The world is full of idiots, and someone needs to point it out to them or they will never know.

Why I Hate Family Guy: The Complete Collection

I've bitched about Twilight. Complained about Underbelly. Analysed Stargate Universe. Torn The Cleveland Show to shreds before a single episode aired. Now, it's time for a rant that I've had brewing for a very long time: my rant against Family Guy.

Why do I hate Family Guy? It's difficult to know where to begin, but let's start by looking at this clip from season four (don't let the date fool you, it's quite typical of the show):

UPDATE (September 2015): Hulu has since made their Family Guy and Simpsons clips private (clearly they were getting too much bad press from my blog). Hopefully they'll return some day. Sorry, but that's the web for ya! I would upload them myself, but that would mean watching more Family Guy, something I always try to avoid. The rant should still make sense even without the clips... hopefully.

Incredibly, this video has over five million views on YouTube (at the time of writing). But anyway, here's another clip where the humour is derived from drug use, this time from season seven of The Simpsons:


Both shows identify the humour in the situation (that people act bizarrely and do annoying things under the influence of drugs), but while The Simpsons saved the best joke for last (the fact that Burns was so drugged up he was willing to commit murder), the Family Guy clip doesn't really have a punchline, does it? Instead, it goes for the old and tired gag of getting Peter naked. Yup, nothing funnier than a naked fat guy, right?

See folks, this is my main gripe about Family Guy - for a comedy show, it doesn't seem to know how to tell a joke. A joke should be build up your expectations, then defy them. Take any newspaper comic, for example. Look at this classic Calvin and Hobbes strip:



You see how it works? The first three panels build up the expectation (that we're in space) and the final panel reveals it's all a fantasy of Calvin's. Family Guy ignores this, it's so excited about the gag that it blurts it out right away (PETER'S ON DRUGS LOL!) , leaving a minute or so for us to sit around and watch essentially the same joke, with no punchline at the end. (For further examples of this lazy writing see here and here, as you can see, this is merely the tip of the iceberg).

Now, a punchline should be the strongest part of your gag. That's why it's called a punch-line. You deliver it and run. You do not hang around and repeat the punchline for the next minute. Essentially: leave with the audience laughing! Am I wrong in thinking this is how a joke should be structured?

Apparently so. Whenever I criticise the humour in Family Guy I'm shot down by people who yell "WHO CARES SEAN IT'S FUNNY LOL!" Now, I realise humour can be very subjective, but if you find Family Guy funny you are categorically wrong. Far too often Family Guy goes for:
  • Shock humour (violence, rape, vomit or other bodily fluids)
  • Pop-culture references (the freakin' Star Wars specials being the worst example)
Now, admittedly, there is humour to be found in shock value, but in the internet age it's getting a lot harder to shock your audience. Like it or not, people are desensitised to much of the bad stuff in the world. So what do the Family Guy writers do? Make a rape joke. A rape joke, for Christ's sake. I wouldn't have minded if it was just dark humour ("What do nine out of ten people enjoy?" "Gang rape!") because at least a joke like that is subverting my expectations. Again, there's no punchline in the gag, just: 1. Naked fat man (again, naked fat people are funny, right?). 2. Woman rapes a man. Whoa, hold on to your sides to stop them from splitting!

I'm not objecting to dark humour or shock value, just how Family Guy tries to do it. For example, if you take the joke, "What's the difference between a Ferrari and 1000 dead babies? A Ferrari's not in my garage", the Family Guy writers would probably put that on screen as, "Why do I have 1000 dead babies in my garage? BECAUSE DEAD BABIES ARE FUNNY LOL!" Then Peter would get naked for some reason.

And, of course, we have the pop-culture references. Now, I enjoy references to books, films, art, video games, politics etc. in works of fiction, but if you're going to do it, there has to be a point to it. Have a look at this clip from The Simpsons, parodying 2001: A Space Odyssey:

Now look at this clip from Family Guy, parodying Dukes of Hazzard:

I swear, I'm not even trying to come up with examples that end with the gag "Peter naked", it seems that every single Family Guy video on YouTube ends this way. But anyway, see the difference here? Much of the humour in the Simpsons clip comes from Homer eating in zero gravity, the ants talking amongst themselves and Buzz Aldrin's comment, not explicit references to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Family Guy, on the other hand, just has Stewie say, "That's more disgusting than when Peter went through that Daisy Dukes phase", then show us Peter in women's clothing (cross-dressing jokes? Seriously?). What is the humour in this joke? Is it parodying a scene in Dukes of Hazzard? A cliche of the show, a plot hole even? Nope, it's just name dropping. I haven't seen a single episode of Dukes of Hazzard, but even if I'd seen all 145 episodes plus the movie, I sincerely doubt I would have enjoyed that clip any more.

Next up, the characters. Now, I've mentioned a few times before that characters are the most important part in any piece of fiction, but why do I say this? It seems obvious, but if a show doesn't have relatable characters in it, more often than not it will wither and die. Take any reality show - what makes them popular is that they have real, relatable people in them. When we watch The Amazing Race, Masterchef or The Biggest Loser, we enjoy the shows because we can picture ourselves reacting the same way in that situation, whether it be scaling a mountain, cooking a dinner or losing weight.

The best non-reality shows do this as well - Lost can probably attribute much of its early success due to the fact it featured a plane crash, something we all can picture happening to ourselves since 9/11. The Simpsons was so hugely popular in the nineties because it featured a characters we could all relate to - Bart, the underachiever; Lisa, the unpopular nerd; Maggie, the silent and repressed voice; Marge, the stressful mother; and of course Homer, who almost every father in America could relate to.

But Peter Griffin is nothing more than an irredeemable jerk.


It's clear Peter is supposed to be an everyman, but comes off as anything but. He lies, he cheats, he steals, he's lazy, he gets into fights and he's incredibly ignorant. The ultimate irony is that Peter is anything but a family guy. I can hear you now, "BUT SEAN, HOMER SIMPSON IS LIKE THAT TOO LOL!" True, Homer may be all of these things as well, but at least Homer has some redeeming qualities. Homer loves Marge. He loves his kids. Sure, he may be rude to them from time to time, and get them into trouble, but when it comes down to it, he'll do anything to protect his family (this was pretty much the entire plot of The Simpsons Movie).

The source of Homer's charm is his complete love and loyalty to his family, even if the main way he shows it is by fixing problems he causes himself. This is hardly new - Hal in Malcolm in the Middle, Ray in Everybody Loves Raymond, Tim in Home Improvement and Phil in Modern Family all fit this trope perfectly (as well as dozens more). Peter, on the other hand, is a selfish asshole. He's rude to his wife. He hates his kids (Meg in particular). He may eventually do the right think, but only if it benefits him in some way. This is not a clever subversion of this character archetype - Peter is a jerk, and I am unable to relate to someone who is this obnoxious, this stupid, and this uncaring. Take this clip as an example:



Nothing funnier than picking on handicapped people, am I right? You know, there's a term for people who pick on those smaller than them...

Anyway, as you can see, Peter comes off as anything but a nice person. Now, I know what you're thinking, "NOT EVERYONE ON TV HAS TO BE A PARAGON OF VIRTUE SEAN LOL", and I quite agree. Greg House in House is a complete prick, but he genuinely believes that when he exposes someone's lie, makes someone realise what a failure they are, he's doing it for that person's own good. Brain from Pinky and the Brain wanted to take over the world not because he was evil, but because he believed the world would be a better place with him in charge.

The point I'm making here is that the best villains, jerks and bad guys never consider themselves villains, jerks or bad guy. Hannibal Lecter only ate uncivilised people. Nurse Ratched wanted her patients to get better. HAL just wanted to complete the mission.

Peter? He just acts like an jerk BECAUSE IT'S FUNNY LOL! (And hey, wouldn't you know it, it's not!)

Phew. Alright. Onto the other characters, though at a much faster pace:


  • Meg: A boring, one dimensional character. Depressingly, she started out as one of the more original characters - an unpopular, awkward teenage schoolgirl is hardly new, but in western animation it had mostly been an unpopular, awkward teenage schoolboy. Sadly, when the show returned after cancellation, the writers apparently decided it'd be funnier for her family to bully her. Yes, nothing funnier than child abuse, hmm?
  • Chris: Yawn. Does he do much these days, apart from act even stupider than Peter and make references to the evil monkey? Apparently not.
  • Lois: Another character that was, initially, somewhat original, she's turned into little more than a sex, alcohol and drug addict. She used to be a nice contrast to, say, Marge Simpson, as she was a little more open with her sexuality, which was a nice change of pace to mothers on television who used sex as a weapon. Now, the jokes aren't even subtle (or funny). She's a nymphomaniac housewife, oh ho ho ho. My thighs are now thoroughly tenderised from all the slapping.
  • Stewie: Again, another character who's changed. Matricidal Stewie was reasonably clever (and even relatable!) - after all, we could all identify with a child who wants to kill his parents. When you're a kid, your worst enemy is sometimes your parents. Now, the writers seem to think it's the height of cleverness to have a character sometimes say and do stereotypical "gay" things. Straight men in gay situations is a comedy staple (think Klinger in M*A*S*H), but the gay jokes about Stewie aren't subtle or clever, all they do is scream "GAY PEOPLE ARE FUNNY LOL!"
  • Brian: Why don't we just call this character Seth and cut out the middle man, eh? Brian/Seth's lectures on politics are so blatant it makes Captain Planet look like a thoughtful and unbiased program, where children are free to make up their own mind about oil companies.

Folks, what bothers me most about the rest of the characters is that they are so damn boring! They're one-dimensional, a collection stereotypes we've all seen before, and because of this, there is no humor to be gotten from the characters. That's why there's so many stupid cutaway gags - the writers can't make the scene interesting or funny with their current characters, so they throw together a location, an activity, a pop culture reference and then have a character say either:
  • "You think that's bad? Remember the time..."
  • "Face it Peter, you've never been very good at..."
  • "This is worse than the time..."
Or some variant thereof. This is not good writing. In good fiction, the drama (and the jokes) flow from the characters. But because the characters in Family Guy are so bland, the writers have to write around the characters. And that, dear reader, is not good.

Now, why should it matter that the show uses cutaway gags? Whenever I criticise the overreliance on cutaway gags, I'm always shot down with "WHO CARES SEAN IT'S FUNNY LOL". But a TV show, movie or book shouldn't strive to be funny at the expense of the plot or characters. Compare the following two films, both released in the last couple of years, both claiming to be comedies:


In case it isn't obvious, one was labeled as the best comedy film in years, the other one of the worst films of all time. It's may seem like a pointless comparison, but much of the comedy in The Hangover came from the interaction and chemistry between the three main characters. Their personalities, their quirks, their reactions to the insane situations they get themselves into is what makes the film so damn funny. Disaster Movie, on the other hand, is an incoherent mess, under the mistaken impression that dropping pop-culture references all over the place is funny. None of the comedy comes from the characters, and it just isn't funny.

Now, not all comedy has to be character-based, but if you're going to have the same characters every single week, most of your comedy should come from the characters. Otherwise, why not just make a sketch show - like Monty Python did? Saying "WHO CARES IT'S FUNNY LOL" is not an excuse for a having an incoherent plot or story.

The cutaways - and many other jokes - in Family Guy also go on way too long. Having a joke that goes on and on can be okay - if used from time to time (Sideshow Bob stepping on rakes, anyone?). Let's have at a clip that Family Guy fans will always point to as being an example of the show's brilliance, the chicken fight:


As far as I'm aware, they've done at least three more of these ridiculous fights, each one getting longer and more elaborate. There's also dozens of times in the show when we're subjected to long, drawn out violent fights, that seem to never end.

Good writing is short and succinct, or, as Shakespeare put it, "brevity is the soul of wit". He did not add "unless you're making a cartoon". It applies to everything, and don't tell me you're arrogant enough to claim to know better than Shakespeare. A joke has a very simple formula: Buildup. Buildup. Buildup. Punchline. Anything that does not in some way build towards the punchline can safely be removed, wouldn't you agree?

"Brevity is the soul of wit"

Sorry, I'm getting sidetracked - we've done comedy. Fans of  Family Guy will often try and tell you how "controversial" and "cutting-edge" the show it, but again the opposite is true. The "offensive" jokes in Family Guy often use easy targets that are sure to get a reaction from conservative folk - jokes about religion, for example. If you think about it, Family Guy's "offensive" jokes don't offend their fanbase; instead the jokes offend the kinds of people who don't watch the show - religious folk, for example. Any real cutting-edge comedy will risk offending people who watch it; but how is a penis joke supposed to offend the average Family Guy viewer?

Compare this to a show like South Park, that really does do things that might offend their viewers. The example that stands out to me is "Go God Go", an episode that showed atheists could be just as idiotic and pigheaded as religious people. I'm willing to bet South Park has got quite a few atheist viewers, yet they went ahead and make the episode anyway. Or even a film like Borat, a film made for Americans that spends almost its entire length mocking America. This is controversial, cutting-edge comedy.

So, folks, my longest rant ever draws to a close. I realise I covered a lot, but there are four main points I want you to take away from these rants:
  1. The show is not funny
  2. The characters are bland
  3. "It's funny" is not an excuse for bad writing
  4. Being controversial means running the risk of offending your viewers too
    If nothing else, remember these four points. I think I'll end this rant with a clip by none other than Seth Macfarlane himself - I find it rather ironic. The clip itself starts at the 23 second mark (there's an ad at the start). Thanks for reading!



    But wait - there's more! In anticipation of all the hate mail I'm about to receive from Family Guy fanboys, I've prepared a handy FAQ!

    "Jeeze man, why do you hate this show? If you didn't just watch clips on YouTube you might see some of the more subtle humour in the show."
    But I have! I used to be a loyal fan of Family Guy - buying the DVDs, watching it late at night whenever it was on, and so on. But as the years dragged on, the quality kept dropping and dropping, until the show was just so terrible I couldn't watch it any more.

    "If you don't like it, don't watch it."
    Like I said, I don't watch it anymore. I am just sick and tired of people telling me that Family Guy is a clever show, when it is in fact one of the worst. I have written this in the hopes that others may realise the show's shortcomings.

    "If you think you're so smart, why don't you launch your own TV series?"
    You're completely missing the point. First of all, I never claimed I could do a better job. I freely admit that I would be a lousy director, screenwriter or producer. But the people who are responsible for Family Guy are professionals, and they have according salaries. Family Guy, in strong contrast to this blog, is a commercial product for which we pay in some fashion. We have a right to criticise it. Wouldn't you want your vacuum cleaner to be fixed if it didn't work half of the time?

    "You've obviously never heard of satire. Stewie being gay, Brian being intelligent - the writers are taking established tropes and cliches and inverting them!"
    I have, in fact, heard of satire. But good satire defies your expectations, or reveals amusing truths. You can say a baby being gay is clever satire, but Stewie never acts like a baby, does he? You can say a dog being the smartest member of the family is satire, but Brian never acts like a dog, does he?

    "People are allowed to watch whatever they want, when they want, and they don't need you telling them they're stupid for doing so, it's just childish. I really don't understand why you're so judgmental of people having personal preferences."
    Believe it or not, I believe people should be able to watch whatever they want. However, as I said above, I'm sick of people telling me that Family Guy is a clever show, when it's not.

    "Arguing whether Family Guy is good or not is retarded. Some people will like it, and others won't. And both sides are correct, since appreciation is entirely subjective."
    Appreciation is subjective, but quality is not. There are probably people out there who think Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie are the greatest comedy films ever, but does that make them good films? No.

    "Who are you to judge? All you have is a shitty blog nobody reads."
    True, but unlike Family Guy fanatics who will just say, "IT'S FUNNY LOL!", I have articulated my points with comparisons to other TV shows and discussions about what does and does not work in fiction. I may not be a TV critic (or a TV writer), but if you're a regular reader of this blog you know I watch a lot of TV, and have quite an extensive knowledge of what makes a good show. 

    "I am a huge animation fan, and you are giving fellow fans like me a bad name if you nitpick a great show to death. Why don't you switch off your computer and go outside! Get a life!"
    How is this related to Family Guy? You are just personally attacking me, instead of sticking to the facts. You call yourself a fan, so don't tell me that you have never discussed the shortcomings or errors of Family Guy. Who do you think you are to accuse me of doing the same in a more comprehensive fashion on a permanent page?

    "You're still wrong. Most people would disagree with you and say that Family Guy is brilliant."
    Really? The majority isn't always right. I've laid out my points and if you can counter any of them, feel free.

    "You're such a loser. Pretty much everyone else agrees that it's the one of the greatest TV shows ever."
    I am far from alone in my opinion of the show. To begin with, there's a Wikipedia page all about the Criticism of Family Guy - no such page exists for The Simpsons, Futurama, South Park or Animaniacs. Or you could just click here, here, here, here or here for some more criticism by different writers. 

    "I don't care what you say, I still think the show's funny and I'm going to continue watching it."
    Sadly, I feel this will be the most common response to this rant. If you're still not convinced, next time you watch Family Guy, have a look at the show, and see how many issues I discussed here appear in the episode. You may be surprised.

    © 2011 by The Free Man

    Acknowledgements: I have to acknowledge a few other writers here, particularly Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw for his rant against Ctrl-Alt-Del, which inspired me to write this whole damn thing; Jaime J. Weinman for his rant against Family Guy, who I stole a number of points from; and Hulu.com for uploading a huge amount of Simpsons and Family Guy clips - thanks guys!



    2 comments:

    1. I completely agree with you! I'm glad I'm not alone, a couple of my friends think Family Guy is really good and don't understand why I don't like it.

      ReplyDelete
    2. Peter is the most gayest retard ever created. Everything you wrote is 100% right. I want him and Lois to die.

      ReplyDelete