For well over a decade, The Simpsons has been the one program even marginally safe for families on Fox’s Sunday night lineup. But this fall, the series will trash its own reputation and legacy – by doing a “cross-over” episode with Seth MacFarlane’s graphic and grotesque Family Guy.
While always characterized by sharp, irreverent humor and a satirical perspective, over its more than two decades The Simpsons has also demonstrated a substantial amount of that difficult-to-define quality known as “heart.” No matter how they may frustrate one another, dumb dad Homer, obnoxious brat Bart, brainy Lisa, and the rest have simultaneously served as a satire skewering the traditionally sappy sitcom family, and just as often such a family themselves. Too, the program’s messages about the importance of relating to a wider community have been appreciated by many, as has the show’s clever writing.
In nearly every way, Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy (and its nearly-identical clones American Dad and The Cleveland Show) has been the antithesis of The Simpsons. While both feature a family, there the similarities end. Family Guy cannot be characterized as satire; it is little more than an excuse for toilet humor, gross-out graphic sex gags, and explicit violence. And while The Simpsons has devoted entire episodes to cleverly satirizing pop-culture trends, Family Guy’s version of “satire” consists of quick “cut-aways” which turn popular icons into semi-pornography or worse. In fact, MacFarlane’s shows have often been criticized as being inferior rip-offs of The Simpsons.
But this fall, The Simpsons will begin its 25th season. After 25 years, no doubt Fox is concerned that its longest-running program is no longer sufficiently “edgy”; and, after having paid MacFarlane $100 million for his mean-spirited bigotry and toilet humor, it is certain that Fox wants to get its money’s worth — hence, the forced alliance between the two former rivals. But it is a pity that Fox is so creatively bankrupt that the best idea it can come up with is to trash its one remaining family-friendly Sunday night program.