Family Guy is the ultimate rise from the ashes television story; after three seasons plagued with time-slot changes and a lack of faith from the FOX network, the show was quietly cancelled in 2002. However, after strong DVD sales and impressive ratings in syndication (as part of Cartoon Network’s then-new Adult Swim block), FOX decided to un-cancel the series, and season 4 premiered in 2005, with new episodes being produced to this day.
One of Family Guy‘s most remarkable traits is its unflinching willingness to push the boundaries of taste, for better or for worse. Sometimes the show’s myriad of genre-defining cutaway gags produces comedy gold, but sometimes it just comes across as lazy and needlessly crude. Either way, the show has constantly been a target of moral guardians like the Parents Television Council and the FCC, but Family Guy wears their scorn as a badge of honor.
Across fifteen seasons and 289 episodes, Family Guy has made jokes about just about every race, religion, ideology, and geographic location, to say nothing of bestiality, domestic violence, sex crimes, and Conway Twitty. Let’s take a look at some moments which really ticked off the powers that be. Here are 15 Times Family Guy Went Way Too Far.
15. Brian Tries To Seduce A Teenage Girl
Brian, the family dog, is a notorious lech, whose outspoken liberalism is often undercut by his inconsiderate nature and shallow lust. In the episode, “Scammed Yankees,” he takes it too far when he develops a skin-deep desire towards Meg’s teenage friend, Patty, who is still in high school.
Brian is only attracted to her because of her shapely body, and is completely uninterested in her as a person. Fortunately, Stewie and Meg both call him out for being gross, and Patty ultimately comes to her senses and rejects Brian. While the dog is often portrayed as shallow and uncaring towards others, this is one of the few times in which he is an outright villain, and the whole situation is just too icky for its own good.
14. The Cosby Show… Knowing What We Know Now
In the episode, “Peter’s Sister,” which aired in November 2015, the cast sits around the television and watches, as the announcer describes it, “The Cosby Show – Knowing What We Know Now.”
What follows is a vicious skewering of the classic ’80s sitcom’s opening credits, with disgraced comedian Bill Cosby dancing around while the entire female cast is clearly drugged and unconscious. Obviously, this is a reference to the numerous allegations against Cosby, in which the erstwhile I Spy star was accused of drugging and sexually assaulting dozens of women in what was reportedly the “worst kept secret in Hollywood.”
This is a case where the animation medium allows satire to be as over-the-top as possible in getting its message across. The point is hammered home with all the subtlety of a nuclear bomb when Peter comments, “I was so busy not seeing color that I didn’t see the raping, either.”
13. Dear Diary: Jackpot
There’s no getting around this fact: Quagmire is a world-class scumbag. The legend goes that Cleveland Brown got his own spin-off instead of Quagmire because the latter is basically a rapist, a caricature of the swinging party animals of the Rat Pack era. That’s probably why he looks so much like Bob Hope.
Quagmire has had a slew of seriously uncomfortable moments, especially in the early years of Family Guy, when he was much more of a predator than merely an unrepentant womanizer. Perhaps his most egregious offense came in the closing moments of Season 3, Episode 14: “Peter Griffin: Husband, Father… Brother?”
Long story short, the episode ends with Quagmire opening a bathroom stall to find a bound and gagged teenage cheerleader. After being momentarily taken aback, Quagmire brandishes a massive smile and muses, “Dear diary: JACKPOT!”
12. Quagmire Murders The Simpsons… All of them.
Speaking of Glenn Quagmire, his most insanely inappropriate moment was considered so beyond the pale, it was actually cut from the original airing of the episode, and it only appeared on the DVD and Adult Swim syndicated re-run.
In a parody of in-show advertisements, Marge Simpson appears in a promo for her show, The Simpsons, which the characters notice and try to ignore. However, things take a turn when Quagmire shows up, and starts getting way too physical with Marge, ultimately chasing her off of the screen.
When they return, she is utterly charmed by his presumed prowess in bed, and invites him to her house for further shenanigans. The scene then cuts to an external view of the Simpsons house, and audio of Homer busting in on the cheating pair. Glenn pulls out a pistol and murders Homer, and then Marge, followed by Bart and Lisa, and finally, baby Maggie. The scene led to Fox forbidding Family Guy and The Simpsons from taking any further jabs at each other.
11. “Quagmire’s Dad”
Creator Seth MacFarlane is an outspoken liberal, so it’s no surprise that, when it comes to morality plays, Family Guy usually sides on the left side of the argument. Seth is also a comedian, so he also takes pride in milking offensive jokes for all they’re worth.
In the case of “Quagmire’s Dad,” many fans felt the show had a little too much fun poking fun of Quagmire’s father’s transformation into a woman. The dehumanizing jokes about the senior Quagmire include making her eat outside and straight-up calling her a “monster.” It doesn’t play like comedy; it just feels unrelentingly cruel to a community that’s already marginalized by society at large. While the show ultimately sides with the trans community, it only does this after having perhaps a little bit too much fun at their expense.
10. “When You Wish Upon A Weinstein”
The first of two “banned episodes” of Family Guy, this was originally intended to be the third season finale, but it was pulled by FOX due to fears of its perceived anti-Semitic bent. In hindsight, the controversy is silly, as the episode is fairly tame by Family Guy standards, and much of the humor is mostly of the good-natured variety.
In “When You Wish Upon A Weinstein,” Peter prays to God for a Jewish person to enter his life and fix his dire financial situation. Almost immediately, he makes friends with a Jewish accountant who turns his life around, with tons of Jewish humor thrown around, including the revelation that Optimus Prime is, in fact, Jewish.
The centerpiece of the episode is the song, “I Need A Jew,” in which Peter wistfully wishes for one of God’s Chosen to enter his life. It ends with the lyric, “Even though you killed my Lord, I need a Jew.” Simultaneously cringe-inducing and knee-slapping, it’s one of Family Guy‘s best musical moments.
9. “Partial Terms of Endearment”
Family Guy‘s second “banned” episode was “Partial Terms of Endearment,” which had originally been scheduled to close out the show’s eighth season. Instead, the episode was given a DVD-only release.
Why was the episode shunned by FOX? Because it was bold enough to dive face-first into the hot-button political topic of modern times, abortion. In the episode, Lois decides to be a surrogate mother to a couple struggling to conceive, but when the couple is suddenly killed in a car crash, Lois must decide whether she is going to have an abortion or carry the fetus to term. The episode ends with Peter bluntly stating, “We had the abortion,” before an abrupt cut to black.
8. Michael J. Fox’s Shakiness
Michael J. Fox is best known for his iconic portrayal of Marty McFly in Back to the Future, but he is also an outspoken advocate for Parkinson’s Disease, with which he has been suffering for decades. The most overt symptom of the illness is uncontrollable shaking, something which Family Guy mined for comedic potential.
In the episode, “Tiegs For Two,” Peter says his shirt was ruined by Michael J. Fox at a wine-tasting party. Rather than the usual cutaway, it instead cuts to Peter with a grey backdrop, explaining the circumstances of Fox’s disease and the poor taste of the joke, but then shows a check, “signed” by Fox… And then he shows the clip anyway. It’s as uncomfortable as it is admittedly hilarious.
Fox himself likely wouldn’t object to the humor in Family Guy; he had fun with his ailment in his side-splitting guest appearance in Curb Your Enthusiasm, in which he uses his Parkinson’s as an excuse for being a jerk to Larry (NSFW language in the link).
7. Herbert The Pervert
Family Guy is packed to the brim with wacky recurring characters, from the Greased Up Deaf Guy to the always-entertaining? Doctor Hartman. Quahog’s most disturbing resident is John Herbert, whose “endearing quirk” is being a straight-up pedophile with an unquenchable lust for Chris Griffin. It’s more than a little unsettling, to say the least.
Herbert is absolutely a “love it or hate it” character, with many decrying the very existence of the weirdly entertaining pedophile. In the episode, “German Guy,” his background as an Air Force prisoner of war is revealed when his Nazi captor, Franz, shows up in Quahog and befriends Chris, and Herbert goes to war to win back his favorite boy. Pedophiles and Nazis? From start to finish, it’s an insanely uncomfortable half-hour of comedy.
6. Terry Schaivo: The Musical
The opening scene of “Peter-Assment” is largely disconnected to the rest of the episode, but it’s memorable for being one of the most tasteless moments ever to be aired on Family Guy. It involves Stewie’s pre-school class putting on a production of Terry Schaivo: The Musical.
The chorus of the song goes, “Terry Schaivo is kind of alive-o,” and makes reference to her “mashed potato brains” before calling her the “most expensive plant you’ll ever see.”
For those who don’t remember, Terry Schaivo was a woman who spent fifteen years in a vegetative state, with her parents fighting with her husband over whether she should be kept on life support or not. Her story made national headlines and sparked debate over “right-to-life” cases. She died on March 31, 2005, fifteen days after having her feeding tube removed, and “Peter-Assment” aired almost five years later, on March 21, 2010.
5. Vote For Lois, Unless…
In “It Takes A Village Idiot, And I Married One,” aired in 2007 as part of Family Guy‘s fifth season, Lois Griffin decides to run for Mayor against Adam West, playing an over-the-top cuckoo version of himself. Her family assists her in her grassroots campaign, but Peter, as usual, winds up doing more harm than good.
His attempt to help his wife backfires when he shows her the shirt he designed. It reads, “Vote for Lois, unless you’re queer. No, wait, even if you’re queer. No Jews, though. Okay, Jews.” The comic timing of the line delivery sells the joke, but out of context, the shirt is just awful!
Peter’s heart is more-or-less in the right place, but he’s just too brainlessly bigoted to actually be of any assistance, simultaneously offending the queer community and the Jewish community while asking for their votes.
4. JFK PEZ Dispenser
Here’s a Family Guy joke that even equal-opportunity offender Seth Macfarlane felt had gone too far. In the Season One episode, “A Hero Sits Next Door,” a police sniper’s shot goes wide; cut to a child exiting a store brandishing a John F. Kennedy PEZ Dispenser, which promptly gets blasted to bits. The boy is saddened, but then he reaches into his pocket and pulls out another PEZ Dispenser, musing, “At least I still have by Bobby Kennedy Pez Dispenser.”
Obviously, this is a reference to the national tragedy that was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, followed by Bobby Kennedy’s assassination in 1968. Later, in the 2010 episode, “Road to the Multiverse,” the infamous Zapruder film which caught JFK’s murder on film, is re-enacted… Only the victim is Mayor McCheese.
3. The AIDS Barbershop Quartet
It’s tough to be the bearer of bad news, but Peter Griffin thought that getting said bad news in the form of a barbershop quartet (actually a quintet in the scene) would be a good idea…
The episode, “The Cleveland-Loretta Quagmire”, features one of the show’s most memorable cutaway gags, in which Doctor Hartman tells a patient at the hospital, “I don’t know how to tell you this… So I’ll let these guys do it!” Enter Peter and his back-up singers, who launch into a spirited rendition of “You Have AIDS,” a cheery song in which the singers tell the condemned man… That he has AIDS. “Not HIV, but Full-Blown AIDS.”
2. Prom Night Dumpster Baby
If Family Guy has a single moment which encapsulates the show’s signature brand of beyond-the-pale humor, it’s the four-word phrase, “Prom Night Dumpster Baby.”
PNDB is apparently based on the story of Melissa Drexler, the teenager who gave birth at the prom and put her baby in the trash before returning to the dance. Family Guy takes the tragic situation and mines it for shocking – but undeniable – comedy.
Poor Prom Night Dumpster Baby sings a bluesy big band tune about not having any parents, swinging his umbilical cord like a dancer’s baton while backed up by other Prom Night Dumpster Babies. With lyrics like “my story isn’t long, but boy, it’s awfully sad,” and “I miss my mom, but she’s at the prom,” this might just be the most jaw-droppingly “how did this get past the censors?!” moment ever shown on Family Guy.
1. Turban Cowboy
“Turban Cowboy,” in which Peter Griffin becomes a terrorist and also happens to drive his car through the Boston Marathon, had the misfortune of airing just a month before the real life Boston Marathon Bombing, which led to the episode being removed from broadcast.
In addition to the unfortunate imagery of mass murder at the Boston Marathon, the episode has Peter joining up with Islamic terrorists, who aim to attack the Quahog Bridge.
Wait… The first Muslim guy Peter befriends turns out to be a terrorist? The episode plays out like some kind of knee-jerk post 9/11 propaganda, but it’s about a decade late to the punch. The episode is big on shock value but languishes on auto-pilot, lessening any satirical impact the show might be trying to deliver, and “Turban Cowboy,” offensive and unfunny, stands as one of Family Guy’s most banal episodes ever. It’s doubly tragic, since the idea is a solid one and could easily have been the blueprint for a great half-hour of television. At least that “Admiral Ackbar!” joke is pretty good.
What do you think? How far is too far? Has Family Guy jumped the shark? What are your favorite risk-taking Family Guy moments? Sound off in the comments!
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