The Simpsons & the One-Trick Pony

So last night was the the hyped Simpsons-Family Guy crossover show. The husband wanted to watch it, so I paused my writing and we settled in on the couch. I mean, we’ve been watching The Simpsons off and on for our entire marriage and, well, for more than half our lives. The Simpsons first came on when I was in middle school. And, yeah, some episodes weren’t all that great, some were funnier than others, but oddly enough, even though the characters haven’t aged, they’re grown and changed over the years while remaining true enough to their original sketches. Lisa Simpson is bossy and smart, but she’s insecure and caring. Bart Simpson is a bully sometimes who is also bullied, who’s not so bright in class, but he’s clever in his schemes and the problems that arise from his and the family’s adventures. Homer is the king of saying dumb things, but he almost always figures out when he’s hurt someone and tries to fix it–the episode when he has to come to terms with Lisa’s vegetarianism (and her coming to terms with her dad’s meat-eating) comes to mind.

Family Guy on the other hand, I find…just not funny and mostly downright unpleasant. When it comes on, I find my face automatically assuming that expression you make when you bite into something terrible — like a diarrhea sandwich. It’s had a few moments — always between Brian and Stewie as their adventures are about the only time Stewie isn’t actively promoting matricide or threatening his sister or some other random female character — but overall, it just feels tired and dated. It feels like the same kind of “domestic abuse is funny” mentality that fueled jokes in The Honeymooners and various sixties and seventies sitcoms. Every episode is an endless parade of rape jokes (there’s a whole character that’s a rapist played for laughs), anti-women jokes, matricide jokes, and healthy number of race jokes, handicap jokes, and child rape jokes.

The crossover episode put the husband to sleep. It left me feeling like I’d spent an hour watching Seth MacFarlane’s therapy session. And I felt like I should send him an invoice and a list of suggestions for better handling his insecurities. The whole thing starts out with Peter writing comics labeling dead women as broken dishwashers and being run out of town for being a misogynist. The outrage against this comic is presented as a joke — who’d take such things seriously, ha ha ha? — except that that mentality is what makes certain people think it’s okay to abuse women as objects, like sex toys or dishwashers. (I think frequently the outrage isn’t so much against a joke or a comic itself, but against the culture that perpetuates the idea of the joke, that stamps it as not only “funny” but “acceptable” and “normal.” I just don’t think the outrage is always good at expressing that difference.)

From there, it’s a series of various levels of rape jokes, “look how clever we are for making fun of crossover episode” jokes, and jabs at The Simpsons for being old and stale and having more Emmy awards. What really stood out — and I’m fairly certain it was supposed to but I’m not sure why anyone thought it’d be a good idea to highlight it — was the difference between Lisa and Meg. Lisa (who over the years has sometimes been mocked by her father until he grasps that the things that are important to her need to be important to him, too because she’s important to him) attempts to prop up Meg’s self esteem only to witness the verbal abuse that is her father’s sole form of communication with her.

It’s also worth nothing that Chris has so little characterization of his own that he apparently couldn’t stand up to Bart and had to hang out with Brian the whole episode to give him a reason to exist and that even “bad boy” Bart Simpson came to see Stewie as a dangerous sociopath. I mean, maybe this is supposed to illustrate how out of touch the “stodgy” Simpsons family has become compared to the levels of modern violence we’re capable of inflicting, but since the ads for the news following the show kept highlighting the shooting of fifteen teenagers at an all-ages club, maybe Bart’s slingshot isn’t such a bad thing.


4 thoughts on “The Simpsons & the One-Trick Pony

  1. nelizadrew says:

    Somewhat related, I was just commenting to the husband the other day, that while I hated South Park when it first started out — he’s always been a fan — that over the years, they’ve evolved beyond the initial sophomore humor. While I don’t agree with everything they do, and don’t have to, the fact that they have more than one joke, that they don’t appear to have any sacred cows, that they often use tropes and stereotypes as a way of exposing them or twisting them rather than as cheap and easy jokes, makes me appreciate the show more now.

  2. Thomas Pluck says:

    Seth McFarlane is just frat boy humor with an associate’s degree in English Lit and old movies.
    South Park is brutally brilliant at times, the Simpsons may not be as subversive as it used to be, but at least it has heart.
    A Bob’s Burgers crossover might make more sense.
    I didn’t watch it. I watched some Family Guy back in the day but it got very old very quick and yes, the “ironic” race and rape jokes are just not funny.

  3. Chris La Tray says:

    The first few times I saw Family Guy it amused me. As I watched though, I came to realize just how flat-out MEAN it is, and came to hate it. Then I learned of this “Seth MacFarlane” friggin’ guy and hated everything he’s involved with. When I realized he was behind Family Guy it all came full circle. I love that his awful Western bombed. He’s a guy I’d seriously like to give a drubbing if I saw him just for being the worst walking stereotype of a guy.

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