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Seth MacFarlane has made a name for himself as one of the dominant forces in comedy, with his latest series, The Orville, becoming one of the most successful hybrids of science fiction with sitcom tropes in recent memory. However, before taking off with live action affairs, what made him a TV icon was his work in animation, most notably Family Guy and American Dad!
Both co-created by and starring Seth MacFarlane in multiple roles, Family Guy and American Dad! are two of the most enduringly popular cartoons made for mature audiences of all time (having lasted a combined 615 episodes), both of which borrow from traditional sitcom themes, but with their own brand of absurdity and dark humor that has infamously sparked controversy. Of course, these series are not mere copies of each other (despite bearing a few similarities to other particular adult-oriented animated shows) and are easily distinguishable. The real question is which of MacFarlane’s longest-running series is the superior creation?
It is a debate that has lasted longer and enraged more people than it probably needed to in the first, so we are going to attempt put it to bed once and for all. This is my personal take on which of Seth MacFarlane’s best is truly his best: American Dad! or Family Guy, divided into 5 different categories of criteria.
Probably the biggest similarity between the series is the family dynamic. Both the Griffins on Family Guy and the Smiths on American Dad! are made up of your idiot dads (everyman Peter Griffin and CIA operative Stan Smith, both voiced by Seth MacFarlane), your smarter and (especially in the Griffins’ case) more attractive moms (Alex Borstein’s Lois Griffin and Wendy Schaal’s Francine Smith), irreverent children, and talking non-human family members.
The biggest difference between the two families are the two latter mentioned elements: the children and talking non-humans. While on Family Guy, Meg (Mila Kinus) is the Griffins’ black sheep, Chris (Seth Green) is only slightly smarter and slimmer than his father, and Stewie (Seth MacFarlane with a British accent), is an infant of genius intelligence hellbent on world domination, liberal teen Hayley Smith (Seth’s sister, Rachael MacFarlane) never cowers from standing up for herself and her brother Steve (Scott Grimes) is an average high schooler who wants to prove he is more than a dork. Furthermore, the Griffins’ alcoholic dog, Brian (MacFarlane, essentially, as himself) serves as the voice of reason, while the Smiths’ German-accented goldfish, Klaus (Dee Bradley Baker), and extraterrestrial live-in guest Roger (MacFarlane) also have their vices and voice of reason in less helpful ways.
American Dad! has a leg over Family Guy in how it offers more relatable characters whose cliched personas are rarely resorted to the butt of the joke, but I kind of love the caricatures that the Griffins are defined by and how the show often tries to juxtapose those tropes, such as with Stewie and Brian’s mismatched team-ups. American Dad! may also have the star power of Patrick Stewart as Stan’s boss, but I still have give the point to Family Guy for a more colorful and extensive full ensemble.
Style Of Comedy
As for the biggest difference between Seth MacFarlane’s animated hits, it is clearly how the comedy is structured. While American Dad! borrows more from the styles of a traditional sitcom, Family Guy is its own brand entirely, going a step above self-referential humor to (for the sake of giving it a name) multi-referential humor. While its own common tropes, themes, and even behind-the-scenes activity have become the source of many jokes nowadays, the series was best defined in its early stages, and still is, by its signature cutaways, pop culture riffs, and goofy sight gags you might find in a Zucker Brothers movie (they co-directed Airplane! with Jim Abraham).
American Dad!, on the other hand, does not utilize this same irreverent style, but instead relies more on a straightforward narrative structure and, sometimes, it will even attempt a more believable explanation for its bizarre material. For instance, Family Guy often plays with elements of fantasy, has people spontaneously spring into song, and there is not explanation for how both Stewie and Brian can talk, but Dad! at least explains that Stan stole Roger from Area 51 and Klaus is actually a goldfish with a German man’s brain, as the result of a CIA experiment gone wrong.
While I have a personal soft spot for Family Guy’s cutaways, I will admit that the concept can feel tired after a while and many of those pop culture references run the risk of sounding too dated and too niche. American Dad! actually gives itself the advantage by sticking to tradition and, in what may be a supposed upset to some, gets the point for humorous style.
Jokes And Gags
Family Guy and American Dad! differing styles of humor, but the tone is very much in the same. From clever political satire to random moments of obscenity, two series, in typical Seth MacFarlane fashion, love to push the envelope as immaturely as possible.
What keeps people coming back, however, are the shows’ recurring gags, which Family Guy is chock full of, such as whenever a character falls and has to hold their knee while breathing heavily for a full minute or two, Bonnie’s (Jennifer Tilly) long overdue pregnancy, anytime the Griffins’ understanding of Stewie is put into question, and (probably the best one there is) Peter’s epic fights with The Chicken. American Dad! is relatively lacking in recurring jokes, however, unless you count the rotation of newspaper headlines and Roger’s disguises in the opening credits.
The winner of this category, like the last one, would normally depend on one’s comedic tastes. However, since the tone between the two is not that different, I think I will give it to Family Guy purely based on the series’ commitment to making recurring gags a trend that, even when it grows tiresome, is made funny again by a meta commentary on that fact.
Name any Seth MacFarlane show and it is sure to have an interesting ratings history behind it. Or, more accurately, MacFarlane’s relationship with the Fox network has had its ups and downs and Family Guy is the prime example.
Despite maintaining a steady average of 7.2 million viewers per week, Fox famously cancelled Family Guy twice citing unimpressive returns both times, but would revive it after the DVDs proved successful. American Dad! managed a greater average than Family Guy (well, by 0.1 points), but Fox gave them the boot, too, in 2013, only to be picked up by TBS, where reruns have aired for years.
While American Dad! may have scored the higher average viewership over the years, making the move from network TV to basic cable (while proving successful for many) is still considered a step down in most eyes. Furthermore, Family Guy was resurrected twice, a feat unheard of in show business, and is still going strong on its original network, earning a victory for this round.
When a multimillion dollar pop star is seen on the street wearing a diamond encrusted necklace charm resembling a character from your animated series, you know you have made it. Such is what happened when Justin Bieber was seen wearing a bejeweled Stewie Griffin, reportedly costing $25,000 hanging from a gold chain around his neck.
I think that is all I need to say when making a case for Family Guy’s remarkable influence on pop culture, which has also inspired talk of a movie, video games, various design in apparel, and even wall art, such as (my favorite) a poster promoting one of Peter and The Chicken’s fights as a professional boxing event. There is plenty of merchandise related to American Dad! available as well, but something I actually noticed when looking up merch is that you are bound to find some Family Guy-related products lingering about in your search results.
While the average American is bound to know what Family Guy is, based on its culture impact if not for having actually watched it, finding someone familiar with American Dad! is decidedly rarer by comparison. I mean, Family Guy became big enough to reference itself, and that is enough to earn this point.
American Dad! Vs. Family Guy
And now to finally put an end to this war: is Family Guy better than American Dad!? According to our findings and a score of 4-1, yes. Family Guy is the winner!
American Dad! is a smart, fun show that manages to keep its storylines very contained and its humor off the wall, but everything about Family Guy is off the wall, and gloriously so, with its surreal style of comedy, off-beat character ensemble, and enduring popularity that has brought it back from the dead twice. While I look forward to Roger’s next ridiculously unconvincing disguise, I look forward more to Stewie and Brian’s next road trip or Peter’s next duel with The Chicken. For more updates on both of these series and other endeavors from Seth MacFarlane, be sure to check back here on CinemaBlend.