Is it worth revisiting the show after 21 seasons?
We all know Family Guy, and we all love to dunk on it. It’s the blueprint for every raunchy adult animated comedy that has come out since its debut in 1999 (and its return from cancellation in 2004). It’s a crass show that revels in offensive humor, regularly punching down at marginalized groups. But for all of its faults and it’s clear that the writers on Family Guy are very aware of them the show manages to be laugh-out-loud funny at times. With TikTok and YouTube shorts, fans have highlighted the best bits of the show, and I’ve found myself begrudgingly admitting that in 2022, Family Guy is good, actually.
Family Guy is a sitcom starring the Griffin family, and it both plays with and parodies the tropes of sitcoms that came before, especially The Simpsons. Each episode is crafted to be crammed full of as many jokes as possible. Literally everything else plot, characterization, continuity, and logic goes out the window in favor of a quick goof. The show lives or dies based on the strength of these jokes.
The show is in its 21st season, so the writers have had time to figure out which jokes work and which ones don’t — or at the very least, which ones have been driven into the dirt in previous seasons. The constant focus on comedy above all else means the writers are throwing spaghetti at the wall; whatever sticks survives, whereas the jokes that flop end up falling out of the rotation.
But the frequency of these jokes, along with the fact that they exist without context, means that the show is perfect to be carved up and posted in bits and pieces on TikTok, YouTube Shorts, and gifs. The cutaway gags in particular are ripe material for a quick TikTok, and they rack up hundreds of thousands of likes and view counts in the millions. Family Guy’s absurd cutaway gags have aged incredibly well, despite being the target of much mockery (and a very good South Park episode). They fit perfectly into the limited time of a TikTok, no context required. And occasionally, there’s a real treat a Family Guy episode that builds up toward its conclusion, using humorous context built up in previous scenes.
Take the season 21 episode “The Munchurian Candidate,” in which Peter and Lois go to sex therapy and decide to try some hypnosis. The humor of the situation escalates until it goes horribly wrong, culminating in Lois standing in the doorway of her mother’s bedroom and screaming her husband’s name. It’s a moment that went viral on social media by itself based on the strength of Alex Borstein’s voice acting; the rest of the episode reinforces that moment instead of weakening the final climax.
For years, I scorned Family Guy as a terrible show, but seeing clips come up again and again on TikTok slowly won me over. Fans are able to save the best bits of older seasons, showcasing the stuff that genuinely does work into nice, succinct clips. It’s helped me realize that the modern catalog actually has some great episodes I enjoyed watching. There’s still a lot of misses, but that’s to be expected with rapid-fire joke delivery I’m just here to enjoy the hits.