A lecturer I had at university had a favourite quote of his when discussing the works of Jonathan Swift: “Gulliver’s Travels is the greatest satire ever created – apart from The Simpsons that is”. Pause for laughter as maybe two students would find this amusing. He had a point though: in America satire is in the same kind of rude health as it was in 18th century England. South Park, The Daily Show, even sitcoms like 30 Rock all take perhaps the oldest form of wit and show there is still life in it.

Seth McFarlane’s creations Family Guy and American Dad!  likewise have this vein running through them. However, I feel that the quality of these two shows is now diverging at an alarming rate. Let’s start with what is in my opinion the stronger of the two shows. American Dad! started out very much in Family Guy‘s shadow – the jokes about a Republican father and his wayward family undermining him with various forms of liberalism seemed forced. It also appeared reluctant to dive into the surreal, with no cut-aways and relatively few characters.

Since then though it has found its feet. More minor characters have been added and given extra dimensions so they know longer just appear. Oddities that don’t fit the episode as a whole but still raise a laugh are used as a substitute for the vignettes. Best of all, the overt nature of Stan’s Republicanism has been toned down – the jokes have moved beyond merely his politics, but a range of qualities that make him a 3-d character. It also doesn’t hurt that the writers have given Roger a more obviously psychopathic edge, allowing him to fulfil the Stewie role that he was evidently designed for. Yes, there are still political episodes, but with the characters more rounded and the messages less being bashed around our heads has made them stronger, not weaker.

Family Guy however feels as though it’s time has passed. The politics is laboured and the jokes are at targets that are so obvious it is almost cruel. How I long for the glory days of episodes like ‘PTV’ and ‘Peterotica’. The jokes were never subtle but at least you felt as if the points were being made with a bit of intelligence. Some episodes over the past couple of years should never have been made, not least the domestic violence one.

Indeed, it seems that the tone of Family Guy has become more misogynistic and violent recently. Every woman Brian dates is mocked, and written as an emotionally stunted bimbo. I miss the Brian who actually wanted to fall in love. Now he has become easily the most dislikeable character on the show. Quagmire is a satire of every pervy friend of your Dad’s that existed, whereas Brain is just a sad case of a character who has no story left to tell. And can please not have episodes where people being sliced and diced is the main plotline. It’s tasteless, and worse than that, it’s dull.

Ironically the most violent character of them all is the one that still actually garners the most laughs. Stewie is the saving grace at the moment, being written with intelligence and genuine wit. I would love to see Family Guy get back to what it is good at, basic, family orientated story lines with a bit of edge and inappropriateness, and a sly dig at those that deserve it. All the writers need to do is watch some episodes of American Dad! and they have their inspiration right there.

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