5 Reasons Why Family Guy is Better than The Simpsons

The Simpsons is a fine show. But honestly, it’s been in decline for years. Family Guy, on the other hand, is hitting its stride and shows increasing popularity on both Fox and in cable syndication. I can still appreciate The Simpsons, but its age and waning humor pale when compared to Family Guy’s clever writing and quirky sense of humor. Below are my top five reasons why Family Guy is the better satire than The Simpsons.

5. Better Supporting Characters

The Simpsons has a stable of strong first family characters, but it cycles through an army of secondary characters episode to episode. None of them are as well defined or nearly as funny as their counterparts on Family Guy. Let’s take, for example, Peter’s friends– Joe Swanson, Cleveland Brown, and Glen Quagmire. Alone they are hilarious, picking fun at their various social subtypes. In an ensemble, they are even better, playing off each other in a lattice of stereotypes, contrasts, and juxtapositions. Joe is the most masculine of these characters, and is lame, thanks to an injury. His impotence is symbolic of the castration associated with men in the modern world, particularly those as invested in authority as Joe, a police officer.

Cleveland is soft and silly, but conservative in attitude and appearance. Though jokes point to his past as a hippy and Black Panther, his milquetoast ways allow the others to bounce gags off of him. Quagmire is perhaps the most famous of this trio. He is a male slut and a pilot– a pairing regularly seen in media. He is often seen with a woman, or women, and has been known to bed men and transvestites as well. Quagmire often strikes out with those he hits on, but his humor stems from his voracious sexual appetite and the personal charge he gets out of his own behavior. His secret crush on Lois is similar to Moe Syzlak’s affection for Marge Simpson, but with Quagmire the crush isn’t as obtuse or disturbing.

4. More Modern Humor

This is a big edge that Family Guy has over The Simpsons. While American Dad and even Futurama also have this advantage, it’s original and singular use on FG is nothing less than brilliant. Many of the jokes made on the show reflect the sensibilities of someone raised in the 1980’s or thereabouts. There are references to things like Transformers, or mention of musical groups more popular with younger sets. While The Simpsons makes many references to traditional cultural icons like Steve Allen, Star Trek, or Vaudeville, Family Guy drops mention of The A Team, Quantum Leap, Cosby-robics, or Star Trek Deep Space Nine. These references may be lost on some older viewers, but the jokes hit at the heart for FG’s target audience. Anyone who recognizes these references is, given their rarity, immediately engaged and more highly entertained than with the endless broad mainstream references made on The Simpsons. I will give the writing team at The Simpsons credit for throwing in some random, clever jokes like, “Super Nintendo Chalmers,” but these gems are far too rare. Bart Simpson, once the darling of modern, audacious comedy, has become old hat, and his signature “ay carumba” catchphrases have also become stale.

3. Better Physical Comedy

This comparison is a coup for Family Guy. The Simpsons is well known for clever pratfalls. Since both shows are animated, the opportunities for outlandish physical gags are much safer, cheaper, and more frequent. Family Guy, however, makes brilliant and surprising use of them. Often featured, one of the show’s signatures is someone being knocked unconscious suddenly by a random action or occurrence and then laying on the ground in an uncomfortable way. Most of the time, in media, when someone is struck on the head, there is some amount of vocalization and writhing, usually for comic benefit. In these takes, however, the person is just flatly put down. The suddenness of these jokes makes them funnier, and the added comedy of the other character’s reactions just enhances the play.

Another recurring example, is the ongoing cinematic brawl between Peter Griffin and an unnamed man-sized chicken. The two share a brutal rivalry that has been played up with numerous angles throughout the series. The fight scenes are straight out of the movies, using outrageous sequences, all reminiscent of action films. It is never clear what the origin of the chicken is, and why no one finds it unusual that such a creature is wandering around.

2. Seth MacFarlane

He isn’t the greatest animator in the world, but neither is Matt Groening. Seth MacFarlane is the genius behind both Family Guy and American Dad. These two shows use a simplistic animated style which maintains consistency and humor. His clever, unique brand of off the wall humor embellishes every episode and his vocal performances. Our opposition article cites MacFarlane’s performance of numerous roles as a weakness. But for a lot of fans, myself included, MacFarlane’s hilarious delivery makes this very entertaining television.

MacFarlane’s sense of humor and penchant for 80’s cultural symbols help to round out the show’s character. A lot of that credit has to go to the show’s writers, but the jokes are handled so deftly it’s clear that these gags come from a consistent voice in the creative process.  The other actors on the show, of which compared to The Simpsons there are few, also help because they play off of MacFarlane’s performances so well.

1. Going The Distance

One of the big reasons why so many people, young males in particular, love this show, is because it isn’t afraid to push the envelope right into the realm some would consider inappropriate. Family Guy was initially canceled twice, in 2000 and in 2002 because of lackluster ratings and constant complaints about language and content. Strong DVD sales and high ratings on Adult Swim resurrected the series finally in 2005, and since then it has continued to push harder. That is the greatest distinction between this show and The Simpsons. While both shows challenge their audiences with questionable content, Family Guy reduces a lot of difficult, sensitive topics to no more than harmless toys.

The writers aren’t afraid to make fun of things like AIDS, bestiality, pedophilia, alcoholism, and drugs– all of which appear with regularity on the series. The Simpsons just isn’t willing to push a lot of those envelopes without a parachute, or some other redeeming event which reminds the audience of the severity of the topic. In one episode of Family Guy, the entire Griffin household begin a violent imbroglio that would normally land them all in the hospital, and then the prison. This famous scene worked so well because the characters, whom had shown growing resentment towards one another, behaved in precisely the way most people wish that they could. Most people, fortunately, have the restraint to keep from battering their loved ones over the head, but this is satire, and anything goes. Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments.

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