Simpsons vs Family Guy

The Simpsons vs Family Guy

Let the battle begin.

Let me tell you a thing or two. I adored the Simpsons. Viewings involved a gathering of friends and family from the neighborhood, all watching in camaraderie, adoring the hilarity, being challenged by the satire, and loving the characters. I cannot begin to describe my elation when it was announced that the show would be broadcast daily, rather than merely once per week. This, children, was back in the days of scheduled broadcasts being the only way to watch the show. If you missed the show, you missed the episode. Perhaps forever. Thank you, streaming services, for your stalwart attempts to destroy this pox on humanity.

Then Family Guy came along. And it was…was…spectacular. Densely crafted jokes, one after another, stuffed into a zanily creative and occasionally fantastically witty cartoon, which finally gave me another show that appeared to be perhaps as promising as other cartoons I had come to love.

Sadly, both shows have seen better days. Much better. In fact, I no longer watch either of these programs. I avert my gaze whenever their more recent incarnations show themselves in my presence, like unwanted exiles from bygone days. I no longer even feel disappointed, because I have thoroughly moved on. But in their heyday…damn. Just…damn. Those shows were good.

So, which one was better? I have rather arrogant opinions on this matter. Allow me to share them with you, narcissistically demanding you agree with each and every word I issue forth. En garde!

The Simpsons vs Family Guy: The ultimate showdown

1) Characters

The Simpsons cast

I dare you to find a character you DON’T enjoy watching.

Plenty of people have pointed out that Family Guy ripped off the characters of the Simpsons, but I think it’s a little overdone. Peter’s bumbling antics are much like Homer’s, but his demeanor is entirely distinct. It’s just his role on the show as the idiotic overweight father that’s the same. Same with Lois and Marge, who are both the moms who care, but otherwise distinct as well. The list goes on.

But I would never call them equal. Not in a million years.

Let’s take a look at which characters on Family Guy are compelling enough to carry their own main plot:
  • Brian
  • Stewie
  • Lois
  • Peter (sometimes)
Chris and Meg might as well be stand-ins for their role as the geeky kid and the geeky other kid. They’re comic relief characters, the target of jokes, rarely capable of mustering the appreciation that viewers have for the far more interesting and nuanced characters. Stewie and Brian, for example, are both funny, but they have personalities that are enjoyable to watch. If the Road to Rhode Island episode were to be written with Chris and Meg as the leads, it would have been a disaster. This is a liability.

Family Guy cast

Maybe 2% of these characters actually have personalities.

Contrast this with the fact that the Simpsons gave Apu his own episode, and it worked. Very well, in fact. Even Ralph had his own episode. And these episodes were good. They took comic relief nobodies and wrote compelling, interesting stories that challenged the audience to care about a character that barely existed, and didn’t feel forced for a second. That’s how damn good the Simpsons is. Their supporting cast can star in the lead role. The same happened with Principal Skinner, Edna Krabappel, Otto, and plenty of others. It’s actually hard to point to an episode (during the early Simpsons years) featuring a background character that wasn’t good. Even the Santa’s Little Helper episodes are great.

Can the same be said of Family Guy episodes centering around Cleveland, for example? I think not. And yet, somehow, he got his own show…

This is to say nothing of the main cast of the Simpsons, characters who are head and shoulders above the Family Guy cast in terms of depth and nuance. In every case, particularly when matching up the kids, I’d call it a clear Simpsons win. With the exception of Stewie vs. Maggie, which I’d grant is a victory for Family Guy. With the exception of Stewie and Brian, each of the Simpsons characters is more watchable, more likable, and more developed, often significantly.

Family Guy went for laughs, often at the expense of likable character exploration. It’s not like character development never happened, but it often took a backseat to gags.

Point Simpsons.

2) Humor

This is going to be a broad topic. Humor is like beauty, in that it is in the eye of the beholder. Family Guy has plenty of fans out there, and it certainly derived a whole lotta laughter from me as well, but I shall defer to South Park on this one. The now legendary Cartoon Wars episodes did what I feel is irreversible damage to the Family Guy canon. Even if you liked it before, it’s hard to watch Family Guy and see anything other than dumb manatees randomly sticking nouns together into a jumbled pile.

The Simpsons It Blows air conditioner store

They didn’t call attention to it. It was just THERE. Because they have so many jokes that there’s no time to waste pointing out each one.

I’ll say that in the early days, it was better. The spastic references and cutaways were used in moderation, and many of the earlier seasons had better stories and smarter jokes anyway. Once Family Guy came back from the dead, it seemed like it had chosen to double down on the recurring gags, random references, and general pointlessness it mistook for humor. I can’t remember it being so bad back in season 2, for example.

Now I’ll be happy to lament the death of the Simpsons and its long, slow decline into cultural irrelevance and unfunny boredom-inducing attempts at dumb gags, but when the Simpsons was on its game, it was an absolute masterpiece. The jokes came so fast that you’d be forgiven for missing them entirely, and they were not only a whole lot smarter, often blending clever satire along with random jokes, but they were almost always part of the story.

When the Simpsons made a reference to a classic film or whatever, they did it silently. It was often simply an image they put up on the screen, which didn’t interrupt the dialogue. This sort of seamless use of cultural references meant that anyone, even people ignorant of the reference, could still enjoy the story being told, while those who got the joke would enjoy it on an even deeper level.

This is rarely the case with Family Guy. The random cutaways are interruptions to the story, merely for the sake of a gag. They stop everything to present a totally unrelated joke. And what’s more, they’re not that great anyway. Family Guy humor is disruptive and outlandish, while Simpsons humor was smooth and seamless, and whole lot smarter, too.

Point Simpsons.

3) Life lessons

Time to get all preachy and what have you. Whatever. It’s for your own good.

This is really where the Simpsons shines. In its heyday, anyway. But it’s not like the writers tried to issue morality lessons all the time; they knew that would be annoying and preachy. These lessons were often just subtext, integrated seamlessly into the plot, and thus not preachy in the slightest.

The Simpsons never love anything

Occasionally it was the WRONG lesson, but whatever.

I’ll point to a few moments in which this was clear: The episode in which Bart burns Lisa’s Thanksgiving centerpiece display, and the episode in which Bart gets Skinner fired. In both cases, Bart remorselessly does something awful to someone, and becomes sympathetic to their plight after realizing just how difficult he’s made things for those around him. There’s no voiceover morality lesson at the end of the episode that used to be the calling card of children’s cartoons. We merely see Bart growing as a person, and ultimately doing what’s right for those around him. There are life lessons there, but they were never mentioned.

And this was the strength of the Simpsons. In the beginning, it was barely a comedy. It got better and better at humor, rather quickly in fact, but at its heart it was merely a show about a family, warts and all. They fought, they argued, they made up, they learned from each other, and worked together, always coming through in the end, and better off for it. It wasn’t just a comedy; it was a good show to watch.

Not too many parents realized that, but back in its glory days, the Simpsons was a better show from which to learn life lessons than any pleasant and presentable live-action sitcom could possibly provide.

And it was funny too.

Point Simpsons.

Simpsons > Family Guy

It may have been a foregone conclusion, and not even close to a fair fight, but it pains me to see the Simpsons so thoroughly forgotten and unappreciated. Part of the reason I felt it necessary to issue such a defense was that fact that it has fallen so far from the heights of its glory days. And now that it’s the longest running show ever, well…there’s more bad than good. Any kid tuning in to catch a random episode has a greater chance of finding a shitty one than a good one. And that’s fucking sad.

But damn is it better than Family Guy. So much better. Or it was, anyway.

Simpsons vs Family Guy: Weigh in!

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