Original airdate: September 28, 2014
I absolutely hated Family Guy when I was younger. Following its initial cancellation in 2002, the show gained new life on DVD and reruns on Adult Swim, leading to its network revival in 2005. I was in high school during that in-between stage when Family Guy DVDs were being swapped around like wildfire, and having the reputation of loving cartoons and drawing my own comics, many people assumed that I must have loved Family Guy. I did not. I had seen a couple episodes of the show and didn’t care for its style of humor, but its rampant popularity and people’s assumptions that I liked it made that dislike turn even more sour (South Park‘s “Cartoon Wars” two-part episode definitely felt like a catharsis, featuring a similar dilemma with Cartman and his crusade to get Family Guy taken off the air). My biggest gripe was its reliance on pop culture cutaway jokes which usually felt nonsensical and without any sort of satirical element. One that’s always stuck out to me is a retelling of the ending of Back to the Future, where Doc wants to take Marty and Jennifer to the future to stop their daughter from marrying a black man. When Marty asks why that’s a big deal, Doc stammers awkwardly and backpedals. The only real joke to the scene is that Doc is inexplicably a racist for no reason, which isn’t really based on anything contextual from the movie, or within the episode itself. The show definitely leaned heavy into shock humor similar to South Park, but mostly as one-off gags, so it just came off more like the show just wanting to make racist, sexist and homophobic jokes for their own sake. I never understood the show’s crazy popularity, so I just held that hate in my heart through high school and never let go. Past that, I remember randomly watching a couple episodes in college; at that point, my extreme feelings had subsided. I’m sure I’ve said I hate Family Guy and Seth MacFarlane a couple times on this blog, but I don’t feel that strongly anymore. I just don’t find what he does that funny. Simple as that.
Since Family Guy‘s return to the airwaves, Seth MacFarlane’s comedy stock exploded in the late 2000s/early 2010s. Two more successful animated series, a couple of live-action movies, and what seems to be his most precious baby, The Orville, a live-action series starring himself in the most expensive Star Trek cosplay production ever made. I don’t know how hands-on MacFarlane is with Family Guy anymore; the fact that he still does the core voices makes me believe he must be more actively involved in some capacity than Matt Groening is with The Simpsons. But with the show now in its 19th season, Family Guy has become its own television institution just like the show that inspired it. In Disney’s acquisition of FOX, the two shows definitely seemed like they were being positioned as equally valuable assets. They’re pretty similar at this point, two wildly popular animated comedies with a huge catalog of episodes that the majority of fans seem to hate the latter half of. I don’t know what the equivalent rise and fall of Family Guy is versus The Simpsons in terms of when things went to shit. Some fans only like the original three season run, while others thought the revival had a few good years in it before the quality dipped. If any of you out there are Family Guy fans and want to give your thoughts on this, I’d be interested to hear it. But either way, by 2014, both Family Guy and The Simpsons were cultural relics whose older fans had mostly grown disinterested in their contemporary antics. Why not have them do a crossover?
When I first heard about the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover, it was a few years after I had abandoned watching The Simpsons, so I really didn’t care that they were about to co-mingle with “the enemy.” I mean, what integrity did the show have left to lose? I had absolutely no interest in watching it, not even out of morbid curiousity. The only clip I saw online when it came out was the Homer/Peter car wash scene, and that was more than enough to keep me as far away from it as possible. More than a few people asked whether I would be covering “The Simpsons Guy” in my reviews, which I didn’t because it was a Family Guy episode (unlike the Futurama crossover, which I did cover, because it was a Simpsons episode. S’a bit confusing). So in the spirit of the season, I thought why the hell not give the crossover a watch, just to see how they pulled it off, and also to reevaluate my feelings on the more modern version of Family Guy.
Before the Griffins and the Simpsons officially meet, the first five minutes of the episode is the “set-up” of how Peter and the gang to end up in Springfield in the first place. This section served to give me a little taste of what newer Family Guy has to offer. Peter gets hired as a newspaper cartoonist, and comes under fire due to his offensive punchlines, specifically toward women. His cartoons are crudely drawn, with smudges and fingerprints all over the page, with purposefully inflammatory subjects like bestiality (a man on a desert island asks a monkey if he’s free later) to the one that gets him in hot water about spousal abuse (a man slams his battered wife on the counter, complaining, “My dishwasher broke!”) The cartoons are so on-the-nose offensive that I couldn’t help but laugh, but it made me think about how the series as a whole seems to be like that. I guess this reflects Peter’s sense of humor being incredibly off-color, but it feels like that’s a lot of the rest of the characters’ attitudes as well. There’s an overall meanness to this show that doesn’t seem to be rooted in any sort of specific commentary, it’s just kind of crassness for crassness’ sake. In the context of this one episode I’m watching, I can sort of appreciate it, but it feels like it would grow incredibly thin after a while, and certainly after almost twenty years. Anyway, when an angry mob descends on the Griffin house, they decide to leave home for a while, only to have their car stolen at a gas station. Thankfully they happen to be nearby a large town, as the camera turns to reveal them standing before Springfield, USA (“What state?” “I can’t imagine we’re allowed to say.”)
It isn’t long before the Griffins run into Homer Simpson, where they meet up with the rest of the family at the Simpson house. While Homer helps Peter try to track down the stolen car, the other characters have their own little team-ups. Stewie practically imprints himself onto Bart, wearing his clothes in wanting to be as cool as he is. Seeing Stewie desperate for this ten-year-old’s approval is weirdly pretty sweet (“Y’know, I’m only wearing this diaper as a dare, it’s not like an every day thing…”) The scene where the two make prank calls to Moe is something I remember being talked about when this aired; people complained Stewie’s “Your sister’s being raped!” line was pushing it too far, but standing in contrast to Bart’s comparatively innocent prank, it works perfectly in depicting the comedic dichotomy of the two shows. Meanwhile, Lisa struggles to raise eternal punching bag Meg’s self esteem by trying to find something she’s good at. When Meg proves herself to be a better saxophone player, Lisa bitterly takes the instrument away, in a moment that definitely feels like modern-era Lisa (“It would be a shame to waste such great butcher’s arms on a musical instrument.”) But later, surprisingly, she redeems herself by presenting the sax to Meg as a farewell gift. Meg stammers and goes into a self-deprecating tangent, to which Lisa sincerely interrupts, “Shut up, Meg.” It’s another oddly genuine subplot, that like Stewie and Bart, blends the two series’ styles well, with the Simpsons reacting aghast at the Griffins’ more blue humor (Meg offhandedly mentions she usually beats up a cat when she feels depressed, causing Lisa to hastily shut the door on an eavesdropping Snowball II.) Chris and Brian are left to walk Santa’s Little Helper, with the Griffin dog aggravated at the Simpson mutt’s undignified behavior (responding to SLH’s barks, Brian is unable to communicate back, “I’m sorry, that’s a gutter language.”) Brian lets the dog loose, and he and Chris must chase him through town, running by and interacting with other Springfield residents and locations: Patty & Selma at the DMV, Dr. Nick at the hospital and finally Krusty at Krusty Burger. Considering the whole appeal of the episode is the Griffins visiting Springfield, this section was a logical excuse to check off a bunch of Simpsons highlights at once. Lastly, Marge and Lois’ outing of going to a movie in the afternoon happens off-screen, presumably because both series don’t much interest in writing for women characters.
Homer and Peter’s efforts to find the missing car is definitely the weakest section, as they attempt to “think like a car” by gulping down gasoline, then proceeding to administer it rectally (followed by a cutaway gag of the videotape of their violation being sold at a sex shop). Next they hold a carwash for stolen vehicles, where they seductively clean cars in skimpy outfits to Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” It’s pretty gross, purposefully so, but it just goes on for so, so long that I don’t really get how anyone could find it funny. Things pick up when the Griffin car returns, having been stolen by a confused Hans Moleman, and Peter treats Homer to a drink in thanks, having brought his own Pawtucket Patriot Ale into Moe’s for him to try. Homer is shocked to find the beer is just Duff with a new label, accusing Peter of being a rip-off. The allegory is pretty obvious, but the dialogue is well aware of that and it’s pretty well done (“Duff is an icon!” “Yeah, but some folks prefer Pawtucket Pat. Don’t get me wrong, I used to love Duff when I was younger, but I haven’t even had it in like, thirteen years.”) This leads to a climactic court case where Peter is put on trial for grand theft. In a courtroom packed with Simpsons and Family Guy regulars, the Blue-Haired Lawyer helpfully narrates that the suit also calls into question other suspicious similarities between Springfield and Quahog, from the obvious (Mayor West and Quimby running off to smoke a J) to the tenuous, like Quagmire and Lenny (“You like sex?” “Ehh.” “I don’t think we’re very similar.”) The judge being Fred Flintstone, himself believing that neither party is very original, is a pretty good gag, and he rules in favor of Duff, leaving Peter and the many other employees of the Pawtucket Brewery out of work.
As the Griffins are about to leave, Peter snaps at Homer for costing him his job (“I think I speak for everybody when I say, I am over the Simpsons!”) This leads to an all-out brawl between the two, a seven-minute-long fight that has them tumble all over town, ending up falling into the power plant’s reactor, up to Kang and Kodos’ spaceship, then flying over Springfield Gorge (“We’re gonna make it!” “Trust me, we’re not”) and plummeting to the bottom. This is a variation of Peter’s ongoing battle with the Giant Chicken, a reoccurring Family Guy set piece that became longer and more elaborate each ensuing time. I guess the fact that it goes on for so long is supposed to be the joke? I was just incredibly bored by it more than anything. Plus the extent of the violence, how Homer and Peter get absolutely brutalized and are completely willing to murder each other definitely feels wrong to me. I know we’re playing by Family Guy rules, but seeing Homer try to brutally kill somebody isn’t something I want to see (though we’ve seen it quite a few times in later Simpsons seasons, to “hilarious” effect.) The two make amends at the end, of course (“I’m sorry we fought. I just wanted to make you laugh and cry. You see, I’m a Family Guy.” “I understand. I’m a The Simpsons.”) Back in Quahog for the final scene, we get a logical wrap-up from Lois as to why Pawtucket Brewery is in no trouble at all (“We lost, but how are they gonna enforce it? What, are they gonna come here? I think we know that’s never gonna happen!”)
I’ll give this easy compliment: “The Simpsons Guy” is a much, much, much better crossover than “Simpsorama” was. Outside of Homer and Bender being drinking buddies, “Simpsorama” didn’t seem all that interested in pairing the two series’ characters together or having them react to each others’ worlds, favoring cheap cameos and Easter eggs over anything of substance. It felt like such a severely wasted opportunity. Meanwhile, “The Simpsons Guy” feels like as well done as a Simpsons/Family Guy crossover could possibly be. Well, modern Simpsons at least. This is definitely a Family Guy episode featuring the cast of the Simpsons. Visually, it’s odd to see Simpsons characters with the incredibly flat and stiff staging of a Family Guy episode; despite all of them being on-model throughout, it definitely doesn’t feel like a Simpsons episode in that regard. Writing-wise, there’s not a lot of isolated sections with just Simpsons characters, but the few there are, they definitely felt like jokes that would be at home in season 26-era Simpsons, if not a little bit better (Krusty Burgers being made from dog meat, Dr. Nick waiting on “Doctor Dog” to start the operation) But the show as a whole, in focusing on the characters bouncing off of each other, building up to the meta-commentary about Family Guy being a “rip-off” was plotted well and executed pretty entertainingly. I even enjoyed some of the Family Guy-only moments. I feel if there’s anything from the series I genuinely like most, it’s the Stevie-Brian dynamic (“He’s like something out of Mark Twain!” “Whose real name was Samuel Clemens!” “…how does that further this conversation?”) I also liked a bunch of the meta jokes, like when Peter tries to allude to a cutaway gag but Homer just gets confused, then in the back half of the extended 44-minute episode, Peter snaps at Lois, then apologizes (“Sorry, Lois, I’m tired, we usually only do these things for half an hour.”)
So yeah, outside of the more egregious elements like the car wash and the endless final fight, I was pretty surprised how much I enjoyed this episode. I guess you could complain that it leans more Family Guy than Simpsons in terms of its focus and humor style, but considering the current-day quality of The Simpsons, I don’t really view that as a problem. Honestly, I’m kind of stunned as to how much I liked this. And seriously, if you’re reading this and you’re a Family Guy fan, or ex-fan, or whatever, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the trajectory of the series, its rise and fall, how the show changed over time, and what it’s like now. The only thing I kind of know is that the show is incredibly meta and self-referential now, more-so than it ever was before, but I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Is there a mirror image of Me Blog Write Good out there of someone watching every episode of Family Guy, impotently yelling and screaming about how the new seasons are horrible? Boy, what a sight that would be, huh?