Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.

Now if you’re reading this on Manic Expression, you’ve gotten to the fifth blog in the increasingly inaccurately themed “animation trilogy”, where I talk about the famous crossover that happened recently. And I’ve been waiting for this one for months. So without further ado, lets analyse.

So, the beginning. It’s nice that the show quickly acknowledges how gimmicky its own premise is, setting the bar for what’s to come. And, in a way, illustrate what Family Guy does so well: Meta-humour. Now The Simpsons have not only done a crossover before but made a similar joke (or, rather, made the exact same joke), but with Family Guy they deliberately run it into the ground because, well… that’s what Family Guy does. It plays with the expectations of humour to the point where it either becomes unfunny or funnier. But, like I said, meta-humour. Which brings us onto the next joke: How Dennis the Menace isn’t funny. Lois points out that “not every strip is going to be hilarious”, which is both a jab at themselves and The Simpsons. It’s acknowledging that not everything they do is going to be funny. Hell, it’s even pointing out that this very episode isn’t automatically going to be funny. It’s beating the critics at their own game, pointing out their faults to get away it. Once again, it’s what Family Guy does well. Anyway, Peter becomes a cartoonist, which… Well I’d be surprised if the writer’s admit that they weren’t poking fun at Matt Groening when they did this. After all, Matt himself started work as a cartoonist, at least in terms of creating his own drawings. But look at what Brian says: “I like the way you re-tell old gags with a detached, ironic approach”, with Peter instead being excited that he’s telling new jokes. More on that in a bit.

But lets take a look at the inciting incident of the story. Peter makes a misogynistic cartoon and gets called out on it by all the women in town. Now some would probably get upset that Family Guy delivers a ‘Take That’ to the online bloggers that found the cartoon offensive… since it’s likewise a ‘Take That’ to anyone who complains about the show itself. But, for a moment, lets bring back up what I said earlier. If Peter is ‘Matt Groening’, then his offensive cartoon can be seen as a few of the more controversial Simpsons episodes. In any case, it shows an artist being attacked for the work they made by critics. Again, more on that in a bit. But yeah, the opening of the episode is pretty much an attack on Social Justice Warriors, and I for one support it. While the episode deliberately exaggerated the concept, the entire point is the show’s defence against those that are critical of it.

Anyway, long story short, the family goes to Springfield. Once again, more meta-humour, where Family Guy points out the very nature of what it’s doing. Now some would say this is breaking the fourth wall, but I don’t totally agree. Breaking the fourth wall is when the characters acknowledge that they’re being watched in a fictional show. The characters never do that. They just acknowledge certain things that exist slightly outside their understanding. They believe what they’re doing is real, they believe they’re real characters and not in a script. So when the show ‘breaks the fourth wall’, it’s actually more akin to commenting on the very nature of the episode. Talking about what it is without referencing it directly. Some might call it ‘leaning on the fourth wall’, I prefer to call it ‘meta-humour’. But the show is pretty much filled with it, which I enjoy a lot of. It’s a show subtly (or not-so-subtly) acknowledging its existence without outright saying that it’s fictional.

But this is where we get our first big moment. Peter meets Apu, then Homer and then, most importantly, the Griffins meet The Simpsons. And I think one thing needs to be pointed out, even if it is obvious: The animation of The Simpsons is… off. Just ever so slightly. Sure they look like The Simpsons character, but their animation is slightly outside their normal boundaries. This is the first clue about what we’re watching: A Family Guy episode. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Well duh, of course it’s a Family Guy episode.” But seriously, think about it. Most people I’ve heard of refer to this as a Family Guy/The Simpsons crossover, as if it’s a two-way street. Instead what you have is Family Guy IN The Simpsons, much the same way Family Guy was in the Star Wars trilogy. It is the Family Guy aesthetics and sensibilities taking place within The Simpsons universe. It is written by the Family Guy writers. Would The Simpsons ever make a joke that, after Lou the cop’s incident, they’re raising money for a “policeman’s ball”? No, that’s very much a Family Guy joke. Likewise the ‘circular file’ gag is something much more akin to Family Guy than The Simpsons. What about Stewie’s “prank” phone call? Horribly, horribly offensive… which is something that Family Guy would do over The Simpsons. The Simpsons would never, ever, ever make a rape joke, but Family Guy would. And it’s here where I pause for a moment.

The whole point of this episode, at least to me, is for the writers of Family Guy to outline the clear differences between the two shows. By showing what Family Guy is in contrast to The Simpsons, they can highlight what they love about their own show. The weirdest parts of this episode come from the Family Guy characters saying or doing something that works in Family Guy, but would never work in The Simpsons. Even the little things, like the camera angles (seriously, when Bart first appears, it’s a decidedly Family Guy style shot), the colouring, the placement. Everything about this episode screams Family Guy… and feels out of place when compared to The Simpsons. Just for reference I watched the latest Simpsons episode, and the differences between the two are pretty obvious. As someone who has seen a lot of both shows, it’s quite obvious that The Simpsons are off-model. It’s quite distracting really. Even Homer’s eye movements are different in this episode than in regular Simpson episodes. But that’s just the animation. The humour picks up here as well.

Like I said, this is a Family Guy episode, hence the off-the-wall random humour that makes up so much of this show. It’s a lot of random almost-cutaways, barely connected nonsense so common in Family Guy… and sadly, judging from the modern episodes, so much of The Simpsons as well. For you see, as mentioned at the start of this week, The Simpsons has become a parody of itself. It’s only fitting that in this episode, that parody is itself parodied. The Simpsons are caricatures of their caricatures. In other words, you wouldn’t be able to make this crossover back in The Simpsons “Golden Age”. The characters were too well-defined, the world too sensible. Brian the Talking Dog would be too cartoony for the show to hold up. But nowadays, in the modern episodes, the cartoon nature of the show has been stretched to the limit. It is a cartoon, not a sitcom any more. So, The Simpsons Guy is just a parody of what The Simpsons is nowadays. A cartoon, a silly exaggeration of what was in the past. A touching tribute, yes, but using characters that are nowhere near the characters we use to love… but sadly fit well into the characters we currently have. The Simpsons Guy just brings all the faults of modern Simpsons to light and has a great time pointing out the flaws with it.

Nothing further exemplifies that this is a Family Guy episode than the car wash scene. Again, something you wouldn’t see in The Simpsons, but something that fits into the Family Guy style perfectly. Hell you even see a character vomit on screen. When has that ever happened in The Simpsons? A stupid scene, sure, but a scene that exists mostly to make a comment on what it is trying to say as quickly as possible. This is repetitive, sure, but worth mentioning to counter any critics who don’t see the point of this scene. Likewise, the scene with Stewie torturing Nelson is also a clear indication of the point I’ve been making. Some probably don’t find it that funny, but I enjoyed it quite a lot. But, lets look at the scene where Peter gets run over twice. Look at the amount of bloody and gore he’s in at the moment. Now say it with me: “You don’t see that in The Simpsons”. It’s where the episode really starts to change, becoming a new entity altogether. While before it was a ‘Simpsons & Family Guy’ story, now it becomes a ‘Simpsons vs Family Guy’ story. The Family Guy aesthetic gets even more pronounced as, in a way, the Family Guy style starts to engulf Springfield. The giant magnet was a big clue, but here’s where the tonal shift is at its most obvious. Which leads us to one of the most important scenes.

Homer tries the Pawtucket Patriot Ale and mentions that it’s a pale rip-off of Duff, leading to the climax of the story being the Duff company suing the Pawtucket company for intellectual theft and patent infringement. Now I think it’s fairly obvious that when the characters talk about beer, they’re clearly talking about their own shows. I mean it’s not subtext, it’s bloody text. And, of course, the writers take jabs at both themselves and The Simpsons. They point out how The Simpsons is no longer any good, while mocking themselves for being a pale rip-off. It ends up going to court, where we see a mix of Simpsons and Family Guy characters. The show pretty much looks right at the camera and goes “Why yes, we are a shameless rip-off of The Simpsons, here are examples to prove it”. (Also, heads up on the Matt Groening cameo. Very clever). And this is the entire point of the episode, as hinted at back in paragraph two or three. It’s to show that while Family Guy is inspired by The Simpsons, it’s also its own separate entity. Hell they get Fred Flintstone in to point out that both shows stole from his one. For the first time Family Guy has really addressed the critics that have called it a ‘rip-off’ and, at first, sides with them. It readily admits that it stole a lot from The Simpsons. It shows the brewery being shut down because of it, highlighting perhaps the show’s own cancellation at one point. Family Guy has to leave Springfield, perhaps closed forever… until we get to the final act.

(Though I have to wonder, did they make Stewie the sociopath in this episode to try and balance Bart’s antics out? Because Bart has been pretty horrible as of late, in some ways worst that Stewie. Stewie at least wants to cause harm because he enjoys hurting others. Bart wants to cause mayhem and doesn’t care for others. If anything Bart is a bigger monster than Stewie. But perhaps, by showing Stewie as the greater evil, the writers wanted to show why Bart is not as bad. Plus it also highlights the differences between Family Guy and The Simpsons, by showing how their characters differently wildly. Anyway, end of cutaway).

But yeah, Family Guy delivers a Take That to The Simpsons that pretty much all the audience think at this point (which is, in short, “You’re not funny any more, get off the air”), leading to Homer and Peter having a famous Chicken Fight. Now the Chicken Fight is what helped define Family Guy before it was cancelled. It was so over the top it was hilarious. And, as time has gone on, they’ve done the joke again and again. They’ve gone ever further over the top with each scene. So now we come to this one, in which Family Guy firmly takes over The Simpsons. This entire seven minute sequence is Family Guy in a nutshell. Sure it takes place in Springfield, but it’s still mostly Family Guy. It’s something Family Guy would do. Again, you’d never see this level of blood or gore in The Simpsons, since that’s not what The Simpsons is. Nor would you see so much random chaos and destruction. The Simpsons still has some semblance of continuity, even if it isn’t that clear. But with this, it’s just over the top madness that makes Family Guy so great. This crossover pretty much ends with Family Guy dominating The Simpsons, putting itself on top. Sure the fight is a bit too long, but that’s the point of a Chicken Fight after all. To show just how much you can do with animation if you let it run loose. If you don’t hold back with your imagination. Also it’s a great way of showing off Springfield, so I can’t complain too much.

(Also it acts as a great parody when it comes to superhero crossovers, since superheroes always fight when they first meet, even if don’t make sense. It’s a glorious parody of what is so common in the world of crossovers).

But I end this with a quote from right near the start of the episode: “I like the way you re-tell old gags with a detached, ironic approach”. Old jokes like the prank phone calls, Peter’s “Roadhouse” comment, the blackboard gag, they’re all brought to life in a new way. They combine the old with the new, the familiar with the unusual, bringing all together to… well, in my opinion, to make a damn good episode. Sure crossovers are cheesy. And sure, this episode will end up being obscure to people in twenty years time (I mean The Critic crossover with The Simpsons no longer works as a crossover, since no one remembers the original show existing). But as of right now, it’s a great critique on what both shows are. It shows what The Simpsons isn’t and, by extension, what Family Guy is. This is Family Guy standing proud against the critics that cried ‘rip-off’ to go ‘yes, we took inspiration, but this is who we are’. It shows what The Simpsons would have been like if it was made by the makers of Family Guy instead. It takes jabs at The Simpsons while at the same time showing the show a deep respect, acknowledging that without it, Family Guy just wouldn’t be as popular. Or even exist. It’s both a loving tribute and a terrific satire and I can honestly say the world is a better place for having it.

So there you have it. My very detailed analysis of The Simpsons Guy and why it’s so great. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.

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