Ask Google to describe the word “Irreverence” and it will tell you it means a lack of respect for people or things that are generally taken seriously.
Each episode of 20th Century Fox’s Family Guy opens with the same title sequence.
We are introduced to the Griffin family in their home through song, as they exclaim that TV is just about sex and violence. Suddenly, the walls behind the animated family open and we are presented with a set of technicolour steps – Men wearing pristine white tuxes on one side of the room, and women in luxurious feathered costumes on the other of this grand display.
It’s something that feels oh-so-very 50s Hollywood.
We’re promised wholesome family fun, but this, immediately, is just one of Family Guy’s many missteps for its audience. While Lois and Peter claim that the next 22 minutes will contain “good old fashioned values”, we know by now that that just ain’t gonna happen.
From this get-go we are lied to by this show, and mocked.
Family Guy’s tongue is in cheek, as the runtime is only bound to contain profanity, farts, the crudest of sexual (and occasionally borderline racist) gags and the most extreme of cartoon violence.
And that is exactly why we’re still watching.
The Irrelevant Charm of Family Guy
Family Guy is a cartoon that is there to be irreverent, to mock and to be the rudest kid in the room. It’s taken that mantle, and for better or worse, it’s sticking to it. Family Guy has always played second best to other shows (if not third or fourth these days…) – most notably The Simpsons, and that’s only become more evident as more cartoons have arrived.
Now in its 17th season, the show has evolved and morphed into something different to what it once was; the man who spearheads the show and is still so many of its voices, Seth Macfarlane, is no longer exclusive and has worked on various other projects.
Family Guy has always been famous for its speedy approach to comedy – presenting pretty much all of its gags in a cutaway format, making them as accessible as possible – in the same sort of way you’ll pick up drive-through: very little effort actually goes in to, but it’s warm and it’s there for you straight away – Family Guy is for people who watch stand-up comics who make their sets entirely about jokes, and don’t care for storytelling.
Arguments have been made also that the show used to be more about the characters, whereas now it feels like any member of the Griffin household could say that specific line and it wouldn’t matter (because arguably none of them has a distinctive voice anymore). Family Guy has descended into a shadowy irrelevance – shouting at us through a bullhorn from a yard away.
It’s this exact irrelevance, its lack of being, that Family Guy feeds off.
Unlike arguably far superior South Park – which regularly riffs on important, up to date topics with its crude approach, and has only gotten better as time has gone on – Family Guy can instead poke from afar with a stick and be as childlike and as puerile as it likes.
And that, conversely, is now what sets it apart from the pack and gives it its own “voice”.
Even when we are subjected to a two minute-plus gag that just won’t seem to end, it’s the creators’ way of telling us that they’re in charge. We are but a mere audience, a darkened silhouette in their personal crowd. And they are reminding us that we’re still here, and will watch through the whole of this dragged-through-the-mud joke because they still have that power over us, even now after all this time on air.
Does Family Guy Still Belong On TV?
A lot has been said about When The Simpsons Died.
Many cite the infamous “The Principal & The Pauper” episode, where Principal Skinner is made out to be a fraud – having assumed an identity and actually not at all who the character had been built up to be.
Say what you like about that particular episode, and Simpsons v Family Guy comparisons are always inevitable, but it reminded me of the P.R stunt in 2013 that was the episode “Life of Brian” – this was a main character who was never going to remain dead, and was brought back to life in a mere two episodes.
I bring this up because it promotes how flimsy the show is these days: It no longer matters.
The show is so far past that that we, the audience, can watch that or another 22 minutes riffing entirely on A New Hope and it not make us question “but why are they doing this?”.
It’s this exact freewheeling that Family Guy can do, unlike any other cartoon on right now.
Family Guy for me is like the old drunk in the pub with the filthiest stories that you don’t particularly pay attention to – but sometimes overhear, and that sometimes makes you laugh. And that’s what should be embraced by its creators – and its longstanding fans.
If we’re made to believe what we’re told, and the Simpsons really has been dead since that episode all the way back in 1997, then Family Guy has at the very least been catatonic for a good while.
It’s this under-the-radar unimportance that gives the showroom to be as lightweight and as meandering as it pleases. With the more that Family Guy drifts into its own obscurity, ironically, the more freedom it has to walk and talk however the hell it wants.
And to that I say live and let live.
If you enjoyed this article, please consider checking out more of our TV content.
Jon Holmes is a writer based in the UK. Alongside his work writing for film, he is a multi-accoladed filmmaker in his own right, and also performs. He can be followed on Youtube at Hans HS and on Twitter on @jonnyjonjon1