Remember Family Guy? Fifteen-odd years in the past, the Seth MacFarlane-created animated sitcom gave the impression to be all over the place. After The Simpsons had revolutionised the prospects of TV animation in the Nineties, Family Guy went one step additional. This was The Simpsons’ grubby little brother. The animation was cheap-looking, the storytelling flimsy and artless, and the jokes had been loudly, proudly crass. Racist jokes, homophobic jokes, transphobic jokes, ablist jokes, jokes about rape, about paedophilia; nothing was off the desk. It gained a lot of followers – particularly inside the younger male demographic – however a lot of detractors, too, inciting quite a few controversies with its shock-factor materials. In some ways, Family Guy represented the worst impulses of an era when pushing again in opposition to “PC culture” was thought of a cutting-edge comedian sensibility.
But there comes a time when each provocateur should meet a reckoning, when each enfant horrible should face trial as a horrible grownup. The needle of consensus swings, and jokes that when had been hailed as edgy, or outspoken, are discovered to be, on nearer reinspection, offensive, or ill-informed, or just unfunny. Some collection get off with a rap on the knuckles – Friends’ penchant for homophobia hasn’t put a dent in its reputation – whereas others have been yeeted into whole exile, reminiscent of Family Guy’s erstwhile bad-taste up to date Little Britain. And but, subsequent Wednesday, on Disney Plus in the UK, Family Guy begins its twentieth season, with a twenty first already in the pipeline. You can’t assist however ask: how has it managed to outlive so lengthy in an era of supposedly enforced political correctness?
Well, to some extent, Family Guy has modified with the occasions, guaranteeing concessions to our altering social requirements of acceptability. The function of Peter Griffin’s Black buddy Cleveland Brown was just lately recast, for occasion, with Arif Zahir stepping in to interchange white actor Mike Henry. The character of Quagmire, depicted all through a lot of the present’s run as a lascivious intercourse offender, was tweaked in current seasons, accentuating his different, considerably much less problematic traits. The 2019 episode “Trump Guy” made headlines not simply for its bullish assault on then-president Donald Trump – that includes a scene in which he sexually assaults the Griffins’ daughter, Meg – but in addition for the suggestion that it was dialling again homophobic jokes. “Many children have learnt their favourite Jewish, Black, and gay jokes by watching your show over the years,” the cartoon Trump tells Peter in the episode. “In fairness, we’ve been trying to phase out the gay stuff,” he replies, an utterance that was celebrated in the press as an announcement of tolerant intent.
Family Guy didn’t “phase out the gay stuff”, not likely (Peter even admits in a later episode: “That quote was taken out of context and widely misunderstood”). Nor did it significantly part out the racism, ableism, and sexism that make up such a big half of the present. But it’d be unsuitable to recommend it has learnt nothing. Exec-producer Alec Sulkin advised TV Line two years in the past: “If you look at a show from 2005 or 2006 and put it side-by-side with a show from 2018 or 2019, they’re going to have a few differences. Some of the things we felt comfortable saying and joking about back then, we now understand is not acceptable.”
Still, some of the jokes that the present feels “comfortable” about making now nonetheless really feel like reactionary outrage-baiting. The 2019 episode “Bri-da” featured a quantity of crass jokes about transgender folks; the 2017 episode “Trans-fat”, which noticed Peter Griffin fake to be trans to achieve social benefits, contained equally objectionable jokes.
One of the arguments used to defend the politically incorrect humour in Family Guy, and in different dangerous style comedies, is that it’s satirical: “depiction is not endorsement”. Of course, this argument by no means actually holds up in Family Guy’s case; the “satire” right here is normally paper-thin. Even if the character of Mort Goldstein is in truth “satirising antisemitism”, the satire is indistinguishable from antisemitism itself. Besides, even when the present itself isn’t basically approaching its materials from a right-wing viewpoint – MacFarlane is a serious donor to the Democratic Party, and a few of the present’s writers are vocally liberal – a very good quantity of its viewers are. When “Trans-fat” first aired, a subset of Family Guy followers lambasted the collection on social media for supposedly capitulating to PC tradition, due to an ending in which Peter Griffin apologises for mocking trans folks.
Family Guy’s enduring survival could possibly be right down to a gradual maturation in different areas. The animation, a full-blown eyesore in its early days, has improved ten-fold. Increasingly, the humour has scaled again the frenzied, puerile cutaway gags, and more and more takes a extra self-aware tone. More dangers are taken, too, with its format, reminiscent of a complete episode dedicated to a faux in-universe DVD commentary, or a triptych emulating the filmmaking aesthetics of Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson and Michael Bay. This long-term inventive stamina is nothing to be scoffed at: by its personal twentieth season, The Simpsons was over a decade previous its peak and had already misplaced all hint of what made it such a monumental piece of TV. Regardless, Family Guy’s viewing figures have declined considerably over the years, at the least on conventional TV. In 2000, and 2002, Family Guy was twice cancelled by Fox for low viewership scores, earlier than being revived resulting from excessive DVD gross sales and the reputation of Adult Swim re-runs. Now, it attracts lower than half of what it did at its lowest pre-cancellation ebb. Maybe there simply aren’t sufficient folks nonetheless watching to essentially domesticate a lot offence.
All of these elements could also be overlooking the apparent reply. Family Guy hasn’t been hogtied by the PC police, run out of city on a rail, as a result of the PC brigade doesn’t actually exist. For all the speak of being “unable to say anything anymore”, the truth is you can, by and huge, say no matter the hell you need. Dave Chappelle complains about being “cancelled” for his jokes about trans folks, however he’s nonetheless given high-profile Netflix specials. There’s a spot in the market for bad-taste comedy, and Family Guy is dutifully filling that gap. It’s a present that prides itself on saying the unsayable. Thankfully for most individuals, what it’s actually saying is the simply ignorable.
‘Family Guy’ season 20 begins on Disney Plus in the UK and Ireland on 3 November