In the modern era, US television has established itself as the undisputed master of animated comedy. It has brought us so many loveable, crude and memorable comic creations. This particularly applies to two characters, who each spearhead their own dysfunctional families in their respective shows, becoming international TV icons in the process. One is an incompetent, violent, idiotic and lazy alcoholic father. The other is an incompetent, violent, idiotic and lazy alcoholic father but slightly more offensive. Apart from skin colour, Homer Simpson from The Simpsons and Peter Griffin from Family Guy are arguably almost identical. Now imagine what would happen if these two men were to meet, say by chance, in a 40 minute crossover episode. Two cartoon worlds colliding, working in cohesion after years of sniping and accusations of plagiarism levelled at the later Family Guy, by the 25 year old Simpsons institution. As Stewie Griffin would say ‘What the deuce?’
In television these days, we rarely see the crossover episode because it has notorious flaws. Which show takes the lead in the episode? How do you balance the episode so that each show is equally allowed to shine? How do you concoct a story that explains why the two shows have met? It was a bold move on the part of creators Matt Groening (The Simpsons) and Seth Macfarlane (Family Guy) to join forces for this undertaking, at a time in which both shows have seen their Golden Ages disappear into history. The episode has hugely divided opinion among fans worldwide, some calling it ‘eeexxxcellent’ as Mr Burns would say, others arguing it was the last desperate cynical money grabbing breaths of two dying TV shows.
First and foremost, this episode was the premiere for Season 13 of Family Guy, therefore it is that show’s humour that dominates this episode. The result is a ruder, more extreme Simpsons, with jokes about paedophilia from the mouth of Bart Simpson, a ridiculous yet hilarious joke about pornography involving a gas pump, gory violence and jokes about self-harm broadly on display. I love Family Guy for their irreverent take on every aspect of life but as a child of the 90s growing up watching The Simpsons, I confess it was odd seeing this style seep into Springfield. The Simpsons made its name being a show which could both have children in hysterics through silly catchphrases and slapstick and also have older audiences chuckling along at subtle adult jokes which passed by their oblivious kids. In this crossover, it was evidently clear this was not one for the kids.
The storyline was a clever premise that made perfect sense considering the relationship between the two shows. At Moe’s, Peter Griffin discovers his beloved Pawtucket Ale, is essentially Duff with a different label slapped on it, to which Homer sneers ‘it’s just some lousy rip-off’. Clue readers, it’s a huge signposted metaphor for the running joke throughout the episode. I loved this idea but I felt writer Richard Appel dwelled too much on the novelty of reminding the viewers that this was a crossover, which led to characters being underused. I would have loved to see more bitchy exchanges between Marge and Lois, while Meg and Lisa’s sidestory was just boring, unless Peter was telling Meg she was worthless. Some big names were missing altogether. Wouldn’t we all have loved to what Peter Griffin would have made of neighbourino Ned Flanders? What about having a meeting of evil minds between Stewie and Mr Burns? There were some missed opportunities but admittedly you can’t fit two long running established carton worlds into a 40 minute special.
However there was lots to love about this episode too. Each show endeavoured to use its best running jokes, ‘Shut up Meg’, Homer strangling people, Cleveland saying ‘No no no no no nooooooo!’ Homer’s love of doughnuts or doomed jumps across the Springfield Gorge, these gags worked. The court room scene was a nice touch, in which many characters from each show were sat next to their own ‘pale imitations, cheap copies, clumsy counterfeits and weak substitutions’ to reveal the true extent of the influence The Simpsons has had in creating Family Guy.
Although some character relationships did not entirely work, the dynamic between cheeky miscreant Bart Simpson and the megalomaniac supervillain baby, Stewie Griffin was a clear success. Stewie, often the strongest character in Family Guy, excelled in his brilliantly OTT devotion to Bart, taking all of his words to heart, some more literally than others (‘Eat my shorts’ takes another meaning in the episode for an unfortunate bully). His extreme evil, sarcastic wit and propensity for torture even had Bart telling him he was too much. Brian’s disgust with Santa’s Little Helper was an amusing side note as well as his continuing love hate relationship with Stewie on display strongly , a comedy cornerstone of Family Guy.
However when talking about character interactions, there was only one that would define the episode; the relationship between Homer and Peter. Personally, I thought it was a triumph. From Homer introducing Peter to his much loved doughnuts, to Peter explaining the concept of cutaways, this was an inspired pairing. Both act so ridiculously immature and stupid, they make this episode work. The writers were clever to show them as friends but also as enemies; no more so than in the episode’s spectacular climax; a monumental chicken fight between Peter and Homer. A fight that saw buildings flattened, both protagonists acquire nuclear superpowers, large parts of Springfield destroyed, a spaceship crash land in Springfield Gorge (with an enjoyable cameo from Kang & Kodos and Roger from American Dad) and a comically incredible tolerance for pain by both men. It was the spectacle that fans of either show wanted to see.
So my verdict of the episode is this. The episode is good. It ticks all the boxes for what a crossover episode should do far more capably than previous offerings in US Television. By no means is it the best episode of Family Guy I have ever seen, or The Simpsons for that matter. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable novelty that proved that both of these comedy giants are not dead yet and now have the opportunity to perhaps recapture past glories.