(Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you haven’t yet watched the Season 13 premiere of “Family Guy” entitled “The Simpsons Guy.”)
“Yay! A crossover always brings out the best in each show,” Chris Griffin said at the top of Fox’s “Family Guy” season premiere. “It certainly doesn’t smack of desperation. The priorities are always creative and not driven by marketing–”
Stewie cut him off, but the line perfectly set the stage for an epic crossover between the two shows that have come to define Fox animation: “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.” The creators threw absolutely everything into this hourlong episode, including virtually the entire casts of both shows. They touched on the rivalry between the shows, and even took on the accusations that “Family Guy” is little more than a watered-down, raunchier version of “The Simpsons.”
As you might expect to see on an episode of “South Park” — which is always sharper in its satire than either Fox series — the relationship between the shows was tackled via allegory. After discovering that Peter’s favorite brew was just a cheap knock-off of Homer’s beloved Duff Beer, a lawsuit took the issue to court.
In a stroke of brilliance, Fred Flintstone was the presiding judge. In his ruling, he said, “If you ask me, neither of these beers is wholly original. They’re both pale imitations of my favorite beer, Bud Rock.”
In other words, there’s really nothing new under the sun as “The Flintstones” was doing it in the 1960s, and wasn’t it just an animated knockoff of “The Honeymooners”? “Modern Family” is the latest interpretation of “All in the Family,” as teased in the opening bit, with
While the character beats may have felt familiar to fans of “The Simpsons,” this was definitely an episode of “Family Guy.” Bart is a mischievous scamp, while Stewie may well be a sociopath. And while Lisa feels misunderstood and sometimes neglected, Meg is actively despised by her family, suffering verbal and emotional abuse on a regular basis.
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“Family Guy” is much darker in its humor, which was best exemplified by the relationship between Stewie and Bart. As one might expect, Stewie looked up to Bart as a fellow troublemaker. But while Bart makes harmless prank calls to Moe’s, Stewie took it too far, telling Moe that his sister was being raped.
In an ironic twist, the creators sort of responded to the controversy this joke caused online within the same episode. Stewie’s “joke” was leaked in promotion of the crossover, and generated an immediate negative response. Tim Winter, the president of the Parents Television Council, contacted both shows’ creators asking that the joke be removed, according to CBS News, but it wasn’t.
This kind of controversy is nothing new for “Family Guy,” which constantly pushes the lines of decency, but it’s been a long time for “The Simpsons.” Considered tame by modern standards, early episodes of “The Simpsons” — which just launched its 26th season — were regularly under fire by various organizations for its offensive content.
This episode actually began with a similar creative controversy. Peter started drawing cartoons in the local paper and offended women with a panel showing a man throwing his wife on a return counter. “My dishwasher is broken,” the man says in the strip.
Peter didn’t get why it upset people, saying that it was just a joke.
“Not just a joke, Peter. A joke that angered bloggers,” Brian said; a clear statement about our knee-jerk online society.
Peter, consistently clueless, continued saying insensitive things toward women until ultimately the family had to leave town for a while to let things cool down.
And so, it was the result of a fictional controversy strikingly similar to the real one stirred up by Stewie’s rape joke that this crossover hour happened at all.
Controversies aside, there were plenty of laughs and highlights along the way. The courtroom scene putting the two shows’ characters side-by-side with their closest counterpart was a hilarious nod to the similarities between the two animated worlds, while it was impressive how many nods to both shows they managed to squeeze in.
That courtroom drama escalated into a fresh take on “Family Guy’s” classic “chicken fight” bit, with Homer stepping in for the chicken. It was incredibly violent and uncomfortable to watch in the world of “The Simpsons,” while at the same time Peter responded with shock and horror when Homer choked him, and then told him he does it to his son all the time.
But still, it was the bloody and destructive violence that felt out of place in “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening‘s inimitable style. That same discomfort could be said for the car wash scene, which made perfect sense in Seth MacFarlane‘s risque “Family Guy,” but was incredibly awkward with the inclusion of Homer Simpson.
A classic nod to “The Simpsons” came when in the midst of their fight, Homer and Peter found themselves in aliens Kang and Kodos’ flying saucer and they nearly jumped the Springfield Gorge. Peter thought they might actually make it, but Homer knew better.
Bart’s rejection of Stewie at the end of the hour was a good statement for these shows. “Family Guy” is a much darker and scarier animated reality than “The Simpsons” and these two worlds should definitely not cross over again any time soon. “The Simpsons” may have been shocking in its time, but these days it’s no more audacious than “Leave It to Beaver.”
As such, it makes us squeamish to see those characters pushed into the dark places “Family Guy” mines for its humor. This was a great hour to spotlight the unique brilliance of these two shows that may look similar on the surface, but couldn’t be more different in their execution, but now it’s been said and done and it’s over.
I have to give a special shout-out for appearances by Bob from “Bob’s Burgers” and Roger from “American Dad.” The former appeared for a scathing joke about how he has to be carried by Homer and Peter because he can’t fly on his own, with Cleveland standing in as the example of what happened the last time they let someone try (“The Cleveland Show” anyone?). Meanwhile, Roger went to summer camp with Kang and Kodos, because all aliens know one another, apparently.
The voice casts from all these shows came together to create this once-in-a-lifetime experience that was worthy of a big-screen presentation. Easily one of the most entertaining hours on television, neither show will likely match its sharp wit and cutting satire for the remainder of their respective seasons.
“The Simpsons” airs at 8 p.m. ET with “Family Guy” following at 9 p.m. ET on Fox Sundays.