Family Guy is one of the most divisive shows on the air. There are some people who love it and others who hate it. It’s been through various stages. Before it was canceled, it was merely a Simpsons knockoff. Then after it was brought back, it became an absurdist delight that focused on humor and non-sequiturs and gags over storytelling.
But now, it’s moved into a postmodern, self-aware phase where it gets away with being lazy by pointing out its own laziness. Naturally, there have been both ups and downs. So, here are The 5 Best (And 5 Worst) Episodes Of Family Guy.
As a ratings grab, Fox made Seth MacFarlane do a hurricane episode of all of his shows. The hurricane episodes of American Dad! and The Cleveland Show weren’t great, but they were better than Family Guy’s cop-out “Seahorse Seashell Party.” It seemed as though the episode wasn’t even trying to be funny.
There’s some interesting animation in the sequences where Brian takes shrooms and hallucinates, but there’s no substance to the storyline. And the B-plot is even worse, with Meg pushing back against the abuse she gets from her family. It’s never great when Family Guy tries to get “serious,” and this is a whole episode of “serious” moments.
There’s something to enjoy in all of Brian and Stewie’s “Road to...” adventures, but none more than the one in which they visit a dozen parallel universes. This is like a Rick and Morty interdimensional cable episode before Rick and Morty was even a thing.
Unlike a lot of Family Guy episodes, this one has an actual storyline and stakes and conflict. And it doesn’t sacrifice any of the jokes or sight gags for it. Even Seth MacFarlane himself said, “Road to the Multiverse” would be “up there” as a candidate for “the all-around best episode” of the entire series.
There’s plenty of mean-spirited humor in Family Guy, but it usually lands. In the case of “Quagmire’s Dad,” the mark is missed by a mile. The story involves Quagmire’s dad announcing to him that she identifies as female and wants to transition.
Obviously, Family Guy wouldn’t tackle a premise like this delicately, but it didn’t have to go so bigoted and offensive with it. It has all the same tired transphobic jokes that have been told again and again. When Brian sleeps with her and then finds out she’s Quagmire’s father, he throws up for an uninterrupted couple of minutes.
“North by North Quahog” was Family Guy’s big return after being initially canceled and then finding a cult audience on Adult Swim. The Adult Swim viewers had responded to the pop culture references and the dark humor, and not so much to the family dynamic and the elements stolen from The Simpsons, so this episode marked a change in Family Guy’s style.
Stewie goes from diabolical, matricidal overlord to camp genius; Brian goes from quick-witted voice of reason to liberal douche; Lois goes from nagging wife to getting in just as many crazy situations as Peter; and Family Guy goes from good show to great show.
In this episode, Peter discovers that he’s won a competition, which allows him to play a round of golf with a celebrity of his choosing – and he chooses O.J. Simpson, being completely unaware of his infamous murder trial. The O.J. Simpson trial was the biggest news story of the 1990s and it was ripe for satire, but this episode aired in 2009.
The jokes had all already been told before, over a decade earlier. Whoever decided on this as the topic of an episode knows nothing about current affairs. A show like Family Guy can be forgiven for being completely current, because making an episode takes about six months, but surely it can be more current than making the same jokes people were making in the ‘90s.
You won’t be convinced that “And Then There Were Fewer” was written by Agatha Christie, but by Family Guy standards, this is engaging, twisty storytelling. With slickly rendered crashing waves in the background of all the exterior shots and sumptuously gloomy lighting in all the interior shots, this is gorgeous, cinematic animation.
There are genuinely frightening moments in this episode, thanks to Walter Murphy’s Emmy-nominated musical score and Cherry Chevapravatdumrong’s script. “And Then There Were Fewer” is a truly gripping murder mystery story, and yet it doesn’t lose sight of the comedy, as it has plenty of classic Peter moments.
Don’t watch this one with dinner. Sometimes Family Guy mistakes disgusting imagery for sight gags. There’s nothing funny about Brian’s very detailed herpes sores or the pus that explodes out of the sore on Stewie’s lip. Plus, the storyline of Brian giving herpes to both Chris and Stewie is just gross, and exposes Brian as an even more terrible person (or dog) than we thought.
Stewie asked him to do the whole “blood brother” thing and Brian agreed to do it. There’s no way he forgot about the herpes – so he just knowingly gave an incurable STD to a baby.
Made in response to the uproar surrounding Janet Jackson’s nip-slip at a Super Bowl halftime show, “PTV” is a sly, sardonic, self-aware jab at the censors who constantly criticize Family Guy for its crude humor, bad language, graphic violence, and sexual content.
Peter starts his own TV network so he can put all the crude humor, bad language, graphic violence, and sexual content he wants on TV without the censors getting in the way of it. A lot of the episode is score-settling by Family Guy in response to years of backlash, but still, it’s a joy to watch.
Family Guy is usually pretty good at making uncomfortable or insensitive subjects funny, but “Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q” fails resoundingly to do that. It’s about Quagmire’s sister, who is horrifically abused by her husband, and the humor is supposed to come from how uncomfortable the very loud and very violent abuse makes Peter and Lois.
But however it’s spun or whatever the target is, there’s simply no way that domestic violence can be funny. This episode doesn’t even really have its heart in the right place – it seems to trivialize domestic abuse by making Quagmire’s sister the butt of the joke.
“Blue Harvest” is the first and best of the three Star Wars specials. This one follows the plot of A New Hope and has all the best jokes in. The best thing about Family Guy is its humor and pop culture references. It certainly isn’t the characters, because their identities and relationships are very loosely defined, with the writers simply fitting them into whatever plot they come up with.
That process worked perfectly for “Blue Harvest,” where the writers just assigned Family Guy characters to Star Wars characters and brought on the jokes. On paper, it sounds like a crazy idea, but it works fantastically.