'The Simpsons' or 'Family Guy': Which is greater? Which is more influential?

simpsons_family_guy

Image Credit: Family Guy, Simpsons: FOX

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

Read more:
‘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

Comments (210 total) Add your comment
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  • Eric

    Simpsons is probably better but I enjoy Family Guy far more.

    • frankly im insulted that this is even a question

      maybe never reading EW ever again. This is like asking MORE INFLUENTIAL: Seinfeld or Everybody Loves Raymond

      • Brad Nies

        Everyone has different tastes. I HATE Seinfield. And Everybody Loves Raymond…. I never regularly watched The Simpsons but I’ve seen every episode of Family Guy and while it was amazing during its first run, it’s only had a good episode here and there since. Though I think people are more willing to watch a Family Guy rerun than a Simpsons rerun.

      • Shiny

        This list better include Cowboy Bebop, it is the best.

    • bmo

      Simpsons are probably better but I love Family Guy. Seth Mcfarlane is dominating more than Matt Groening ever could. 2 successful spin offs plus the flintstones reboot. Family guy could end up as the better cartoon once both shows are off the air.

      • Bobby’s Robot

        I find Seth McFarlane unsufferably self-indulgent. I think the Simpsons has had a MUCH more profiund influence on pop culture. And it’s simply funnier, and for twice as long. I don’t even think it’s a contest, but Family Guy might undesevervedly come out on top.

      • Joey

        Matt Groening dominated television in the early 90s. There wasn’t anything like The Simpsons on television. There would be no Family Guy without The Simpsons.

      • Honest Abe

        Joey, you hit the nail right on the head, and, as a result, ended all debate (as far as I’m concerned). Simply, there would be no “Family Guy” without “The Simpsons.” Because of this, “The Simpsons” always has to be put on top.

      • Shiny

        Roses…so many roses!

      • wiseguy

        Family Guy is just a clone of the Simpsons. Both series have an idiot of a patriarch as the central character. No wonder, Simpsons writers are taking potshots at Family Guy every now and then. In one Simpsons Halloween episode about the nightmarish proliferation of Homer Simpson clones, there is a brief cameo of Peter Griffith among the Simpson clones. Furthermore, in one Sideshow Bob-centric Simpsons episode, a picture of Peter Griffith was inserted in Italy’s list of notorious Wanted criminals (wanted for plagiarism). LOL!

    • Greg Browning

      I have to agree – Family guy is more uneven but when it hit I belly laugh, while Simpsons is consistently chuckle-worthy but I wouldn’t count on it for huge laughs – if keeping both shows going helps FOX roll out newer animated shows like “Bob’s Burgers”, I’m all for keeping them on the air for as long as the producers want to make episodes

      • Laura

        Couldn’t agree more. “Burger’s” is surprisingly funny to me, and I wouldn’t have given it a chance had I not already been tuning in to watch “The Simpson’s” and “Family Guy”.

    • Mac

      Here we go… prepare to be disappointed when Family Guy tops EW’s list, Simpson fans.

      • Mike

        To be fair to The Simpsons, I’d say that Family Guy hasn’t been great for a few years either. The musical numbers are nowhere near as funny as they used to be, yet they keep getting longer and longer. And ever since they switched to HD, there are always these time wasting, cinema-style camera shots. You’re making an animated comedy. Stop trying to be Scorsese in Goodfellas…no one cares about the cinematography in a cartoon!

    • Matt

      Interesting article. All-Time, I’m going with the Simpsons; those first 10-12 seasons are spectacular, and a great Simpsons episode is exponentially more insightful, biting, touching and hilarious than any Family Guy ep (let’s face it, Family Guy is pretty much the Simpsons, but filled with much more college-dude jokes, and frankly, cruelty). And I don’t think I need to prove that Family Guy wouldn’t exist without The Simpsons. Though the Simpsons has suffered a steep decline in quality, I would argue that Family Guy has to. I’ve watched new episodes and old, and though I can admit – through clenched teeth – that many of the old ones were funny, I find that too many of the new ones aren’t funny at all. The experimentation with structure is cool, but the jokes and storytelling needs to be there. I wish The Simpsons would do a “soft-reboot” and make it more about characters again, and add a few more notches of intelligence to Homer. They recycle episodes anyway, so why not recycle the ones that have had more of an impact?

    • Nick T

      Simpsons tries a bit to hard and its not very funny anymore. Family Guy doesnt try very hard, so at least you can get some hilarious, if juvenile, gags now and then. Pros and cons

    • lisa

      The Simpsons in its prime was better than Family Guy ever has been or ever will be. Yes Family Guy is funny, but it is completely mindless, ADHD, stupidity all the time. That doesn’t mean Family Guy isn’t funny most of the time but the kind of poor immitations its inspired are insufferable. And it should go without saying that Family Guy would not exist if it werent for The Simpsons.

    • Color Me Impressed

      Family Guy is filled with such juvenille humor; it’s pathetic.

  • Glenn

    Simpson Great Years: 2-7. That’s it, with an occasional good ep since then. Otherwise, completely unwatchable for me.

    • Michelle

      I would have to agree. Occasional ep after season 7 being when Homer gets a job at Globex. Best hammock references ever! As for Family Guy, I’ve seen every episode and would have to agree that it has been fairly mediocre for the last three seasons or so (although I still maintain that it was still quality television into the fifth season). For everyone else who is throwing South Park in the ring, I’d have to put that show in the same “jumped the shark” category. Sure, all three shows still have their moments, but 15 seasons into South Park and I miss the comedy awesomeness that was seasons 7 and 8.

    • Anne

      I completely agree with everything Glenn said.

    • Laundry

      I completely agree with everyone.

    • Ian

      The Simpsons’ best episodes are CLASSICS.

      We can all still quote the best lines and remember funny scenes.

      What can anyone remember from Family Guy from 2 weeks ago? What moment has made it’s way into pop culture?

      Nothing.

      • melly

        I completely agree. Classic season 4 Simpsons still make me laugh till I cry the 100th time over. Family guy, while more suited to now, has never really done that even on the first watch…Okay…maybe once….shazoooooo….

      • Thom

        Simpsons helped INVENT modern pop culture as we know it.

        Family Guy riffs on pop culture.

      • Kate

        I’m not gonna lie, and it may be a generational thing, but, while I laugh when I watch old simpsons reruns, my brothers and I can literally quote entire episodes of family guy.

      • lisa

        Family Guy had its great moments but The Simpsons had a lot more. Period.

    • My son is also named Bort

      The Simpsons has the crown. Always will, no matter what happens.

  • stevie

    i guess im gonna have to be the guy that says this debate is pointless because South Park is much better than both

    • Anna

      I loved when South Park put Family Guy on blast (‘Cartoon Wars’) for the terribly unfunny show that it is.

      • will towne

        you cant say its unfunny if you havent even watched the show dumbass

    • Allie

      THANK YOU, South Park always wins in my book!

    • LOL

      Stevie, you nailed it. I think South Park is one of the great comedies in TV history.

    • Dave

      Soth Park is certainly fantastic, but in my opinion, there is nothing better than The Simpsons in its prime.

    • Rica

      A South Park-Simpsons debate would be much more interesting. Family Guy isn’t even in my personal top 20.

    • YH

      I agree. I love the Simpsons but South Park at its best slightly eclipses the Simpsons at its best.

  • Both Stink

    Both are nothing more than liberal propoganda for the Criminal One-Termer from Chicago. These shows will be cancelled and the One-Termer imprisoned for his crimes in January of 2013! FACT!

    • commentor

      Idiot. FACT.

    • Ian

      Fact! for someone suffering from schizophrenia.

    • Anna

      It’s so annoying when people make ignorant comments on a random entertainment blog just to instigate an argument. Get a life.

  • Shakespeare

    The Simpsons is #1 hands down, the show has been very funny the last two years? What are you folks on? Family Guy should be #19 on that list maybe even lower, South Park should be close behind at #2 if not #1!

    • katie

      If this was 2001, I’d be cheering on your blind Simpsons enthusiasm, but the celebrity guest stars HAVE GOT TO STOP! The show became unwatchable for me when Fantasia Barrino (sp?) appeared. Ugh. Total sell-out to the Fox factory. Should have been canceled years ago.

    • will towne

      your a retared

  • Anna

    My vote goes to South Park. Oh, that isn’t a choice (as it definitely should be)?
    Well, I’ll go with The Simpsons then. I’m not exactly sure why Family Guy is even in this debate at all…

  • Joanna

    Both have been weaksauce for far too long, meanwhile ‘American Dad’ has turned into the funniest show on Sunday night. ‘The Simpsons’ wins prizes for its cultural impact and ‘Family Guy’ deserves kudos for its influence on the industry, but ‘American Dad’ is the funniest. (If we’re counting series off the air, ‘King of the Hill’ was outstanding for its character based comedy and stayed consistent for most of the series’ run.)

    • Anna

      Huge fan of American Dad right now! I’d say it’s #2 next to South Park, in terms of cartoons that are currently funny.

      • Melissa

        American Dad really has hit its stride the past couple of seasons. I watch all of Fox’s Sunday animated shows and it probably makes me laugh more than any other of them.

    • Nina

      I agree. I would take American Dad over either show.

    • Thom

      King of The Hill is better for the sheer fact that it stayed good its entire run and had consistent writing and characters and genuine heart.

      Simpsons and Family Guy are no longer good, hell, Family Guy is downright awful these days.

      • ElizabethP529

        Have to agree, I miss King of the Hill desperately.

    • Lena

      …cleveland show???

      • M&M

        The Cleveland show is what the Spainards call “el terri-blay”.

  • jason.

    The Simpsons is still the better show, though Family Guy has its moments. Better than Family Guy, however, is American Dad.

    Anyway, the Simpsons is still good (Mediocrity is subjective), and better than a great deal of the stuff we’re being presented with these days.

  • Hard to Choose

    The Simpsons had the Ramones on an episode. Family Guy has KISS. Hard to pick, hard to pick. Both are better than Bob’s Burgers for what it’s worth, though.

  • Joanna

    Otherwise, I’m throwing my hat in with the other comments. ‘South Park’ is the superior cartoon.

    • JAM

      this is the best answer Joanna! definitley if I had to choose between Family Guy and Simpsons I would go South Park every time.

  • Vince from NYC

    I don’t feel like The Simpsons got worse as much as never evolved. I find myself laughing longer and harder at Family Guy. I almost feel like The Simpsons aren’t funny compared to Family Guy. Family Guy’s edginess renderd the Simpson’s bland. With that being said Family Guy wouldn’t be around had The Simpsons not paved the way. I probably have to give it to The Simpsons for that reason alone..

    • BB89

      But the thing that has made me less of Family Guy fan is it’s insistance to be edgier and crazier, I find the same problems with South Park, “How are we going to top ourselves this season?”, though South Park is a better show. True, The Simpsons does seem bland and often feels like it’s been really scraping the bottom of the barrel with it’s recent seasons, I think it often has more heart and definetly a place as a great Animated Series that paved the way for more of it’s kind (like FG).
      As for which deserves the top spot, I do love the series despite what it has become, and I def wouldn’t choose Family Guy (despite enjoying it pre-cancellation) because I haven’t been a fan in a long while… hmm, tough decision.

  • Robert

    The Simpsons is number 1!!

  • jp

    Family Guy has ripped-off every joke, joke set-up and character study from the Simpsons since day one… Not even close. Homer by a mile!

    • Thom

      I can still watch old reruns of classic Simpsons episodes and find them funny.

      Family Guy episodes are dated by the time they hit syndication.

  • ken

    always been a fan of The Simpsons; always will be. It’s a Sunday night staple. I still find it funny. I don’t think every week is amazing, but you do come across some solid episodes, if you let loose on the cynicism. As for Family Guy, it’s a fun show but it’s also getting a bit tired. Unlike The Simpsons, I can’t see it on for 20+ years.

  • Gwen

    I see the Simpsons like MTV. They were really great in their time but wandered FAR away from what made them great. As for the Simpsons, they showed promise as shorts during the Tracey ullman show which was fulfilled in the early seasons. I count their downfall exactly from the ep when President Bush (Sr) moves into Springfield. Too much blatant politics and too little humor. If you are going to be extremist at least be funny. This goes for South Park too.

    • erin

      extremist??

    • CW

      That was a great episode. Thank you for reminding me of it. Simposons was great up until about Season 10. Sadly, now it is not as great, but I will always love it for that first decade.

    • tvgirl48

      I was pretty young when The Simpsons apparently had its heydey, so I’ve yet to see a Simpsons episode that made me think “wow, that was brilliant comedy.” For me, The Simpsons elicits appreciative chuckles sometimes but Family Guy makes me laugh out loud. One tends to be smart humor, the other silly. FG is very hit-and-miss, but when it hits, it can be very funny.

      • Bobby’s Robot

        That’s funny, because I was in my 20′s when The Simpsons began, and I can’t even count the times I said “wow, that was brilliant comedy.”

      • tvgirl48

        Maybe I should just find those first few seasons then. It’s so hard to watch them, since syndication has SO MANY other seasons to choose from when re-airing episodes.

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