Lucky There’s a Family Guy

Chaos in Print

I’ve been debating recently as to the future of this column.  I feel as though it has stagnated.  I feel as though I need to take it in a new direction.  After a lengthy discussion with my best friend, he felt that I should spend less time recounting adventures in my life and more time on analysis.  So, that’s what I’ve resolved to do.  I’m going to press forward, pose the questions that no one dare ask, and attempt to come to a resolution.  For example, why do people in the animation industry hate Family Guy so much?

Family Guy is one cartoon that I’ve found to be truly hilarious.  This is something I’ve tried to comprehend many times.  See, I’ve grown to loathe the whole concept of “pop culture references as humour.”  When I see it in a film like Shrek 2, it makes me demand my money back.  But, on Family Guy, I’m rolling on the floor laughing.  I think I figured this out when I watched one episode, and, in the middle of it, they just launched into an old G.I. Joe public service announcement.  When most people want to do this kind of thing, they would try to do a spoof of the old G.I. Joe PSAs.  They would have the soldier be a gay stereotype or something like that, or have the lesson be totally insane like remembering to put on your helmet before you go skydiving.  But not on this Family Guy episode.  They played it perfectly straight.  It actually seemed like it would have fit at the end of an old G.I. Joe episode.  That’s when I figured it out.  In most situations, the pop culture reference is the punchline.  On Family Guy, the reference itself is the whole joke.

Family Guy has had a very unique history.  It all started in the early 1990s.  Seth McFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, did an animated student short film entitled Life with Larry, which was about a fat slob named Larry and his highly intelligent talking dog named Steve.  This got McFarlane a job at Hanna-Barberra where he worked on such notable shows as Cow and Chicken, but he did eventually get to do a sequel to Life with Larry called Larry and Steve.  It was shown on the Cartoon Network, and got rave reviews.  McFarlane was soon approached by 20th Century Fox about expanding Larry and Steve into a series.  McFarlane started work on it.  He gave Larry a whole family, and Larry eventually evolved into Peter Griffin, and Steve into Brian.

Family Guy premiered in January of 1999, and, sadly, was not a ratings bonanza.  It got moved around so many times that people hardly knew when it was on.  The only reason why it made it through 3 seasons was that the head of the network was a self-admitted fan.  That wasn’t enough, and the show died in the fall of 2001.

But see, here in the 21st Century, failed TV shows don’t really die.  They get picked up by some cable channel where it’s shown in reruns until the end of time.  And then, it also gets released on DVD.  That’s exactly what happened to Family Guy.  Thanks to being on three times a day on six different cable channels, the show finally found its audience.  The DVDs sold incredibly well.  20th Century Fox realized that there was money to be made, and they approached McFarlane about resurrecting Family Guy.  It made its big comeback back in May, and has been a smash hit ever since.

With an unprecedented success story like this, you’d think lots of people in the animation community would be supportive of the show.  But no!  There’s a great deal of animosity towards Family Guy.  Just look at this:

–          Trey Parker and Matt Stone absolutely hate it when South Park is compared to Family Guy.  Stone says that placing South Park on the same level as Family Guy “hurts real bad,” and Parker maintains that it’s like being kicked in the balls.

–          During the brief run of Clerks: The Animated Series, Kevin Smith referred to Family Guy as being Clerks’ nemesis.  David Mandel, co-creator of Clerks, called Family Guy “Emmy award winning shit.”

–          Ren and Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi just doesn’t like the style of animation, citing that Family Guy’s standards are “extremely low” and that a 10 year old could draw it.


But the biggest Family Guy haters are the crew at The Simpsons.  The writers for The Simpsons routinely rip apart Family Guy at conventions and in interviews.  The insults have even spilled over into the show.  One episode of The Simpsons featured Fox executives plotting to get Family Guy cancelled because it was low-brow humour and not as profitable as The Simpsons.  Another featured an antagonist insulting Bart by calling Bart a “family guy.”  But, one that made headlines over the summer was when someone re-watched last year’s Simpsons Halloween special.  The segment involved an army of Homer Simpson clones, and one of the clones was revealed to be Peter Griffin.

To be fair, Seth McFarlane has actually been cool about this criticism.  When he was questioned about the “Peter Griffin as Homer Simpson clone” slam, he just kind of shrugged it off, and said that, with The Simpsons and Family Guy being the two most successful animated TV shows right now, comparisons are inevitable.  And Simpsons writer Mike Reiss is one of the few Family Guy defenders in the Simpsons camp.  Reiss says that his Simpsons compatriots simply don’t like Family Guy because Family Guy isn’t family entertainment.

And that always has been the big one:  that Family Guy is nothing but a Simpsons rip-off.  Granted, on the surface it seems that way, but once you watch the show and meet the characters, you see that it couldn’t be more different.  Let’s have a brief comparison here.


Family Member The Simpsons Family Guy
The Father Homer Simpson:  A beer loving, donut addicted moron. Peter Griffin:  A beer loving, TV addicted moron.
The mother Marge Simpson:  Calm, long-suffering voice of reason Lois Griffin:  Short-tempered voice of reason who gives as good as she gets.
The son Bart Simpson:  The oldest and a certified mischief maker.  10 years old. Chris Griffin:  The middle child, doted on by his parents, and just plain slow.  In junior high.
The daughter Lisa Simpson:  The middle child and a quiet genius.  8 years old. Meg Griffin:  The oldest child, and neglected by her parents to the point of abuse.  In high school, and concerned with typical teenage things.
The baby Maggie Simpson:  Sucks on her suckie, used for sight gigs. Stewie Griffin:  A homicidal maniac bent on ruling the world.
The dog Santa’s Little Helper:  He simply exists Brian:  A witty, urbane fellow with a penchant for booze.

I kind of think that the cries of Family Guy having ripped off The Simpsons are what George W. Bush call a “pre-emptive strike.”  The Simpsons just started its 17th season.  Now, go back and look at The Simpsons in season one.  If you follow how The Simpsons has changed and evolved over the years, you’ll see that The Simpsons has been moving towards a Family Guy style of humour over the past 17 years.  I have no doubt that, in another five years of so, The Simpsons will have evolved into Family Guy.

Or maybe Family Guy finally claimed The Simpsons spot as being the most controversial cartoon on TV.  Don’t forget, way back in The Simpsons season one, there were a lot of criticisms thrown at The Simpsons that are now being thrown at Family Guy.  Perhaps Family Guy gained the edge that The Simpsons wore dull.

I don’t think I have the answer to this one.  I think writing off the animosity towards Family Guy as nothing but jealousy of success is a little shortsighted.  And yes, Family Guy does go for the base humour a lot more than other shows.  Let’s face it, the only reason why South Park was ever controversial was because it depicts children swearing.  Base humour always causes controversy.  This is obviously nothing I’m going to solve  here, and probably something I’ll never figure out.

At the end of the day, all I know is is that I think Family Guy is funny.

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