There’s a hilarious meta moment in Family Guy where Peter comes into his house feeling more than a little the worse for wear, collapses onto his bed, and says, “We act like we didn't take a lot from The Simpsons, but we took a lot from The Simpsons.” As with all great jokes, there’s some truth to this.
When Family Guy first hit the airwaves in the late ‘90s, some critics immediately dismissed it as an inferior clone of Matt Groening’s timeless animated classic, and in many ways – at least in the early seasons – that was the case to an extent. However, the show has since taken measures to break out on its own and establish a unique tone. Let's take a look at some things that the show did copy from The Simpsons, and others that are uniquely Family Guy's own.
10 Copied from The Simpsons: Blue-collar dad
The most obvious comparison to draw between The Simpsons and Family Guy is that they have basically the same lead character: an silly, beer-swilling, blue-collar suburban father. Peter Griffin might wear glasses and have a full head of hair to distinguish him physically from Homer Simpson (who has changed quite a lot visually himself since the early days), but he’s still essentially the same character.
They’re both overweight, they both wear white shirts, they both have a bad temper, they both have menial jobs that they’re unqualified for, and they both drink a certain brand of beer at a certain bar every night. Homer’s influence on Peter’s creation is simply undeniable.
9 Sets it apart: Pitch-black comedy
By its third or fourth season, following its cancelation and subsequent revival, Family Guy started differentiating itself from The Simpsons by becoming the dark alternative to the show whose shadow it occupied. This meant more offensive and shocking humor, which has sort of made it – at least tonally – a sort of middle ground between the family antics of The Simpsons and the shock value of South Park.
Family Guy doesn’t put plot or character development ahead of shock humor – above all, it seems, it strives to offend.
8 Copied from The Simpsons: Three kids
In both The Simpsons and Family Guy, the families in question have three kids. Homer and Marge have Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, with Bart being the oldest at ten, Lisa being the middle child at eight, and Maggie being the youngest as a baby.
Meanwhile, Peter and Lois have Meg, Chris, and Stewie, with Meg being the oldest at 18, Chris being the middle child at 14, and Stewie being the youngest as a baby. There are differences – swapping which gender is the oldest child and which gender the baby is – but they’re not enough to make Family Guy truly stand apart.
7 Sets it apart: The dog and the baby can both talk
Unlike The Simpsons, the family dog and the baby in Family Guy can talk. Whereas Maggie famously never speaks a word and Santa’s Little Helper is just a regular dog, the Griffins’ baby Stewie and their pet dog Brian are both anthropomorphic (although exactly which characters can understand Stewie is up for debate).
Stewie is an under-appreciated genius who has discovered both time travel and inter-dimensional travel, while Brian pursues a writing career despite repeated failure. They’ve also become one of the show’s most endearing duos – there’s even a series of special episodes (“Road to...”) dedicated to their adventures.
6 Copied from The Simpsons: A town filled with zany recurring characters
Like The Simpsons, Family Guy is set in a fictional town that is populated by an abundance of wacky supporting characters who recur on the show. In fact, Quahog has characters that adhere to the same stereotypes as Springfield does.
Just as Springfield has an evil wealthy industrialist (Mr. Burns), Quahog has an evil wealthy industrialist (Carter Pewterschmidt). Just as Springfield has a self-obsessed local newscaster (Kent Brockman), Quahog has a self-obsessed local newscaster (Tom Tucker). Just as Springfield has an incompetent doctor (Dr. Nick Riviera), Quahog has an incompetent doctor (Dr. Elmer Hartman). Even Seamus and the Sea Captain are both nautical-related characters – that’s so obscure!
5 Sets it apart: The Griffins don’t really love each other
While the Simpson family feels like a real family with real relationships and people who really care about each other – from Homer trying to connect with Lisa despite his inability to really communicate with her to Marge ultimately loving Bart as her “special little guy” despite his many wrongdoings – the writers of Family Guy have gone out of their way to depict the Griffins as dysfunctional to the extreme.
Everyone treats Meg like dirt, Stewie sincerely wants to murder Lois, and Peter has openly said on multiple occasions that: a) he’s no longer in love with Lois and has cheated on her, and b) he doesn’t like his kids that much.
4 Copied from The Simpsons: Constantly making fun of Fox
The Fox network was the fledgling new kid on the block when The Simpsons swooped in to yank it up into the big leagues. There’s a reason why the Fox lot in Hollywood is filled with billboards and landscaped shrubbery modeled after characters and iconography from The Simpsons. Without The Simpsons, there would be no Fox network.
Over the years, The Simpsons hasn’t been as kind to its home, constantly making jokes at the expense of Fox, Fox News, Fox & Friends, and Rupert Murdoch. Family Guy has also made fun of Fox, making a lot of the same jokes as The Simpsons, but with less subtlety.
3 Sets it apart: Cutaway gags
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Family Guy’s signature cutaway gags have helped to give the show an identity of its own. They make Family Guy a sort of blend between a sitcom and a sketch show. It could be argued that Family Guy uses its cutaway gags as a crutch.
If the writers can cut to a non-sequitur at any given moment, then they don’t get too invested in the actual story at hand, and neither does the audience. But a lot of those cutaway gags are hilarious standalone moments, so you still get the laughs.
2 Copied from The Simpsons: A put-upon mom who does most of the work
In addition to Peter Griffin being a clone of Homer Simpson, Lois Griffin is pretty much a clone of Marge Simpson. She’s a housewife who does far more child-rearing than her husband.
Just as Peter has perhaps devolved into a dark alternative to Homer over the years, Lois has devolved into a dark alternative to Marge, with a focus on her lack of care for other people in general.
1 Sets it apart: Self-awareness
At the very least, Family Guy is aware that it is a rip-off of The Simpsons. It’s aware that it relies too much on cutaway gags. It’s aware that it often uses pop culture references in place of jokes.
Rather than rectify these issues, calling attention to them has become one of the hallmarks of the show. After its wild heights of popularity in the 2000s, it’s transitioned into a new era in the past few years, where it’s sort of a postmodern take on what it used to be.