[This is a review of Family Guy season 13, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
There is this odd need to create grudge matches where they don’t always need to exist. The Marvel vs. DC battle is a great example - I’ll never understand why people root for one and root against the other. The same thing can be said for the The Simpsons/Family Guy rivalry.
It would be silly to believe that there are only Simpsons fans or Family Guy fans and no one in between who likes both shows. With “The Simpsons Guy” hour long crossover episode, however, the Family Guy creative team (in consultation with The Simpsons team) passed on the chance to embrace centrism and instead celebrated that supposed rift in a crass and bloated episode that felt far too self-referential for its own good - much less, the good of its audience.
In the episode, which served as the first episode of Family Guy’s 13th season, Peter launches a daily comic strip called “For Pete’s Sake”. Quickly and unsurprisingly, the strips become controversial as Peter jokes about domestic violence in one, prompting the writers to poke fun at internet outrage, perhaps in preparation for their turn on that wheel of pain from a joke that appears later in this episode.
With discontentment growing and bricks flying through the window of The Griffin’s home, the family quickly vacates and takes to the road. Unfortunately, their car is stolen mid-trip and the Griffin’s find themselves stuck in Springfield. While one can pick at the story, the familiar Springfield locales and the sights of this episode are laudable. These two distinct visual styles come together with relative ease in this episode.
At the Kwik-E-Mart, the Griffins are hypnotized by donuts and saved by Homer Simpson, who buys them donuts. In no time, the Simpson family is hosting the Griffin clan and the most similar characters are paired off to interact with another - for our (supposed) delight.
In Bart Simpson, Stewie finds another rebel type to look up to, but soon we see that Bart doesn’t have the dark edge that Stewie does. This is on display at episode’s end when Bart is “freaked out” by Stewie’s effort to kidnap Nelson (and others); but the divide is most profound when Bart and Stewie do the “prank call” bit and Stewie calls Moe’s bar to tell Moe that his sister is being raped - a line that generated ample controversy even before the show aired. Was this remark meant to solely illustrate how much more sinister Stewie is than Bart, or is it a way for the Family Guy creative team to poke the bear and pay-off their earlier set-up about internet outrage with a demonstration? A cynical read assumes that it’s a bit of both, but that’s just a guess.
With Lisa and Meg, things are a little more tame, but they earn a lot less screen time. Lisa is presented as an achiever and Meg is shown as someone with very low self-esteem who she wants to help. Brian, on the other hand, isn’t really given a partner in crime or a project, so much as he is simply relegated to the kitchen to eat with the Simpson’s dog before losing Santa’s Little Helper in a pointless side-story.
Lois and Marge also get the short end of the stick story-wise, popping up to needle their husbands and be a little catty toward each other. Their small footprints on this story stand-out as one of the bigger disappointments, because for the most part, this really is the Homer and Peter Griffin show.
The two dim dads try to track down Peter’s missing car by throwing a free car wash for stolen cars. What follows is a very Family Guy kind of joke that sees the portly cartoon characters soaping themselves up while wearing short shorts and tied-off shirts. This follows a joke about Homer and Peter inadvertently making an adult film that involves their effort to “think like a car” and a gas pump. I want to remind you that the Simpsons creative team did sign off on this.
Eventually, Peter’s car shows up and when the two go to celebrate their triumph at Moe’s, conflict arises when Homer’s favored Duff beer and Peter’s Pawtucket Pat - used as metaphors for the two shows - lead the pair to fight about which "beer" is superior.
Naturally, the spat quickly moves to a courtroom, where a lawyer for Duff is suing Peter as a representative of Pawtucket Pat Ale for copyright infringement while complaining that Pawtucket Pat is a cheap copy of Duff (with various side characters from both shows beside a character with a shared trait, looking on). When a verdict is immediately reached, the judge is Fred Flintstone (the original animated sitcom dad and a copy of Ralph Kramden), who says that both “beers” are a rip-off of his favorite beer, Budrock, but that he’s still going to rule in favor of Duff.
Dejected, Peter and his family pack to go home to the unemployment line now that the brewery is closing. However, before they can leave Springfield, Homer tries to make amends, only to be once again told how he’s “over the Simpsons. The Simpsons suck!”, sparking an eight minute fight between the two characters. Eight.
In this midst of this bout, Peter and Homer exchange blows on the streets of Springfield, at the Nuclear Power Plant (where they fall into a pool of nuclear waste to gain super strength and the ability to fly), into the sky, in space (where they encounter Kang, Kodos and Roger from American Dad in their flying saucer) and then back to Earth after a failed attempt to cross the Springfield gorge and a fight within the gorge.
Brutal, epic, well-produced and over-long, Homer and Peter walk out of their battle with peace at hand before the Griffins return home to the dissipated outrage over Peter’s comic strip and the brewery still in operation. It’s an ending. Not a good one, just an ending.
While you may disagree, I can’t help but view this as a forgettable chapter in the long and illustrious histories of both shows. Rather than delight the fans with more than a few hollow bits of fan service, the creative teams opted to focus on “inside baseball” and that which makes these shows similar (and people’s reactions to those similarities, and making fun of those reactions and lecturing us on why those similarities are okay) rather than on merging what makes these shows unique to create something that was truly special. What a missed opportunity.
The Simpsons and Family Guy air Sundays on FOX @8PM ET and 9PM ET, respectively.