On September 28th, 2014: the great crossover happened. The Simpsons and Family Guy, together for the first time ever on TV. Wow, what a historic night… or it would have been say fifteen years ago. However, as the fist five minutes of the crossover point out – these things do not happen out of any sort of creative drive or desire to combine comic genius. The Simpsons Guy is exactly what any cynic might dismiss it as – a cash grab, a marketing ploy to make long wayward viewers (like myself) sit down for one more episode. Yet I do not want to give a victory to the cynical masses out there, so I will defend the episode as best I can. Let me say upfront that it has been years since I have cared to watch a new episode of either The Simpsons or Family Guy.
Actually, the plot of the Simpsons Guy is rather clever… once the episode gets to it. Peter Griffin’s beloved Pawtucket Pat is found out to be nothing more than a shameless ripoff of Duff: the long-established Simpsons brand of beer. As a result, Duff sues Pawtucket Pat, with Peter Griffin stuck in Springfield acting as his company’s defense. As any audience member might guess, this problem leads to many comparisons between not just beer brands, but the two shows in general. It is a fitting scenario for Family Guy to make fun of itself, while still making the case for its own identity. The differing joke styles are stated quite clearly in the episode, perhaps there is no greater stark difference than in this clip:
The problem, plot-wise anyway, is that the episode takes too long to set up this conflict. There’s an unneeded opening fiasco of Peter becoming a cartoonist (it actually isn’t bad, but nor is it great) and then it feels that the episode drags when the two families are meeting for the first time. Both of this diversions do not allow the main conflict to generate the full humor it was capable of. Instead, the lawsuit feels very rushed. The slow plot and ’empty’ spaces of the episode draw attention to the main problem the Simpsons Guy has: it has no soul.
No soul means that there is no organic drive. Neither the Griffins nor the Simpsons feel like real families anymore. Instead they all feel like actors, lining up to do the same routines regardless of whether or not there is any comedy left in them. When both shows were at their peak, they contained scripts that made the audience able to relate to the characters. Homer was a well-meaning nincompoop, Peter was… well very similar. Marge and Lois were family first stay-at-home women who each had private hopes and dreams. Meg and Chris were troubled teens. Bart and Lisa were the polar opposite of preteen development. In short: they were written like real people.
It is sadly funny that cynics will dismiss this episode, because it was definitely written by them. There was a recent article, published by Salon, on the need to remove irony and snark from their dominant places in our culture. The Simpsons Guy is material proof that cynicism has gone too far. While a fan of both shows (at least in their heyday), neither The Simpsons or Family Guy belong on the air any longer, especially with far superior animated comedies like Bob’s Burgers and Rick and Morty coming into their own.
Was the Simpsons Guy worth watching… yes. If nothing else, it serves as a fond remembrance of what these shows used to be – while at the same time, proving that all good things do indeed come to an end.