The way I see it there are two contemporaries that are at the forefront of satire: Seth MacFarlane and Mike Judge. Judge of course is the creator of such masterpieces as Office Space, Idiocracy and King of the Hill versus McFarlane the creator of Family Guy and American Dad. Perhaps we are splitting hairs here but I think the question needs to be looked at and of course, there is no right or wrong answers, just our opinions. Naturally, my opinion will carry more weight but that is a topic for later.
Let’s start with McFarlane. His original claim to fame was the animated edgy TV show The Family Guy. The Family Guy has an interesting story because it started off on Fox but shortly after the third season aired in 2001, Fox canceled the series and it was difficult to find networks that were interested; the Cartoon Network eventually bought it and the Family Guy appeared in reruns on Adult Swim in April of 2003, immediately becoming the block’s top-rated program, dominating late night viewing in its time period and increased viewership by 239%. The complete first and second seasons were released on DVD the same week as the show premiered on Adult Swim, and the show became a cult phenomenon, selling 400,000 copies within one month and reached 2.2 million copies overall becoming the best-selling television DVD of 2003 and the second highest-selling television DVD ever, behind the first season of Comedy Central’s Chappelle’s Show. The third season DVD release also sold more than a million copies. Fox had realized it had made a mistake based on the show’s popularity in DVD sales and reruns thus rekindling their interest and ordered 35 new episodes of Family Guy making the first TV show comeback based on DVD sales. The show is now entering its 10th season and is remaining relatively fresh in its content and humor. Its unique style of humor is based on the filmmaking technique of cutaways, which occur in the majority of Family Guy episodes and satirize current and past cultural and political icons.
The series centers on the Griffins, a dysfunctional family consisting of parents Peter and Lois; their children Meg, Chris, and Stewie; and their anthropomorphic pet dog Brian. The show is set in the fictional city of Quahog, Rhode Island, and exhibits much of its humor in the form of cutaway gags that often lampoon American culture.
The family Guy is not without its critics. Many activist groups often complain that the episodes get a little too edgy or tasteless for their beliefs. Obviously, their complaints have fallen on deaf ears (like they should have) as the show continues to be a success without changing its theme or modus operandi.
McFarlane’s next big success was the show American Dad. American Dad follows the events of CIA agent Stan Smith and his family and unlike Family Guy, American Dad does not contain cutaway gags, but relies more on situational humor and non-sequiturs—thus showing some versatility in McFarlane’s repertoire. American Dad does not have quite the interesting history that the Family Guy does and is more traditional. American Dad was officially renewed for a seventh season, bringing the series through 2011–12.
American Dad centers on the domestic life of its nominal title character, Stan Smith, a staunchly conservative, Republican, CIA agent and self-proclaimed patriot. He is married to Francine Smith, a ditzy housewife who is trying to make up for a wild youth. Their two children are Hayley, a liberal college-aged activist who Stan joneses about often, and Steve, a nerdy high schooler who can never really measure up to the high standards in place for him. The Smith family is also in possession of two bizarre nonhumans — Roger, a disguise wearing escaped alien from Area 51 whom Stan is covertly housing in defiance of his employer due to the fact that Stan owes Roger a “life debt” (until he saves Roger’s life and then admits he likes Roger), and Klaus, an anthropomorphic goldfish that the CIA implanted with the brain of an East German Olympic ski jumper, who seems to have a thing for Francine.
The Smith family resides on 43 Cherry Street, in the fictional community of Langley Falls, Virginia in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The town name is a composite of Langley and Great Falls, two unincorporated communities located in Fairfax County.
Plots center on the misadventures of various characters in their respective idioms. Recurring themes include Stan’s desire to see Steve mature properly, Roger’s rampant alcohol abuse, disguises and personalities and desires to establish a life outside of the house, Francine’s desire of breaking out of an overly structured lifestyle, Hayley’s desire to rebel against her father’s politics, and Steve’s desire to finally become one of the cool kids and “get some boob.” Stan’s conservatism is treated as buffoonish and self-deprecating.
No doubt about it, in my opinion American Dad is a great show, in particular I love Roger’s multiple disguises and personalities as he tries to interact with the outside world with a hefty dose of booze to lubricate the social wheels. Here is my favorite episode in its entirety–Enjoy!
Next time we’ll take a look at Mike Judge another satirical icon of our day.