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November 28, 2014

In Defense Of: Family Guy

by Adam Finley, posted Apr 9th 2006 1:02PM

family guyI know how you feel. Really, I do. A TV show comes along that seems so obvious in its mediocrity you can't fathom why so many people enjoy it. You list myriad examples of how the show is sub-par, or a blatant rip-off of another show, or too reliant on "easy" jokes, but no one will listen to you. They just keep watching and touting the show as if it's some work of genius. It's enough to make you go insane and eat your own face.

Family Guy may be popular, but there's still a lot of people who don't like it. My feelings on this subject are paradoxical. I like Family Guy, but I still have to agree with people who say the writing isn't always up to snuff, and that the show relies too heavily on pop culture references as a substitute for humor. Brian has a line in one episode that always makes me cringe: describing New York City, he claims it's "like Prague, sans the whimsy." Maybe it's just me, but it sounds like some college freshman trying to sound smarter than he is.

Oh wait, I'm supposed to be defending Family Guy. Except, that's not really what I'm trying to do. As far as I'm concerned, the haters have every right to hate, and those who love the show can keep on lovin'. You're both welcome at my house for tea and biscuits anytime. Rather than write up some bromide where I shoot down all the arguments against Family Guy, I wanted to examine exactly what I think the show is trying to accomplish. Changing minds ain't a big concern of mine.

To me, the "Road to Rhode Island" episode, in which Brian seeks out his mother, is a perfect example of what Seth McFarlane wanted to accomplish with Family Guy. First of all, a large part of the episode is an homage to the "road movies" starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. In fact, the song "Road to Rhode Island," sung by Stewie and Brian, is a parody of the song "Road to Morocco" from the movie of the same name. McFarlane, despite only being three years older than me, has a passion for "old timey" stuff. This goes deeper, however, than just the occasional reference. Family Guy's approach to humor is steeped in the old tradition of huge, broad jokes that smack you upside the head like a sledgehammer. For those of us who grew up with The Simpsons, this can't hold a candle to the clever and cerebral writing of a show to which Family Guy will always be compared.

However, Family Guy has never been interested in subtlety. If you watch any of the aforementioned "road movies" with Hope and Crosby, you know those movies, besides being hysterical, consist of a series of quick gags and one-liners, not to mention big musical numbers. There's some semblance of a plot, but it hardly matters. People went to those movies to laugh and enjoy themselves. People who actually want to think about what they're laughing at rent Woody Allen movies. Using Road to Morocco as a kind of guiding ethos for this episode was not only an excuse for an extended pop culture reference, it was McFarlane's way of showing the kind of humor Family Guy is all about. Matt Groening has said before that The Simpsons awards repeated viewings, and he's absolutely right. The writing on that show is some of the best, and tightest, in the industry. You can delve into an episode of The Simpsons time and again and always catch something new. This is never the case with Family Guy, which is more like a vaudeville stage act where the gags are huge, the jokes are obvious, and sometimes you wind up laughing your ass off even though deep down you can't believe something so dumb was able to bypass your brain's humor filter (it's located near the hypothalamus, I believe).

The "Road to Rhode Island" episode also focuses on what I think is an often overlooked aspect of the show, which is the relationship between Stewie and Brian. There is an odd kind of respect between these two characters, and I think it has naturally grown from them being the only two characters on the show who shouldn't speak but do. While they have disdain for one another, they also realize they're both at the bottom of the family hierarchy. Among all the gags, references, and political incorrectness, it's the relationship between these characters that feels the most "real" to me, and I think it was due to the characters' natural evolution, not some kind of forced convention. Also, it should be noted that Stewie is a direct homage to Rex Harrison, another actor from the days of movie musicals. This proves, to me anyway, that all McFarlane ever wanted to do was mix the pop culture of his youth with the kind of "straight to the funny bone" humor of old time movies and musicals. One could argue that it still doesn't make for a good show, but I think it explains why so many people enjoy it. For some, it doesn't matter why you're laughing, it's enough to just be laughing in the first place.

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Kacey

Mindless entertainment is still fun. Relax, it is funny because it IS mindless. Why else would a cute readhead from a weathly family go off with paunchy and not too bright Peter?? It is funny and entertaining.

June 01 2006 at 4:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
john

Hey man, I am not being condescending here when I say I bet you're really smart. There's just one hypocrisy:

Here's you-->
"You list myriad examples of how the show is sub-par"
"There's some semblance of a plot"
"Using Road to Morocco as a kind of guiding ethos for this episode was not only an excuse for an extended pop culture reference"

and then after all this waxed-on B.S. (you may call it pseudo-intellectual tripe, right?)... you say this:

"Maybe it's just me, but it sounds like some college freshman trying to sound smarter than he is."
Although you are a bit older,... but anyway i think this is what you yourself are doing. boost your ego by analysing a clever show that uses references to old musicals, film and tv- and even plot ideas from the same sources- as if you KNOW the formula and could write a way better should that would really connect the characters...right...why are you doing this??

I don't know... but the simpsons "Cat Burglar" show was based on an old movie with the same plot, they make references to 70's tv stars, same deal man.

It seems like all writers, some would even say including me, right now, you try to leave your audience thinking the writer is above everything they are talking about , and that they are just way too fucking real, and smart, and the rest of it... dude you are overthinking family guy... its references work for it the same way any show uses that...

we're in the post modern entertainment era, all this shit is perfectly normal, i dont think any show would be funny just on story after story..

even seinfeld made old references... Mr show.... arrested development.... comedy requires it.... GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS...

well written article though, best of luck in the future...
John

April 15 2006 at 8:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bradon

I think that family guy can't compare to shows such as south park and the simpsons for a couple of reasons. One Family guy uses the same types of jokes over and over and over again, you could watch three episodes of it and basically get the plot for every other episode that was made. the rely on pop culture references to make their show funny, wich for me and many other people it really isn't that funny. family guy to me seems like it is written buy a group of kids in the sixth grade. South park for example has jokes and plot lines that relate to real issues and they make them funny, they push the envelope and pic on everybody and everything, it's always something new and witty thats why I watch the show, you never know what matt stone and trey parker are going to do next.

April 14 2006 at 2:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Phill G

First off, nobody on earth can defend the last five series of The Simpsons which have been some on the worst prime time stuff to ever air on TV (at least this side of the pond). Secondly, the third series of Family Guy was truely excellent, almost without exception. This recent series has had a one or two poor episodes and mostly it's been average but with a three or four excellent episodes thrown in. Don't forget this series is the almost akin to a debut series as they get back into the swing of things following the (second) cancellation. If you don't get the pop culture references, and believe me a *lot* of things are new to even the most savy of UK viewers, then watch American Dad, a show that proves Seth can do the other side of the cartoon show. South Park has never done it for me but you really have to respect them for the continual attacks on hypocrisy. Thirdly as you bring up Road to Rhode Island this show demonstrates something Family Guy has continually done better than The Simpsons: musical numbers. The Simpsons, like so many other shows, included music and it was quite good but Family Guy, probably due t Seth's excellent range and singing voice, have really taken it to a new level. Finally (I'm getting to an end here honest), The Simpsons is far from an original show in itself. Hallowe'en epsiodes came from Roseanne, many episodes are purely satires of films or books and most of the characters have been done in one form another in so many places. The upshot of it is that nothing is original anymore (except this post ;-) and like most shows it took several series before The Simpsons really got going. Family Guy had some exceptional shows in its second series and if it goes for just half the length of The Simpsons (17 series) or South Park (10 series) it will have produced months of continual belly-laughter.

April 11 2006 at 3:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Karen

I'm not a fan of Family Guy, but I still watch it. I am a fan of the Simpsons, but I almost never watch it.

For the Simpsons, it's tough watching a show that no longer has the edge it had for so long. It's a little bit like watching just another animated sitcom, but with familiar characters. Even recent episodes that shine (like the one on outsourcing) can't hold a candle to, well, anything from the first 5 years. But I still consider myself a Simpsons fan.

Family Guy...well, I only started watching it about a year ago. It struck me at first as being a Simpsons knock-off--stupid dad, smarter wife, weird kids. I still can't stand the character of Peter, and don't enjoy the episodes which revolve around him. But the surreal set pieces--usually anything set up by "This is like the time you..."--are really sheer genius. And as a pop culture junkie I enjoy the pop culture-y goodness of them.

Aside from Stewie and Brian, those little set pieces are the only reason I watch. But I do watch.

So go figure.

South Park isn't as good as it used to be either, but it's still better than most things on television, and certainly edgier.

April 10 2006 at 1:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bex

I have been a big fan of all three since each began. My problem with these sorts of articles is that you CAN'T compare them. So I say to all of these supposed animation fans who continuously place one above the other- Just shut up and enjoy!

April 10 2006 at 12:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tim

I actually find new things to laugh at on repeat viewings of Family Guy. I tend to save the episodes on my Tivo until DVD release just so I have something I know I can watch over and over if there is nothing else on.

It bothers me when people say the Simpsons has "tight" -- or even good -- writing. I just don't hear it. I haven't watched the Simpsons on a weekly basis for over 10 years because I find it boring. I put it on on Sundays in preparation of Family Guy since nothing else is on at 8, but I'm usually multitasking and not paying attention.

The Simpson's best years are far, far behind them and should really hang it up, whereas last week's Family Guy was one of the best episodes I've seen yet. It's the difference between kicking a dead horse and sadomizing one.

And South Park has better writing than both of them, but I don't watch it religiously because its just not something I ever got into.

April 10 2006 at 11:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
j quality

I agree with Erik, the jokes are dragging on for too long and it seems its been only really prevalent/obvious since it was returned back the dead(4/5 season). The 1st & 2nd seasons were the best, especially the 1st 4 episodes of the 1st season.

Only other problem i have is Stewie has gotten too adultlike, meaning that instead of playing with toys and saying menacing things to lois, he's being written as an actual adult.

But i still love the show, its better than the Simpsons. The Simpsons just seems too bland.

April 10 2006 at 10:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chris Wyant

I've liked Family Guy since it aired after that Super Bowl. There's a twisted campiness to the humor that I can't get enough of. The pop culture references span decades, and I realized that it's very much the way my friends and I joke around. I think MacFarlane is great at what he's doing; incorporating musicals, vaudevillian comedy, and irreverant pop culture references, and producing 22 minutes of gag atop gag. Yeah, some gags are hit or miss, but the hits make me laugh so hard that I'm willing to deal with the misses.

April 10 2006 at 7:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Juan

People often that movies or shows resamble videogames.... they dont know what they talk about...
Family Guy instead is closer to a cybertext, the humor in family guy is conected like links in a hypertext, what family guy does is step into a grey area that keeps elements of the old narrative structures and takes elements of other kind of newer structures often connected to electronic media...
Family Guy may not be genius but it is heralding a new era with a new kind of text, a new kind of narrative, a new style of communication, and the anounced web-only kinda talk show featuring family guy characters proves that point further... and well the 'evil monkey'... well that's genius...

April 09 2006 at 10:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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