kinda.
The AV Club review of this episode got me thinking. It pointed out that the "prolonged dry joke" of Quagmire explaining his cat's care to Lois fell flat. The big difference between this scene and previous, funnier ones (like when Peter falls and skins his knee) is that they occurred after a long run of non-stop singers.
In other words, this kind of joke only works in contrast with its surroundings. Drop that scene in a faster-paced and funnier episode, and I bet it would get big laughs. But in this episode? Not so much.
The AV Club review raises another interesting question: is Family Guy gradually falling behind the times? Is it aging as badly as the dudebros who first popularized the show, way back in 1999? The meat of Family Guy aired in a pre-9/11 world, which frankly seems like a lifetime ago. An 18 year-old who watched the season premier would be 31 now, and probably dealing with a spouse, kids starting school, a mortgage, and all those other lame-ass old person problems. (n.b. I myself am 40.)
What once was edgy, transgressive humor does tend to fall flat in a world in which our elected lawmakers assert that a woman won't get pregnant from a "legitimate rape." A world in which "Vote Romney, because it's called the WHITE House for a reason" was a trending, non-ironic theme on Twitter during the election. A world in which Honey Boo Boo because reasons.
South Park has stayed fresh not only by focusing on hyper-topical issues, but by continuing to push its own barriers. Where Family Guy goes back to the well for another time travel episode, South Park airs an episode where the characters learn that you can push food up your butt and poop out your mouth. Family Guy makes a weak "Taken" parody; South Park sets up its most innocent and beloved character as a pimp who rents out other grade school girls as kissers-for-hire.
Worse, I think the Family Guy staff knows that this is the problem, but their answer is to put out more elaborate and "important" stories. And the show has yet to convince me that it can pull that off without being preachy, dreary, or just plain boring.