Monday, October 6, 2014

Editorial: The Simpsons Guy

Television history was made on Sunday, 28 September 2014, when the animated universes of The Simpsons and Family Guy converged for a one-hour crossover episode.  As a longtime Simpsons fan who only recently got back on the bandwagon (thanks largely to the recent "Every Simpsons Ever" marathon on the FXX channel) and a former Family Guy watcher who had personally boycotted said show at some point, I have to say I had been off-and-on excited for this event.  And for the most part, my excitement was sated upon watching the thing.  But seeing these two shows in such close contact with each other made me wonder: what problems exist with these shows, and what could they learn from each other to better themselves?  Let's find out.

I've been a Simpsons fan since 2002, more or less, and given my relatively late introduction to the franchise, I've enjoyed many of the episodes from within the past couple of years before then, as they helped formed my first impressions of the show.  But lately I haven't been able to drum up the interest in it anymore.  There wasn't any one moment that killed my attachment forever, but my interest just sort of faded gradually.  As first-day fans would've claimed took place by the time I got on board, for some reason or another, the newer episodes just haven't managed to bring the heat.  Sure, these recent seasons can pack some pleasant surprises every few episodes, but for the most part, watching The Simpsons is like being a member of the MTV generation: I feel neither highs nor lows.

Now Family Guy, on the other hand...  I started paying attention to Family Guy since about the time it got un-cancelled (in 2005), and I liked it at the time.  I've never minded its reliance on cutaway gags, as they at least kept up a fluid pace, with few exceptions (I'll touch on that later on).  But after a few years passed, I started noticing something: Family Guy is offensive.  It's racist, misogynistic, homophobic, politically partisan, and all-around unpleasant.  Season 7 (2008-2009) was the worst, hosting such episodes as "I Dream of Jesus", "Family Gay", "Fox-y Lady", "420", and perhaps worst of all, "Not All Dogs Go To Heaven".  Family Guy's writers seem incapable of portraying minority demographics as anything but their stereotypical images, worst of all in the case of Jews (i.e. the pharmacist Mort Goldman, his son Neil, and the entire Jewish community of 1939 Warsaw) and homosexuals (i.e. Brian the dog's cousin Jasper, and Peter himself when he underwent medical experimentation to make him temporarily gay).  And Brian has become nothing short of insufferable in his "holier"-than-thou attitude as an atheist and political liberal.  Yeah, I might be a blue-stater myself, but his preachy, my-way-or-the-highway method of exposition regarding those subjects just goes above and beyond my standards, you know?
I don't see anything ugly
about this girl.  Do you?

But it was the repeated abuse of the character Meg Griffin which broke the proverbial camel's back for me.  Even from season 1, many if not all of her plots involve struggling to fit in with her school comrades, or getting along with her family.  And that alone isn't a problem if done right, as an estimated 100% of teenagers in American fiction have to deal with those kinds of things.  The problem in Meg's case, however, is that these scenarios have been turned up to 11 in terms of the abuse she deals with.  Peter, her own father, can be counted on with regularity to either ignore her well-being or outright assault her.  Not even the other members of her family are likely to show her any sympathy, either.  And her social life?  Let's just say potential suitors would rather kill themselves -- literally, given the nature of this show -- than take her to the next prom.  Why?  Is it because she's hideously deformed?  Going by how she's drawn typically, she looks like a perfectly cromulent young lady. And another thing, why does Meg, and to a lesser extent Lois, have to struggle to keep up with standards of beauty, whereas the men of the Griffin family are allowed to let themselves go physically?

So yeah, it didn't take long for the writers' intentions to completely backfire on me, for Meg to capture all my sympathy and Peter to turn into public enemy #1 as far as fictional characters are concerned.  Moments like Quagmire's rant in "Jerome Is The New Black" and the entirety of episodes like "Dial Meg For Murder" show that the writers are at least self-aware of their faults, but as the next week's episode rolls around, we find that they have learned absolutely zip from their efforts.  Oh, and that 3-minute Conway Twitty cutaway was unforgivable, if for other reasons.

Okay, enough ranting for the moment.  I assume you read this article title and thought I was going to focus my attention on the titular crossover episode itself, so I suppose I should do so.  It was... janusian.  It had its good moments and one or two bad ones.  This episode was strongest when it leaned on the fourth wall, with the characters of one show spouting criticisms of the other.  For example, the way Homer and Peter argue over their Duff and Pawtucket Patriot beers echoes the arguments one could make regarding being the first vs. being the best.  And I especially liked how Fred Flintsone played the judge in the ensuing court case, bringing that issue to a head.

With this episode's "hot" moments out of the way, what about the "not"s, or at least the "not-so-hot"s?  Well, there's a sub-plot with Meg and Lisa Simpson, where Lisa tries to find something Meg could be good at, and as it turns out, they're both good at playing the Saxophone.  This moment in and of itself was all well and good, as for one brief moment, it appeared that Meg would finally get over her P.S.I. (Poor Self Esteem).  (And yes I do know "esteem" doesn't start with "I"; that's how they did it in the episode I linked to.)  But as the Griffins pack up their car to leave Springfield and Meg clutches her new saxophone with hope in her eyes, Peter just throws it in the garbage like it was no big deal, since there was allegedly no more room in the car.  I'm not ashamed to admit I threw an F-bomb in Peter's regard while watching this scene for the first time, because of how something I've so desperately wanted could be delicately built up only to be so abruptly dashed.  (Wouldn't be the first time though.)  But for the purposes of this blog, I'll just make do with this meme-pic:



I'll close up this editorial by bringing up one more scene from "The Simpsons Guy": the part where Bart and Stewie prank-call Moe's Tavern.  Bart's part is your typical fare, tricking Moe into saying an embarrassing fake name, and it's just as funny as it's ever been.  But for his turn, Stewie says only one line -- "Your sister's being raped" -- before abruptly hanging up.  And that scene, more than anything, illustrates the differences between The Simpsons and Family Guy.  The Simpsons sticks to its time-honoured routines that may or may not elicit laughs.  And Family Guy aims for whatever shock value it can muster within the confines of a TV-14 rating (not even that, if you're watching one of the uncensored DVD releases).  There are pros and cons to each of these approaches, so I say the two shows could stand to learn something from one another: The Simpsons to punch up its comedic stylings, and Family Guy to learn some much-needed sensitivity.

Or Family Guy can manifest into some physical form, only to kill itself, for all I care.

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