This article has been a long time coming. Because I have some fucking strong feelings about Family Guy.
This is a show that I came to with very few preconceptions about; I knew nothing about Seth MacFarlane, and nothing about the show except that it operated in American Dad-style dark humour and that Mila Kunis had something to do with it somewhere. I want to make it clear that I didn’t come to this show already intending to hate it. No, Family Guy earned that on it’s own merits.
I think what fustrates me most about not liking Family Guy is being told by fans that I just don’t “get it”. Look, I do get it. It’s not hard to get. Look, there’s a character saying something outrageous, and it’s funny because we, the audience, understand that that’s an offensive or misinformed viewpoint to hold! Wahoo! Forgive me while I check to see if my sides have split. This isn’t “dark” humour; this is humour that offends me by being so unoffensive. If I want to be offended and shocked to my very core, I’ll read the UKIP mission statement; this is boring in how obvious it’s targets for “satire” (I apologise to the word satire for having to appear in that sentence) are. If you’re trying to offend me- a lily-livered liberal- go ahead and smack me round the face with something really outrageous, something that might actually make me do that awful, shocked bark-laugh I commit to when I’m watching genuinely dark comedy (see: League of Gentlemen). It’s like the writers were putting together the scripts when someone whispered the word “edgy” three streets away. Excuse me while I retire to my fainting couch.
And those few times that Family Guy does actually manage to make a “joke” so offensive that it actually bothers people, there’s nothing funny about it. Offensive humour, if it’s as clever as Family Guy intends to be, needs to properly and brutally satirise a deserving target and not, say, Michael J Fox (stay classy, Seth). An episode about domestic violence- which featured a handful of well-presented good points about the issue- invited the audience to point and laugh at a woman deep in denial about the abusive nature of her relationship, and later featured a scene where said woman was dragged from the room and beaten within earshot. Ho ho, gather round, one and all, and let’s all have a good old hoot at the victims of domestic abuse! A song and dance number featured a line in reference to Terri Schiavo, a woman who was the subject of a lengthy and emotional desicion regarding whether or not to switch her life support off after a heart attack put her in a permanent vegetative state: Terri Schiavo…the most expensive plant you’ll ever see”. In an episode that feature a transgender person, an episode which MacFarlane himself touted as pro-transgender, a character vomits for a straight thirty seconds once they’ve heard that they had sex with a transgender person. Now, arguably, there’s an attempt at satire here, but when several LGBT communities lashed back at MacFarlane for the episode, his response (as a strong advocator of gay rights) was “That surprised me. I don’t meet a lot of stupid homosexuals…Brian happens to be a heterosexual character, as I am. If I found out that I had slept with a transsexual, I might throw up in the same way that a gay guy looks at a vagina and goes, “Oh, my God, that’s disgusting.” It’s just the way we’re biologically wired. They should give that another look.” I admire someone so willing to stand up for their show, but when you produce a episode that you’ve waved about as a good thing for a marginalised group of people, when that group of people says “hey, we thought that was actually pretty offensive”, your first reaction shouldn’t be to talk about how smart homosexuals are (I don’t see how that’s relevant at all in this answer, and I’m not taking it out of context-read the full interview here), and then to explain the joke and say that they should just look at it again until they see the joke. You can’t set out to offend people, then get defensive when they get offended. In the same interview, Macfarlane talks about how he and the writers decide which jokes make it into the show: “Is it smart enough and funny enough that it warrants being as abrasive as it is?” The answer, generally, is a pretty hard no.
But fear not! It’s not as though ALL the humour revolves around being deliberately offensive. No, we get pop culture references. Plenty of those! Sometimes entire music videos crammed into the middle of episodes for no reason other that to fill space, apparently. But the joke ends once the reference is made. It’s like someone running up to you and yelling “A MAN WALKS INTO A BAR…THE EIGHTIES”. The Simpsons mastered the sublime art of the comedic pop culture reference decades ago, with everything from Homer’s mournful desire to watch Sheriff Lobo to Burns hustling his flying monkeys out of the power plant window. You’d think Family Guy might have picked up a few tricks in between blatantly ripping off The Simpsons, but you’d be wrong. These pop culture references often tie in with the endless cutaways, which ultimately serve to prove nothing more than that the Family Guy writers can’t make one story funny, so have to resort to jumping away from it and into something else to get a laugh.
Look, I’m not saying you specifically are an awful person for not liking Family Guy, and I will not hate you on principle for it. Just, for the love of fuck, never tell me that the reason I don’t like it is because I don’t get it. Because presumably the thought of me understanding it and still thinking it’s a pile of steaming crap might be too much for you to handle.