In honor of the premiere of SyFy Wire’s The Great Debate on Thursday, June 18, we’re hashing out some of pop culture’s biggest arguments all week long. First up is The Simpsons vs. Family Guy. You can catch reruns of The Simpsons on FXX and Family Guy on TBS and Adult Swim; new episodes of both series will premiere this fall on FOX, available in select markets.
Let’s start with this: The Simpsons is the most influential TV show of all time. That’s not up for debate. Sure, The Flintstones was a primetime animated series ostensibly for adults. But there was nothing edgy about it; by the ‘80s, The Flintstones were legacy children’s programming (as evidenced by their kid-friendly vitamins and cereals).
The Simpsons may have appealed to some children — I fell in love with it as a 10-year-old — but it is definitely not a kid’s show. The Simpsons is a satire, and a scalding one at that. While progenies like Rick and Morty and especially South Park further pushed the boundaries of subversiveness and topical storytelling, The Simpsons did it first. In fact, the show’s influence is so pervasive, the phrase “The Simpsons did it” is a recognized meme.
So its legacy is unimpeachable. The question, then, is: Is it the greatest show of all time? Here too, the answer is yes. In terms of altering the trajectory, tone, and style of not just comedy but popular culture as a whole, The Simpsons' only peer would be the invention of rock and roll. Immediately after its debut in the waning days of the ‘80s, The Simpsons completely took control of the cultural zeitgeist.
Prior to its debut, almost every sitcom on television featured a tight knit, loving, and affluent family. The Simpsons changed all of that. Homer is a TV-obsessed, beer swilling grunt who is unqualified for his job as a nuclear safety inspector. Marge is a put-upon housewife whose needs are almost never met by her selfish family. Bart, the show’s breakout character in its first several seasons, is a smarmy, skateboarding punk who is regularly abused by his father (my mother was flatly horrified by a popular t-shirt that labeled Bart an “underachiever” along with his response, “and proud of it, man!”).
It’s nothing short of a miracle that a show with such a dark description was, in fact, hilarious. A big part of the credit goes to the show’s animators, who used a bright color scheme and a ton of clever visual gags to soften the blows. The versatile voice cast was absolutely perfect. But it was the show’s writing staff that made the show what it became. For all of its transgressiveness, The Simpsons is fundamentally a warmhearted show about a family that sticks together in spite of their flaws.
The Simpsons has been on the air for over 30 years, so yes, there are episodes (or even entire seasons) that don’t hit the mark. But its best episodes are among the funniest and smartest television that has ever been made, or ever will be. It changed comedy, television, pop culture, even our vocabulary. The Simpsons is the best and most influential show ever made. Bart may have been an underachiever, but his show sure isn’t. - Mark Schiff
Sure, some people might think humor is subjective, but I’m here to tell you precisely why it’s not. There is a definitively funnier show between these two iconic series, and I can triumphantly say that it’s Family Guy. The consummate animated show, on air since 1999, is Seth McFarlane’s brainchild.
The Simpsons might be longer-running and better-known, but let’s be real: it lost its magic a while ago. Family Guy maintains its freshness and absurdity every single season in all the best ways possible. Some might even argue that it has only gotten better as it has gone on. The comedy comes fast; most of the time you have to be paying attention carefully for the joke to hit you as hard as it does. Earlier scenes that don’t seem to make sense originally come back later for the perfect punchline. And it’s that dramatic pay-off that’s so sweet.
Those classic cutaways never get old. It’s easily the best part of Family Guy and what makes Family Guy, Family Guy. They’re goofy and in-your-face. They’re also executed perfectly. You can almost always wonder where something is going, and then a cutaway explains it before you even realize what's happening. This variety and ability to switch it up constantly equates to comedic gold.
Rather than showcase the typical (read: boring) American family like that on the Simpsons, Family Guy embraces its weird. I mean, there’s a genius baby (Stewie) and a talking dog (Brian) that no one bats an eye at. Plus, Peter, Lois, Meg, and Chris Griffin are so easy to love to hate. Peter’s friends like Quagmire, Cleveland, and Joe all bring their own versions of fun. These characters are laughably stupid and cringeably embarrasing.
One of the best parts of Family Guy is that you truly never know where it’s going. Even when you think you’re starting to catch on, the story takes an unexpected turn for the absurd. Family Guy’s comedy knows no bounds, and it consistently crosses lines that it perhaps shouldn’t. So much of the show's appeal is this level of political incorrectness; no one (or no joke) is safe.
Some might think its style of humor is too crass, but that’s exactly what makes it so great. It’s a cartoon, after all, so there’s going to be a level of immaturity involved no matter what. But Family Guy seizes that immaturity to deliver some laugh-out-loud jokes — every single time. Don't get me wrong, The Simpsons is funny too, but there have been episodes I’ve watched with a blank face. Family Guy, on the other hand, has never failed to get a laugh out of me. It’s so wrong, but so right. That’s why it’s superior. - Peyton Lombardo