I dreaded the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover. Even setting aside the inherent pitfalls of crossovers generally, it’s been a long time since either show was pitching its fastball. Despite the two series’ basic similarities, their comedic sensibilities differ pretty dramatically. The idea of one show’s staff writing the other show’s characters did not inspire confidence in either side of the writers’ room. And the tense, if playful, rivalry between The Simpsons and Family Guy did not suggest an easy fit behind the scenes.
But against all odds, Richard Appel, who served as a writer and producer for both shows, oversaw the episode, and put together a surprisingly cohesive, funny, and above all else, worthwhile crossover.
Officially “The Simpsons Guy” is an episode of Family Guy, not The Simpsons, but it’s largely set in Springfield and offers a fair representation of both shows. The episode makes its hay from pairing up the various denizens of Springfield and Quahog. Homer Simpson meeting Peter Griffin provided the obvious main attraction and throughline for the episode. The twosome’s misadventures trying to retrieve the Griffins’ stolen car gave Homer and Peter plenty of fodder for hijinx, and offered a number of fun moments where The Simpsons’ patriarch showed his new Rhode Island pal around Springfield. The two of them becoming fast friends and easing into a rapport as a couple of dimwitted, overweight, beer-drinking dads with three kids apiece provided a nice foundation for the episode, and both Dan Castellaneta and Seth MacFarlane held up their end of the bargain.
But beyond the series’ biggest stars, the episode’s writers included a number of interesting character pairings. The interactions between Lisa and Meg were particularly and unexpectedly moving. With Meg constantly being marginalized by her own family, and Lisa’s own well-established history as an outcast, the most misunderstood Simpson helping the most dumped-on Griffin to discover something that makes her special helped allow two otherwise divergent characters to mesh extraordinarily well. Lisa’s barely restrained jealousy at Meg’s unexpected talent at the saxophone made it all the more touching when Lisa eventually offered Meg the saxophone she received from Homer in “Lisa’s Sax”.
The writers also successfully teamed up Bart and Stewie, the two young troublemakers of their respective families, in the pairing that most served to highlight the differences in tone of the two shows.1 It’s hard to picture Stewie as particularly naive or impressionable, but once he witnesses Bart’s ten-year-old rebellion, he quickly begins to idolize and imitate Bart. It’s almost cute considering that the frighteningly misguided attempts at childish fun come from an omnicidal megalomaniac baby.2 Of course, what starts with slingshots and skateboarding escalates into something more severe when Stewie, as he is wont to do, takes it too far. The entire storyline is a clever illustration of the series’ differing limits, reminiscent of Bart’s own conversation/comparison with Dennis the Menace in “Take My Wife, Sleaze”.3 Stewie taking Bart’s childish pranks and grudges to Family Guy-esque extremes, Bart’s resulting revulsion, and Stewie’s repressed but soon boiling-over admiration for Bart, successfully connected the two characters, who otherwise lack much in common.
The other character pairings were lighter, but still potent. Marge and Lois threw a couple of quick jabs at each other. Chris and Maggie learned the common joys of the pacifier. Brian, offended at being lumped in with Santa’s Little Helper, managed to lose his canine counterpart, prompting Brian and Chris to hastily and haphazardly attempt cover it up, only for SLH to miraculously return at the end of the episode.
Surprisingly, what worked best in the episode was how right all the characters and their little quirks and interactions felt. I cannot say that I had any great desire to see a conversation between Marge Simpson and Brian Griffin before this episode, but Marge’s annoyed, deadpan resistance to Brian’s request to eat at the table when she responded, “I was under the impression that you were a dog” may have been the funniest bit of dialogue in the entire episode. Mayor Quimby and Adam West are not particularly alike despite each reigning over his own fictional berg, but the two of them sneaking out to smoke pot together still fit them both nicely. Even an oblivious Chris criticizing Squeaky Voiced Teen because his “voice sounds stupid” was a small but pleasant character moment.
Of course the episode was replete with meta humor. Peter’s attempt to set Homer up for a cutaway gag, to Homer’s utter bewilderment, was an amusing bit, and it was quickly followed by a fun manatee gag featuring Homer and Peter as fighter pilots shooting down an Air Force plane.4 The sequence featured quick cameos from Bob of Bob’s Burgers5 and Peter’s buddy Cleveland from the recently canceled Family Guy spinoff The Cleveland Show, in a nod to Fox’s Sunday night animation block.6 The episode also featured a scene quickly comparing many of the secondary characters from the two shows, with varying but generally favorable results.7
Homer’s beloved Duff Beer and Peter’s favored Pawtucket Patriot Ale stood as personifications of their respective shows of origin. Homer called Pawtucket “a cheap ripoff of Duff” while Peter responded that he hadn’t even had a Duff “in like thirteen years.” In the inevitable climax in the form of a courtroom drama, pitting the citizens of Springfield and Quahog against each other, the judge is none other than Fred Flintstone, who declares that both Duff and Pawtucket’s brews are mere imitations of his original Bud Rock. These gags were clever and even-handed enough to garner laughs, but not so on the nose that they felt forced or too easy.
That said, the episode could have used some significant trimming. The Quahog-only build up to The Griffins leaving for Springfield was standard and disposable latter-day Family Guy fare that added little to the episode. The intentionally unsexy scene of Homer and Peter washing cars while scantily clad rapidly beat the joke into the ground, and the joke was not all that funny to begin with. Also, in true Family Guy style, the episode ended in a more than eight minute fight scene between Homer and Peter, reminiscent of both Peter’s long-running fights with Ernie the Chicken and countless M.U.G.E.N.-based videos on YouTube. The fight ran for far too long, was pointlessly graphic, and the jokes during the extended battle were low-hanging fruit that felt weaker than the rest of the episode’s humor.8
The episode also suffered from a couple of lame gags, completely lacking in subtlety, that have similarly plagued latter-day episodes of The Simpsons, like Grampa saying “I’m old so I’m the victim here” after running over Peter. It also had to contend with a couple of traditional but no less extraneous Family Guy shock humor gags, like Quagmire asking Peter to draw Lois “taking a hot tub dump” or Meg carving Lisa’s name into her arm, that the episode could have easily done without. Like the series’ most prominent characters, the episode was not lacking in excess fat.
But overall, the crossover worked. It’s hard to bring any two shows together and maintain a consistent tone without half of the equation seeming off. It’s even harder to harmonize the two properties and let them interact in a way that does not feel blatantly gimmicky or forced. The bar was high, and the obstacles were many, but at the end of the hour, I was glad that The Simpsons and The Griffins had spent a little time together. That alone is a grand achievement worthy of Richard Appel and his colleagues enjoying a nice cold one, whether they get it from Springfield, Quahog, or even Bedrock.
- I believe this is the note that the writers were attempting to hit when they wrote the prank phone call/rape joke that engendered a great deal of controversy long before the episode even aired. The polarizing gag is worthy of its own discussion, and might otherwise engulf this review.↵
- Though, in fairness to Stewie, Maggie did shoot a guy.↵
- Not to mention the conversation between Eric Cartman and an unnamed and unofficial expy of Bart himself in South Park’s “Cartoon Wars” episode, which took more direct aim at Family Guy.↵
- It makes about as much sense as that description would suggest.↵
- I would be remiss if I failed to note that Bob’s Burgers has been leagues better than either The Simpsons or Family Guy over the last few years, despite Peter’s accurate jab that Homer and Peter have to “carry” Bob.↵
- The slag that Cleveland “couldn’t fly on its own,” and crashed and burned has a little less sting since Richard Appel was the driving force behind the spinoff series.↵
- The best of them being James Woods from The Simpsons’ “Homer and Apu” meeting James Woods from Family Guy’s “Peter’s Got Woods”.↵
- I did, however, enjoy the appearance of American Dad’s Roger the Alien meeting Kang and Kodos with the handwave that they “went to summer camp together.”↵