HD: The Simpsons Guy social

“The Simpsons Guy” wasn’t the worst crossover ever, which is about as much as you can expect from a crossover episode.

Have you ever noticed that the basic setup and certain peripheral characters from Family Guy bear a suspicious similarity to the basic setup and certain peripheral characters from The Simpsons? You have? Okay.

Well, do you find it amusing when figures or persons in the media glibly acknowledge things about themselves that you have also observed? You do? Well, then you’ll probably react to the much-hyped Family Guy/Simpsons crossover “The Simpsons Guy” about the way I did: Amused, mostly.

Let’s get one thing straight, though: “The Simpsons Guy” isn’t really (or at least doesn’t really function like) a “crossover” in the technical sense, i.e. when a case that begins on Homicide: Life on The Street ends on Law & Order, or when the The Justice League and The Avengers get caught up in each other’s business or even when The Jetsons meet The Flintstones. This is a Family Guy episode “about” The Simpsons, and as such it has more in common with the occasional episodes parodying historical periods or old movies.

Actually, what it’s most reminiscent of in terms of previous Family Guy events is “Laugh It Up, Fuzzball” (three plus-sized Star Wars episodes) inasmuch as the fig-leaf of “parody” or even commentary is constantly dropping away in favor of unabashed fan-wallowing. The soul of Seth MacFarlane’s (and, thus, Family Guy’s) sense of humor is reveling in ironic self-satisfaction; and nowhere is it more clear than whenever “Fuzzball” stops making decades-old observations about questionable aspects of Star Wars and descends into long, sincere stretches of “Omigod omigod you guys! We’re getting to play with Star Wars stuff!!!!”

So it goes with “The Simpsons Guy:” it’s effectively a double-length episode wherein Family Guy splits the running time roughly in-half between finally getting to make jokes about its own Simpsonian heritage and gleefully rooting around in Matt Groening’s toy chest.

There isn’t even really much of a “plot” to speak of, in terms of transporting the Griffins to Springfield: A misogynist joke in Peter’s (brief) new job as a comic-strip artist gets the family run out of Quahog by a mob of angry feminists. (Now now, Seth, remember the hierarchy: You make references to movies from the 80s, The South Park Guys are in charge of handing ammunition to horrible social-media ‘bros.) After a subsequent carjacking they wind up in a new city where “Everyone looks like they’ve got hepatitis” as house guests of the Simpsons. This soon gives way to an excessively-“meta” setup wherein Homer discovers that Peter’s beloved Pawtucket Patriot beer is actually just a relabeled ripoff of Duff. This leads to Duff suing Pawtucket Patriot (and by extension the entire town of Quahog and thus Family Guy itself) for intellectual-property theft — culminating in an “epic” Peter vs. Homer brawl (or “Chicken Fight” in Family Guy parlance) that YouTubers will be recutting to Disturb’d tracks (or has Avenged Sevenfold overtaken that genre now?) for years to come.

Meanwhile, the rest of the cast pairs off for B-stories of varying quality — except for Lois and Marge, whose “team-up” happens offscreen (as a joke about Marge’s worrywart nature) in what’s easily the biggest missed-opportunity of the event. Stewie starts hero-worshipping Bart, but Bart finds the youngest Griffin’s psychopathy less than endearing. Lisa tries to boost Meg’s self-confidence, only to find that, well… it’s Meg. Chris, Brian and Santa’s Little Helper dig into more meta-business about the obvious difference between how dogs (or just Brian) “work” in the two shows. Bart and Stewie work out best (in truth, a whole episode about Stewie feeling insecure and inadequate in trying to “live up” to Bart Simpson might’ve worked better as commentary than all the more obvious “meta” stuff) but there’s an odd charm to Lisa and Meg’s rapport undermined only by a sense that it might’ve been better served going darker than it eventually does. And while I chuckled at the “dog story,” it feels almost unforgivable that Brian never even tries to order a martini at Moe’s.

Still, Peter vs. Homer as avatars of their respective series is the setpiece, and at least by the standards of present-day Family Guy (which, for the record, I regard as enjoyable but nowhere near the series’ quality “peak” in the first few seasons after it returned from cancellation). Yes, the accusatory “ripped-off beer” courtroom monologue running over a montage of Springfieldian fixtures seated next to their suspiciously-similar Quahog counterparts is an obvious gag. Still, the payoff is cute, partially because it involves an out-of-left-field cameo by a character from a third series (nah, I won’t spoil it — or the surprising “celebrity guest-voice joke”) that I’d been hoping would turn up in more-or-less this context.

The sense that more could’ve been done with this premise does start to add up, though. The Chicken Fight probably needed to be done, and at that length, but was it really necessary to devote a big chunk of the first half to an extended carwash joke driving home the punchline that, yes, Peter and Homer are both fat guys? Surely, that could’ve been trimmed for more of Bart and Stewie (they also don’t do anything with the question of whether adults can “understand” Stewie versus Maggie not speaking at all), or giving Marge something to do, or even giving Quahog walk-ons like Cleveland and Quagmire more than one gag apiece?

So, too, does a sense that seemingly holding-back from how dark Family Guy can go when messing around with iconic characters might not have been the correct decision. The amount of blood and gore that comes spilling out of Homer during the final fight — typical for this series but unheard of on The Simpsons is unsettling and perverse but also attention-grabbing in a way much of the piece isn’t. You almost want to sigh: “C’mon, Family Guy! Enough fans already think that you simply being *in* Springfield is an obscenity all by itself — you might as well break a few more windows and scrawl a few more dirty words on the walls before you’re done.”

Simpsons fans, myself included, would probably have been incensed if the story had culminated in the Griffins fleeing Springfield in disgust/boredom and affirming that Quahog/Family Guy doesn’t have anything to prove to “Some town that probably stopped being interesting twenty years ago!,” or if Quagmire had been implied to do something unspeakable with one of the female supporting cast, or even if Bart and Stewie’s story had mainly been about Stewie proving how “old news” Bart is compared to him (in the vein of South Park’s preachy, overrated “Cartoon Wars” smugfest from a few years back). But rage (or shock) are at least more palpable, affecting emotions than mere amusement.

Still, laugh at it I did, and the sheer spectacle of the Griffins in Springfield forgives quite a bit — though it’s nowhere near as satisfying as Jay Sherman’s visit years ago (and hey, Marge got to do something in that one).

Bottom Line: Crossovers like this are rarely the greatest moments for either of the assembled teams: “Superman vs. Spider-Man: Battle of the Century” is not precisely a narrative game-changer for either hero — it exists for its cover and its splash pages. “The Simpsons Guy” doesn’t, on its own, measure up to the best of either series (though it would be much lower on a ranked list of Simpsons episodes than it will be as a Family Guy episode) but as a television “stunt” crossover it’ll do alright.

Recommendation: It’s exactly what it says on the can: However you feel about the idea of a Simpsons/Family Guy crossover is likely how you’re going to feel about the end result.

[rating=2.5]

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Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.

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