Family Guy Vs. The Simpsons

I have a confession to make. I absolutely love Family Guy. It is my second favorite show that’s on broadcast television after The Office. My third favorite show is Heroes, and the fourth is Lost. Most conscientious and intelligent television viewers will agree that, whether or not they like any of these particular shows, that they’re worth watching. Except Family Guy. Or, more specifically, it has become the popular and almost overriding opinion that if you like Simpsons, you can’t possibly think that Family Guy is any better, or else you must be suffering from some delusion. It seems that even some Family Guy fans have succumbed to this delusion, including myself for awhile, which is quite sad and unfortunate, because there’s no need for this happen, and here is the reason why: Family Guy is just as good, or possibly even better, than the Simpsons.

Yes, I consider myself an intelligent human being and I am making this statement in full awareness of its implications. Some of you out there may even have just labeled me as some kind of ignorant freak who can’t possibly be taken seriously. After all, everyone knows that The Simpsons is better than Family Guy, right?

Well, not this character, so let’s examine why, by looking at two points that address those jabs made against the Guy of Families. Before I begin, I would like to state that even though I do not follow The Simpsons regularly, I really do appreciate their show, and some of their stuff is just unbelievably witty. They are a revolutionary show, almost the first of their kind, and definitely one of the most unique and long-lasting on television. So, with that in mind, know that I have no qualms against The Simpsons (TS) and am merely defending Family Guy (FG), not bashing them inherently, though some of my finer points may seem like that to someone who is not paying attention to the details of the argument.

1. Family Guy is not a knockoff of The Simpsons
This argument has several levels of permutations, so let’s address all of them, and start from the beginning. You’ll forgive me for needing to go through the most pedestrian of the arguments to reach the better ones, but such specificity is needed if the core argument is to be completely dismissed, as I believe it should be. Here we go.

A. FG is a cartoon. TS is a cartoon. TS came first. Therefore, FG is unoriginal. This argument is only valid insofar as it shows that FG probably would not have existed without TS. TS was a revolutionary show, and had unprecedented success as a prime time network animated series. Its success gave the networks courage to allow other cartoon series on the air. Before TS, though, there were shows like The Jetsons and The Flintstones, so if you’re going to blame FG for being unoriginal because it’s a cartoon, you have to do the same to TS.

B. FG features an oafish father, a caring and concerned but sometimes ludicrous mother, a teenage son, a daughter, a baby, and a dog. TS features nearly an identical cast of characters. TS came first, so therefore FG is unoriginal.
This argument comes slightly closer to refuting FG, but can quickly be seen to, upon closer inspection, fail spectacularly. Once again, let’s start simple, by analyzing the cast of FG characters and disproving the accusation that they are nothing more than thinly veiled TS prototypes. As someone who is fairly familiar with the characters from both shows, I feel myself competent enough to cast fair judgment on this part. First of all, there’s Peter Griffin. Nobody who knows both shows can, in good conscience, or even common sense, assert with any sense of conviction that Homer and Peter are the same, because they are completely different. Peter Griffin is, how to say, an amorphous idiot. He follows his idiocy where ever it may go; he’ll drop family loyalties in a heartbeat to save his own skin, and he’s just downright stupid. Homer Simpson is someone who has very strong family loyalties, has only in the last five or sex years tended more toward becoming an idiot, and is for a large part merely a jerk in a lot of ways. The only real similarity between him and Peter is that they do stupid things, but if you are going to use this as a defense for FG being a rip-off then, once again, you must claim TS as a rip-off as well for not being the first show to portray a father as an idiot. Secondly, there’s Maggie and Stewie. Let’s think. Maggie has only spoken one word in the entire near-twenty year history of The Simpsons: sequel. Stewie has a British accent. Maggie really holds no ill-will towards her family, whereas Stewie calls Peter “the fat man” and is always looking to kill Lois, and has a potentially gay love affair with his teddy bear Rupert. Thirdly, there’s Chris and Bart. Bart is a wiley, smart, and clever scoundrel who is almost always looking for trouble, is know at school as the troublemaker, calls his father “Homer” and generally marches to the beat of his own drum. Chris is somewhat like his father, Peter Griffin, in that he is an idiot, but he’s more of a loveable one – and Bart could kick his ass in a fight. Fourth, there’s Meg and Lisa. Meg is the outcast of the Griffin family, generally hated and treated as more of a dog than the actual dog. She’s not particularly smart, almost always depicted as ugly, and take the brunt of a lot of jokes. Lisa is smart, educated, wise beyond her years, and is quite loved by her family for the most part. Fifth, there’s the dog. Brian is an experienced drinker, carries around a martini with him almost at all times, is educated and hangs out with the New Yorker crowd, and is working on a novel. The dog in the Simpsons has never really spoken a word, doesn’t hold a consistent presence on the show, and is more there to exhibit the token American family dog than anything else. It also sometimes serves merely as a reminder of Homer’s incompetence. And finally, Lois and Marge. Lois is a wild cookie, a sometimes drug-obsessed, dangerously insane woman, sometimes the most calm voice in the room, sometimes the most cruel. She’s something of a wild card, where as Marge is much, much more stable, and only in the rarest of cases does she veer from her fairly set character. So those are the characters, mainly served up for the purpose of those deluded few who could still claim that the characters are freakishly similar. But hey, if Seth MacFarlane were smart enough, he could easily read up on his Simpsons homework and just switch a few key details to cover his tracks, so this is not enough to help to prove FG’s originality. We gotta move on further.

C.The basic premise of the FG show is strikingly similar to TS’s. TS came before, so therefore FG is unoriginal and a mere copycat.
Anyone claiming FG’s cast is unoriginal is obviously not in any way familiar with the conventions and limitations of a little something called the situation comedy, or sitcom for short. Yes that’s right. The argument most often cited for how the cast is unoriginal is Peter Griffin’s comparisons to Homer Simpson. “They’re both idiotic fathers, see! It must be a rip-off!” If you look at any 80’s 90’s sitcom, or heck, any early 00’s sitcom, you will have no shortage of these kinds of fathers. I’m not going to do the research for you, but you do some similar grab-bag searching around the dumpster that is most sitcoms, you’ll find similar kinds of characters for Lois, Brian, Meg, Chris, and even diabolical Stewie. You’ll find the same for Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. And you’ll find one thing in common between the two of them – they both represent kind of an ideal nuclear family, three kids, two parents, a stable home, and a dog, which, once again, many sitcoms do. Because FG is a cartoon, and there are fewer prime time cartoons out there than live action shows, the similarity is more glaringly obvious, but the heart of my argument remains the same. Before we move on, though I must address a potential issue that could be raised against my argument, the idea that TS was in fact original in many ways, and FG isn’t. But let’s look at whose fault this is. Is it FG’s fault, or TS’s, for that matter, that one was created ten years before the other? Of course not. You operate with the clichés and conventions you have in place at the time, and nothing more. You can’t blame FG for not being as revolutionary or world-changing. It was made in a time when many conventions of the sitcom were already established. Considering what MacFarlane does on FG in terms of lampooning many ideas of the traditional American family, if seems plausible, and even likely, that he chose the nuclear family as his form of expression to do precisely that. Could TS have influenced him? It’s almost impossible that it didn’t. But claiming that this renders FG completely unoriginal is like claiming that just because Richard Dawkins dedicated his book to Douglas Adams that means he owes his entire thesis to the comedic writer. The kind of show that TS was only comes along once every fifty years or so, and you can’t impinge upon FG to live up to every expectation that you had about TS. Two different shows, two different sets of expectations. Let’s move on.

D. Some episodes of FG closely mirror those of TS. It is obvious MacFarlane is watching TS to get cheap knockoff ideas.
Do a search on youtube and you’ll quickly find videos where they supposedly show irrefutable proof of an FG episode stealing something from a TS episode. A cursory examination of these videos also lets them be dispelled as evidence against FG, because of how far-fetched most of them are and because there are TS videos that supposedly copy off of FG too. So who’s right? Both? Neither? I submit that it doesn’t matter. Creative people feed off each other; they get idea from each other. And to claim that it is impossible for two people to have the same idea is a little naïve. Scott Adams, the cartoonist for Dilbert, wrote, in a book he published, a story about how he was planning on writing a strip where he made fun of an opera singer called “The Placebo Domingo.” Before the strip even got sent to his editor, a comic strip making that exact same joke appeared. People do have the same ideas. And if you’re still in doubt, there’s doubt about who flew the first plane. Of course Americans like to think it’s the Wright Brothers, but in France they also had the idea of flying and supposedly flew the first plane over there too. In a similar vein, is it so preposterous that two people, both working on animated shows on Fox, should come up with similar ideas once in awhile?

2. Family Guy is funny, clever, and smart
Before I go into the bulk of this argument, something I find delightfully contradictory in FG haters logic is how they despise the “flashback”-humor of FG.They bash and bash and bash on FG for its supposed lack of originality (which, as we have seen above, I have disproved), and then turn around and bash and bash and bash on FG for how its humor fails so spectacularly at mimicking TS’s humor. Interesting, don’t you think, this contradiction? So there’s one mark against the FG haters. Let’s move on. In an episode of the devilishly clever South Park, one of the main characters, Cartman, made a visit to the FG writers room, which ended up being nothing more than manatees bouncing “idea” balls into random tubs, from which the writers would come up with flashback jokes. The episode was hilarious, as South Park always is, but let’s address the issue of “flashback humor.” In the episode, Cartman says to his friends that he is appalled that they thought he liked FG, because his humor is always contextual, and not random. This, of course, implies that things that are truly funny can only be those that are complete and utterly relevant to the moment; ergo, the flashbacks that FG is so famous for aren’t funny, and so FG as a show must not be funny, ergo it must be a bad show and only worth watching to those whose IQ is too low to appreciate TS’s brand of humor. Well, I myself would like to think I appreciate TS’s humor on several levels that would indicate a nice IQ on my behalf, so I will demonstrate several massive fallacies with this notion. The first and most obviously fallacious untruth is that FG operates solely on the basis on this humor. Sometimes the show does use it too much, often to cover up a weak understory, but this is an occasional weakness and not a terminal flaw. I have noticed that the last two or three episodes have considerably lightened up on the flashbacks, much to my relief. FG in fact does offer biting satire and scathing wit on a variety of different subjects outside of the flashback technique. I just finished watching an episode where there was some strong social commentary on the ridiculous money that the wealthy have, and none of that came from flashbacks. Another thing that FG does amazingly well is portray the almost uncapturable essence of the awkwardness of everyday life. Every single episode seems to contain a moment that you can almost picture yourself in, it feels so incredibly and awkwardly real. The second fallacy says that these flashbacks are not funny. What evidence is given? Well, obviously, the evidence is that its not like the scathing wit and satire that TS and South Park give in a weekly basis. Because it’s different, it must be poorer. Let’s examine this logic for just a brief second, for kicks. Different is worse? Take this even one step further or beyond the context of television sitcomery and you’ve landed yourself in a world of hurt that will require a lot of explanation. Even keep it within that world and you’ve got a problem. The Office and South Park both operate on completely different kinds of humor, yet most wise television waters would agree objectively that they are both funny; hilarious even. FG makes people laugh. A LOT of people laugh. It is one of Fox’s consistently top-rated shows, whereas TS is nowhere near the behemoth it once was – it is far past its prime. And as any critic can tell you, comedy is the most difficult genre to decide when it has been done right. I offer up the potential answer that FG is in fact some new kind of comedy that people are not prepared for. Its flashback technique enables it to comment on a variety of subjects at once, and its delicious randomness only further drives home much of its satire. Admittedly some jokes fall flat, but can you say that every single joke in TS history has been a solid hit? Not unless you’re some kind of dunderhead, you can’t. Even some of the shows greatest fans admit that their favorite season are not the first few, but rather the four or five after them. It’s also easy to criticize the flashback technique and say it’s too easy and random to put together, but let’s take a look at South Park to disband this myth. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are two brilliant comedic writers. I love South Park. Some of the social and even sometimes political commentary in that series astounds me with how well-pointed it is. And I’m in good company with thinking this. Many film and television critics admire South Park for its unabashed brand of making fun of EVERYTHING, and being damn good at it too. Needless to say, these are no spring chickens. They know what they’re doing. If that’s the case, then how come, when they lampoon flashbacks specifically in the above-mentioned episode, the jokes fall flat? There are at least six instances in that two-parter episode that show a spoof of an FG flashback, and none of them are funny, ever. Someone who is eager to hate FG will laugh at them, but only an inexperienced member of the television viewing audience will do this, not one who is acquainted with TS, SP, and FG. It’s easy to call the flashbacks stupid and completely random, but there’s a certain artfulness to them that’s difficult to match, even by the geniuses Parker and Stone. And a hallmark of all great comedians is that they are able to laugh at themselves, and FG never wastes an opportunity to do so, consistently self-spoofing even in the midst of an episode.

If you’ll recall, my initial aim was to prove that FG was just as good, if not better, than TS. I think I’ve proved the former, but I would challenge anyone to prove the latter without the benefit of fifteen years hindsight to help FG out. Die Hard fans will of course choose TS, simply because they like it better; it’s more comfortable to them. And there’s nothing wrong with TS. It is an excellent beyond excellent show, and many people, knowing full well the benefits FG does offer, conscientiously choose TS. There’s not yet a real answer to the question of which is better (and there may not ever be), but there is an answer to the accusation that FG sucks, and I just gave it to you. Thoughts?

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12 Responses to “Family Guy Vs. The Simpsons”

  1. the simpsons are so 90s we have to enter 21th century jaja. Its time for the new family on tv.

  2. Family Guy is a rip-off of the Simpsons. Why else would we be having this debate? Yes the basic premise is the same – I can’t believe the producer wouldn’t have been more mindful of blatant reproduction…. I thought that having Stephen Hawking on the show was pretty low. Hawking is a distinct individual whose appearance on the Simpsons was one of the more famous episodes. Why put him on FG? Even if there was some clever way to write him in. The whole concept of including celebrity charaters was a simpsons idea. FG have hacked this aswell. The Family Guy is definitely not as witty or clever than the Simpsons. The constant barrage of crude and rude jokes is a dead give away of this. Seinfeld was right. Its much harder to do clean comedy. Oh my.. the opening theme song is a blatant take-off of a variant theme song from the Simpsons…. You can’t tell me you didn’t immediately think of the Simpsons the first time you saw this (if not every subsequent viewing too). Man why would you even attempt to create something that even resembles the Simpsons? Every single Family Guy episode I see reminds me of the a poor man’s simpsons. There are subtle things and more blatant things. I’m just waiting for them to write in some alien charaters (if they haven’t already!) Overall FG is plagiarism. the FG producers were university students, they would have been expelled. One criticism FG will always have to live with is that if it wasn’t for the Simpsons, it is almost certain that FG would have never been conceived. FG will live with this stigma as long as it is running. I’m sorry but its the truth…. Bottom line: FG sucks

  3. Thanks for the comment. I was hoping that my blog would generate passionate respones like yours. And despite, I’ll admit, your rather well constructed argument, I still can’t bring myself to say that Family Guy is a rip-off of the Simpsons. Did you not read the entire section about how animated TV shows feed off of each other, and TV shows in general? Everything influences everything else? Also, nitpicking about Stephen Hawking entirely misses the point. He’s a public figure and perfectly acceptable and even likely to be used for any show – since when does TS have a monopoly on Hawking? He’s a figure ripe for parody and satire – a satirical and parodic show like FG is almost bound to have Hawking on it. And as long as you’re playing the nitpicking game, let me tell you this: you know the little paper clip that pops up on microsoft word documents? FG used it in an episode about three weeks before TS finally caught up. How is that not supposedly “stealing”? Besides, I never once claimed that FG was as revolutionary or as influential as TS; that would be both naive and incredibly stupid of me. Also, when the Simpsons was around in the 90s, it was considered kind of racy. FG exists and thrives almost a decade later, and is racy for this time. Ten years from now we’ll be laughing at how we could possibly think family guy was “dirty.”

    And, to address your final quote, “One criticism FG will always have to live with is that if it wasn’t for TS, it is almost certain that FG would never have been conceived.” Well, no offense, but this is completely obvious, and frankly kind of redundant considering I already said basically the same thing in my post. Pop culture, general, does not exist in a vaccuum. It feeds off of other parts of pop culture, is influenced by it and nothing can ever claim to be completely original, even less so in relation to shows as similar as FG and TS. To claim that this criticism should have any merit is to be ignoring a very key part of what it means to be a part of pop culture.

  4. I’m a fan of both shows. Rather than debate which show is a knock off, why not just appreciate both shows for their similarities… they have two fathers that are total jackasses, two mothers that are oblivious to the world, and three kids that are very different. In other words – they’re like all of us.

  5. I like Family Guy and the Simpsons, but Seinfeld tops them both!

  6. I just watched The Simpsons in Treehouse of Horrors XIV Season 15 November 2003. The first story was how Homer kills the Grim Reaper and ends up doing his job. Sound Familar. Family Guy Episode Death is a Bitch Season 2 March 2000. Peter injures Death and has to take his job. So lets not argue that FG stealing from TS when it’s give and take all the way.

    Now I like The Simpsons (a little bit less as newer episodes are hit and miss) and I love Family Guy. But if FG is influenced by the simpsons it is understandable and very general ideas are bound to be similar and i’m sure if you searched, these type of similarities do not stop at TS and FG. I’m sure there are many episode plots of Sitcoms that will show similarities. like Everybody Loves Raymond or King of Queens. There are only so many general ideas out there. The uniqueness and brilliance of the shows are in the characters, the specifics and delivery of the content. This most certainly applies to American Dad where there may be a lot of people that just think Seth McPhaland is lazy and churning out similar shows but again the characters are a million miles apart.

    In my arguement you can compare or contrast almost any show or other form of media with another. However I think it is rediculous to compare TS characters with FG as though the nuclear family concept is very similar the execution and character development could not be more different.

    I think it would be a fair estimation to say that most people(mainly males) That grew up with TS are gonna enjoy FG and South Park. I know it’s definitely true of myself and all of my friends. We all have are preferences but generally don’t think too far apart.

    Also to the arguement that clean humor is harder, this may well be true but that doesn’t mean it’s funnier. To really enjoy show’s like FG or South Park and even some more recent episodes of TS (where I think they may be trying to stay edgy to compete) You have to leave a piece of your mind in the gutter and just laugh. because FARTS ARE FUNNY! Who hear doesn’t giggle when they fart in Public?

  7. Couch-ey Says:

    I was excited when Family Guy first came out. I wanted more funny cartoons on TV, but as I watched the show, I realized that some of the episodes, premises, and even the circus-style opening of the Simpsons episodes were very similar to what I had seen before.

    That kind of put me off, but it would be forgivable if the show had some kind of redeeming value. For me, it didn’t.

    I saw jokes that went on too long and were repeated as if the writers couldn’t think of anything and needed filler. An example would be the famous Stewie “mommie, mommie, mom” which that one is now part of popular culture, but having to sit through literally minutes of the same joke being repeated is not funny.

    While the Simpsons writing spans a wide variety of humor – from acting stupid to really witty word-play – Family Guy seems to be stuck in immature humor and flashbacks.

    I will say, that every now and then, amid the desert of humor, there sometimes is something that is really funny in this show. It just takes so long to get there, and I really could care less about the rest of the episode.

    Regarding the whole rip-off concept, I mean, come on. The Fox Network had the hottest show on TV and wanted something similar. This is the same network that had a hit with “That 70’s Show” and decided to put out “That 80’s Show”. Some of the writers were moved over from The Simpsons, they were told to make a Simpsons-styled show, and voila, that’s why it seems so similar.

    (South Park -funny, but they take themselves way too seriously sometimes and always have to give a speech and an opinion about something which kills the humor in the show)

  8. Not just Stephen Hawking. Don’t forget about James Woods and Adam West. Coincidence that FG brought them on as characters? I mean come on. These are out of date names that many FG lovers don’t even know. Why would he even mention them in the show?

    The more Simpsons episodes I watch, the more I realize how much material was plagiarised to create FG episodes. This is why every spin-off of FG has been crap. You can only steal so much before you have to actually use your own ideas.

    The Simpsons appear to be original. Can anyone name a show in which they plagiarised for material? I can’t. I watched The Flintstones, The Jetsons and The Rocky And Bullwinkle Show growing up and I have never seen an episode that is similar to The Simpsons.

    The Simpsons was a groundbreaking animated series. They planted the seed. At least South Park can admit this and remain humble.

  9. LetsGoHabz Says:

    “The Simpsons”: I agree, it’s nowhere near the wonder it was in its earlier seasons, but it is still pretty entertaining in this fan’s book. Just for its fourth, third and eighth seasons (IMO the 3 best it has produced, from the top to bottom) it counts as among the very best ever. I do not laugh much at “The Simpsons” or “South Park,” but this is because I know there’s a coherent story to follow and I want to follow that.

    Five faves all time: Homer becomes a union boss so he can get Lisa’s braces free; the 28-1/2-year-old monorail gets sold to Springfield; Bart and Lisa suffer through Kamp Krusty; Mr. Burns sells the power plant to the Germans; and Lisa helps Burns regain a lost financial empire by recycling. Worst ever: Homer the missionary.

    “Family Guy”: I think those cutoff flashbacks are ludicrously dumb, but for some reason most of those extract A LOT of laughter from me. I’m not missing a lot if I break down there ’cause a “Family Guy” story gets distracted so much more easily than a “Simpsons” story.

    Five faves all time: Brian’s cocaine exposure when he goes to work for the Quahog police; Brian tries to finish his college degree; Lois finds out about her deranged brother who hates fat men; the O.J. Simpson one; and the Army one. Worst ever: Stewie engages in transvestism to get on TV.

    That’s what separates the two for me: “The Simpsons” tries to work on high and low levels alike, and in its earlier years always succeeded beyond flying colours (in the sixth and tenth through about seventeenth seasons it wasn’t quite as brilliant), whereas “Family Guy’s” usual tactic is to just go for humour that (metaphorically) costs about eight cents for a season’s use.

  10. Chris Tiggis Says:

    If your favorite show on TV is the Office than go ahead and like whatever the hell you want. No show, ever, not Seinfeld, not MASH, not Cheers, not Arrested Development, not 30 Rock (makes the Office look like the Love Guru), has been as funny and well written and well developed as the Simpsons. I don’t like Family Guy, but I don’t really care about Family Guy. The Simpsons is one of, if not the best shows of all time. The more you compare the Simpsons to the Family Guy the dumber you sound.

  11. The Simpsons > South Park > King of the Hill > Family Guy, no question. But they’re all very good.

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