When Family Guy debuted in 1999, some people said it was a combination of The Simpsons and South Park. However, Family Guy became so successful that some people accused the other cartoons of trying to play catch-up with the show. Seth MacFarlane, Family Guy’s creator, was able to take the show and turn crudeness into an art form.
Family Guy certainly never represented family values. Peter Griffin, the main character, has been the overweight insensitive husband who fat-shames his own daughter. Stewie Griffin has been the homosexual baby who likes his head licked by horses and is always trying to kill his mom, Lois Griffin. Meg has been the ugly and disgusting daughter who gets picked on immensely. Chris Griffin represents the mentally challenged, obese teenage son who was born due to a broken condom. Then, there is the perverted family dog Brian, who is a crude (but intelligent) take on Snoopy from the Charlie Brown series.
Family Guy used to be able to take all the crudeness of the characters and make people laugh. Sometimes, there was a point being made. The show was also able to make brilliant parodies of pop culture classics. 2009’s Something, Something, Something Dark Side was a hilarious parody of Star Wars, while that season’s premiere episode, Road to the Multiverse, was a nod to Back to the Future.
The latter depicted Brian and Stewie stuck in a Walt Disney picture with all the Family Guy characters changing into ones from Disney. All is well until the Jewish character Morty shows up as his Disney self. Then, the scene goes from sweet fantasy to bloody horror when everybody screams “Jew!” and beats Morty to a pulp. The audience didn’t mind the gag because the scene makes a point—Walt Disney, according to many, was anti-Semitic.
In another classic episode, Peter and several of his friends, including the African-American character Cleveland, get in a van. Joe declares, “This van has the latest in law enforcement technology,” and Cleveland gets assaulted by robotic baseball bats.
“Danger—minority suspect!” we hear a machine declare. This was another time the audience laughed because they knew the show was trying to make a point.
However, for the past five or six seasons, Family Guy has relied on crude shock value in a desperate attempt to keep the show relevant. First, there was the 9/11 gag where Stewie and Brian stop the 9/11 attacks from happening through time travel. After the world becomes an even worse place, they bring back the attacks and high-five each other. For the first time, even the show’s biggest fans wondered if the show had crossed the line.
In the past few years, we’ve seen Stewie become pregnant with Brian’s babies and the reimagining of The Cosby Show opening where—this time—Cosby dances around with drugged versions of Phylicia Rashad, Lisa Bonet and others. Let’s not forget all the recent episodes that want viewers to laugh as the character Meg is being body-shamed, assaulted and humiliated. The once insecure and shy character many could identify with has become nothing but a punching bag for misogyny, even as she is being hounded by the show’s reoccurring sex maniac, Quagmire.
Speaking of Quagmire, he is one of the characters who seemed shocking at first but has become downright boring. This is because society has changed. Quagmire made us laugh early in the show’s run by exposing sexual taboos and hidden attitudes about sexuality. He was a brilliant reflection of society’s sexual repression. However, now that society has become a lot more open about sexuality, Quagmire’s efforts to shock fall flat. The same can be said about Mr. Herbert, the show’s reoccurring elderly pedophile. Early on, his character served the purpose of reminding people—in a rather crude way—that there are people like him in every neighborhood. Now that society is far more aware of this, Mr. Herbert’s role seems redundant. His efforts to “score” with Chris are nothing but shameless provocations.
Perhaps Seth MacFarlane should take tips from South Park’s creators Trey Stone and Matt Parker, who have been able to keep up with the times and constantly create relevant humor. In the recent Season 19, the show mocked political correctness and the era of outrage without offending its viewers. Then again, perhaps MacFarlane doesn’t want to go in that direction since he has realized that Family Guy jumped the shark years ago. It’s quite possible that MacFarlane realizes the only way people will still talk about the show is by creating offensive and grotesque content. He may still bring in revenue, but it is destroying the legacy of what was once the most funny and relevant animated show on television.
Daryl Deino is a writer, actor and civil rights activist who has appeared on shows such as The Untouchables, Parks and Recreation and Two Broke Girls. Besides writing for Observer, he has also written extensively about technology, entertainment and social issues for sites such as the Huffington Post, Yahoo News, Inquisitr and IreTron. Follow him on Twitter: @ddeino.