On Wednesday, your friends and bitter enemies here at EW.com will unveil our list of the 25 greatest animated series of all time. The list includes classics from the early days of TV animation, sincere kids’ cartoons which taught you important life lessons, surreal kids’ cartoons that your parents didn’t understand, animated satires, animated musical space westerns, animated fantasies, and whatever Aqua Teen Hunger Force is. But here’s the twist: Instead of ranking these shows, we’re going to ask you readers to cast your vote to decide which animated series is the greatest of them all. You’ll be wrestling with some of the great conflicts in animated TV history. Beavis & Butthead or Ren & Stimpy? Aqua Teen Hunger Force or The Venture Brothers? The Flintstones or The Jetsons? (Just kidding on that last one. The Jetsons will never appear on a list of greatest anything, except for Elroy, whose cold dead eyes and slurry hippie voice certainly earn him a place on the list of Greatest Headache You’ve Ever Been Given by a Character on Television.)
Still, no animated feud has ever matched the neverending battle between two apparently-immortal Fox comedies about American families who spend their days deconstructing a broad swath of the history of pop culture. It’s time to revisit the age-old contest, people: Is The Simpsons still better than Family Guy?
I’m not asking this lightly. I’ve been a Simpsons partisan from Day One: I can remember watching the series premiere of Family Guy after the 1999 Super Bowl and being maddeningly unimpressed. Of course, The Simpsons famously took time to find its groove, and it’s always silly to judge a show based purely on its first episode. Like a lot of people, I discovered Family Guy on DVD after the show had already been canceled; like a lot of people, I spent an embarrassing stretch of 2002-2004 making “Peter hurt his knee” sounds with my friends; like a lot of people, I watched with initial fascination, and then horror, as Family Guy returned, achieved tremendous commercial success, and inspired two spin-offs.
I never liked the new Family Guy as much as the original run of episodes. And there are plenty of people who feel the same way. In fact, the last decade has seen the slow growth of a kind of anti-Family Guy cult. The flashpoint was probably “Cartoon Wars,” the epic South Park two-parter which portrayed the Family Guy writers as manatees adrift in a pool filled with randomly assorted idea balls. Trey Parker and Matt Stone told the libertarian monthly magazine Reason that the writers from King of the Hill and The Simpsons both cheered them on. Thus, the narrative was set in stone: The Simpsons is the god among animated series, beloved even by its rivals, whereas Family Guy is the cartoon anti-Christ.
The one problem with that narrative is that The Simpsons hasn’t been truly good in a very, very long time. A pessimist would note that it has now been bad for much, much longer than it was good. Even an optimist has to admit that the show has fallen back on far too many tropes: Homer gets a crazy job; a celebrity guest-star voices a character who’s only funny because they’re voiced by a celebrity; “The Simpsons are going to Delaware!” Meanwhile, Family Guy is ending its first decade in a spirit of occasional experimentation – one episode last season famously turned away from the show’s cutaway comedy style, and instead featured Stewie and Brian in what amounted to an animated one-act play.
The Simpsons’ great years are unimpeachable – the show so completely recreated the television landscape that it pushed the boundaries of the whole art form. Last year, EW named Homer Simpson the greatest character of the last 20 years. You can see its influence everywhere. But does “influence” justify years of mediocrity? And, conversely, is there an argument to be made for Family Guy’s pure kinetic energy?
What do you think, PopWatchers? Have your views on the great Family Guy/Simpsons conflict changed?
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich
‘Family Guy’ season finale: Shouldn’t the worst movie of the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy make the best spoof?
Will ‘The Simpsons’ still be funny when no one gets the references?
‘The Simpsons:’ 20 Years of Great Guest Stars