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It’s mostly to do with the fact that family guy is derivative.
Seth McFarland’s Family Guy has been on the air for 19 years. It had a rough start, was briefly canceled and then brought back thanks to its popularity by younger viewers. Family Guy has never had great ratings, but it has earned a loyal following. It has never had the cultural sway of its rival The Simpsons and has never won an Emmy (as compared to The Simpson’s 21). The reason this is the case is fairly obvious, but I thought I would point a few reasons why Family Guy hasn’t won and probably will never win an Emmy.
It’s a Family Guy
The first problem with Family Guy is the level of humor. It’s not as smart or as clever as the Simpson’s. It appeals to a broad audience and doesn’t cater to elitism. Likewise, it features musical numbers, fart jokes, and overt violence. This is not how to win an Emmy. People who have the power to grant awards don’t find that kind of humor funny unless it’s very clever. The Simpsons talks about society and makes a greater point while also being crass. This is what Emmy voters love.
The Family Guy also suffers from being second. When The Simpsons first aired in 1989, it was a new thing. Adult animation, now a massive genre, didn’t exist. Animation was for children. It was the tool of creating immersive worlds, but only for children. Disney was a master of the genre and as the Simpsons went to air for the first time, Disney was at the beginning of its second golden age of the late 1980s and early 1990s when they produced hits like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Family Guy wasn’t the first and doing much of anything. It’s fundamentally derivative.
Family Guy has done things different from the Simpsons, but that has mostly to do with character and plot. Also, the addition of music and musical numbers have definitely helped define the show as different from other shows (including other shows created by Seth McFarland) but at its core, Family Guy never offers us a different picture of the world.
The premise of both shows is the same: fat, stupid husband, attractive wife, and 3 children with various issues. At least Lisa gets to be smart, Meg is known for being told to shut up. If Meg had any intelligence, no one would ever know. She is used in a constant bit of being gross, weird, and decidedly unattractive. Even in their recent COVID-19 PSA, Meg is used to represent the Covid-19 virus. Bart is a brat, but Chris is just nieve and stupid. Chris isn’t clever and has very few ongoing bits like Bart. Stewie is a mad genius, while Maggie hardly ever speaks. Brian is a whole character, Santa’s little helper is a gag, an ongoing gag, but a gag nonetheless. Meanwhile, Brian is a bit of a pretentious asshole, as per Quagmire’s epic speech in season eleven. “And I could forgive all that, but you’re a bore, Brian.” In a recent season, Chris exposes Brian for the pretentious persona he has built that has no basis in reality. The Simpsons wouldn’t take that route.
Peter and Homer are not the same. And why is Brian?
The other problem that Family Guy has is that their characters, even the secondary characters like Joe, Bonnie, Cleveland, Roberta, Quagmire, Herbert, the weird pirate guy, or even the doctor are all far too focused on themselves to think about the world around them. Springfield has been used as a fictional proxy for the real world, and through the politics and society of Springfield we get a mirror to our universe. Quahog offers no such mirror. Even in the years when Adam West played (and voiced) the mayor, we weren’t too savvy with the local politics of Quahog. Quahog was rarely used to show how society could change. One of the exceptions was when Brian convinced the town to legalize marijuana. Even when Brian becomes a republican, and they spend a whole episode in “republican-town” (including the real voice of Rush Limbaugh) it is not a clever show of republican policies in Quahog and how it changes the lives of the characters. It’s a clever musical number. The Simpsons took a different tack on that sort of thing by showing us how the town changes.
Setting and Plot
Springfield is filled with an interesting cast of characters, some of whom, as a popular as the main cast. Who on Family Guy has that kind of appeal? No one except possibly Herbert, the town pedophile, why is that? Because Family Guy focuses far too much on the family angle, we don’t get the same immersive experience as Springfield. We know plenty about the other children at school with Lisa and Bart, but outside of Connie, we know precious little about the other kids in class with Chris and Meg. Family Guy is closer to an animated sitcom with very little else going on. Family Guy keeps a tight focus on the main cast. The Simpsons let a variety of characters have their backstories, their bits, and it creates an entire world. Springfield is a complete universe. Quahog simply can’t compete. While the Simpsons makes clever points and subtle jokes at society, Family Guy simply states the obvious. If the Simpson’s is the cool guy at the party holding a beer and telling funny stories, family guy is the drunk friend who is hitting on his buddy’s wife.
Quahog simply can’t compete with Springfield
Both shows have strong working-class credentials, but family guy makes the mistake of saying the quiet part out loud. Family Guy leans on the cut away segments. The Simpson’s tend to tell a cohesive story. Family Guy is the ugly American of tv shows. It’s loud, boisterous, and ignorant. It’s no secret that The Simpsons boasts pretty elite credentials among its writing staff. There are people who have taken the time to analyze the math problems hidden in the show. Family Guy’s response is nowhere to be found. Family Guy spends time making fun of the elite. Lois’s rich parents are the perfect foil to make fun of the wealthy elite. But they are only caricatures. Peter is proud of his ignorance, but not funnily like Homer; his ignorance is dangerous and is the main driver of the most of the plot. Homer is dumb, that’s why he works at a nuclear power plant. That’s real irony. Peter can’t keep a job and starts out working at a toy factory and later at the Pawtucket Brewery. The people Peter works for are no Mr. Burns. Mr. Burns is the perfect cut out of the wealthy, out of touch, rich person who has no regard for the working classes. Peter ends up having sex with his homely, female boss. There’s just no comparison.
The Simpsons is decidedly about Bart and his various hijinks (which was a season 3 change) and Family Guy keeps the subject of the show changing. Some episodes are about “Brewie” or Brian and Stewie, and still others focus on Chris or (occasionally) Meg. However, most episodes end up centering back on Peter. To some degree, Family Guy is what the Simpsons would have been if they had kept making the show about Homer rather than Bart.
In recent seasons, Family guy has broken the fourth wall and started talking directly to the audience or made it obvious that the characters know that they are on TV. They make fun of themselves and their antics. This is another symptom of the introspection that Family Guy suffers from. The Simpsons live in the world. Family Guy barely leaves home to experience the greater world.
Family Guy Today
Family Guy has noticeably gone downhill since season 9, possibly ten. The days of “road trip to Germany” and “mr. Booze” are long past. The splashy musical numbers are fewer. At some points, the show even makes fun of itself. For what Family Guy is, it’s not even doing that very well. They’ve even taken to begging for an Emmy on air in recent seasons. Can we say cringe?
The Simpsons is into season 34 and only the first think pieces about the show are just now being written about how the show might need an update. When people complain about income inequality, it is The Simpsons that gets cited, not Family Guy. Even other comparable shows like South Park can do a better job. This stands in contrast to South Park, which has continued to achieve laughs well into a 20-year run with movies and specials.
Family Guy really didn’t address Trump. South Park used Trump for great ratings. They spent an entire season on Trump and managed to build it into the story. The Simpsons are well known for “predicting” the future. The effect of Trump on American society was seen on screen. Family Guy just kept going with the same old bits, doing the same old thing. If anything, Brian was made fun of for being anti-Trump without really understanding why. Peter is the perfect foil for the working-class guy who never went to college, barely graduated from high school, and thinks that he’s automatically right about everything. Conversely, Brian is a foil for everything wrong with “liberal elites” and social justice warriors, whom people who identify with Peter hate. But again, the whole thing is obvious. It’s not clever. It doesn’t make you think. Family Guy is a show that requires no thought to get its point across. If The Simpsons can show us a better a world or at least expose the problems with real life, Family Guy is a show that takes a simple attitude: the world is shit so let’s have a beer about it. South Park has been criticized for taking a similar tack in its overt politics. Are political candidates just a giant douche and a shit sandwich? For Family Guy, the answer is to simply not engage at all.
Could Family Guy Win?
I doubt that Family Guy will ever be award-winning television. If The Simpsons took after the Honeymooners, then Family Guy takes after Married with Children. Family Guy just isn’t the sort of show that wins awards. I may be wrong one day. But given that Family Guy isn’t even doing its best bits anymore, I doubt that it will ever win an Emmy. The family is too dysfunctional, and the humor is far too blatant to ever whet the appetites of the average Emmy voter. Family Guy has a different appeal. It has a different idea about the world. Its idea is introspective and not focused on the greater society around us. Family Guy is more like an animated sitcom where the affairs of the outside world just don’t seem to read the characters. The Simpsons are fundamentally a different show; so is South Park. Perhaps the creativity of Seth McFarland is to spread out on too many other shows to bring the proper amount of creativity to Family Guy. Family Guy would have to raise the level of discussion to create the content that would interest the award show voters. Complaining to them on air just isn’t going to do it. Much like Peter Griffin, Family Guy wants something that it didn’t earn just because it showed up. Peter Griffin is a low-effort sort of man and Family Guy, as a show, suffers from the same problem.