“Worst. Chicken Fight. Ever.” Or, Not: The Simpsons/Family Guy Crossover

Chris: Yay! A crossover always brings out the best in each show! It certainly doesn’t smack of desperation. The priorities are always creative and not driven by marketing…
Stewie: Okay, that’s enough.

The first taste was doled out in an almost masochistically small dose, like a wildly-anticipated Beaujolais delivered via medicine-droppers used to feed baby squirrels. Magnanimously proffered to those willing to wait hour-over-hour at a Family Guy Q&A panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2014, The Simpsons-Family Guy crossover episode sneak-peek was released for semi-public consumption. After that, after July of 2014, it seemed an eternity before it would eventually air. Late-September? Narf! That’s so far away! Still, patience endured and summer passed by and September 28th hath come, and now gone, at long last: Family Guy‘s S13-premiere, “The Simpsons Guy”, was easily the highlight of the annual, autumnal, FOX Animation Domination kick-off: minus American Dad and Bob’s Burgers, both to air their season-premieres in October.

Like an easy-peasy, light clean-up of an early-autumn backyard in Connecticut, “The Simpsons Guy” (S13e1) raked in 8.4 million viewers, a whopping 73% increase over last year’s premiere, “Finder’s Keepers” (S12e1). “The Simpsons Guy” hit a ratings jackpot, at least compared with Sunday night’s competition, nailing the #1 entertainment-slot amongst the advertiser’s drool spectrum of 18-49, 18-34 and 25-54-year-olds.

In addition, airing at 8p, before the well-marketed crossover at 9p, was the less-marketed season-premiere of The Simpsons: “Clown in the Dumps” (S26e1). In an episode wherein a long-time Springfield resident dies, it culled the same 8.4 million as Family Guy‘s premiere would one hour later. In between the two premieres, it seems some 3 million folks left for pie during Brooklyn Nine-Nine (garnering a mere 5.4 million), but came back for the big crossover event. Sadly, and not like funny-clown-sad, the best bit of “Clown in the Dumps” was the couch gag: a brilliantly abstract, odd and futuristic, nearly-alien, maybe singly-cellular, microscopic take on the Fave Yellow Fam by filmmaker and animator Don Hertzfeldt (Bitterfilms.com).

Crossover efforts, similar to reunion shows, are oft just that: efforts. They take Uncle Scrooge vaults of gold to produce, they must tempt the talent on a variety of facets, they endure countless hours of human toil and tug mercilessly on heart-tethered artistic vision. In the end, inevitably, the effort pleases the diehards and pisses off swaths of critics, antis and Hakken-Kraks. “The Simpsons Guy” was a full-frontal effort and, by early accounts across social media and professional and amateur reviews alike, this one was well-executed and, if not to be repeated, a welcome visit to Springfield.

Lois: Oh, this Springfield place looks nice. We should visit here again.
Brian: I dunno, Lois. This seems like a one-shot deal.

In sly, Seth MacFarlane style, he and writer Patrick Meighan take the sword at an angle in addressing popular rants and accusations aimed at Family Guy for one thing or another. In this case, the masses debate whether or not Peter Griffin and crew, and maybe even, to further the matter, American Dad‘s Stan Smith and upright, uptight family, are direct rip-offs of Homer Simpson and his brood. Probably.

Peter: That’s pretty good, right?

Homer: No. It’s not good. This beer tastes exactly like Duff. It’s just a lousy ripoff.

Peter: Hey, whoa whoa whoa! It’s not a ripoff of Duff! It may have been inspired by Duff, but I…I like to think it goes in a different direction.

Homer: No, this is just the same as Duff, but, like, worse.

Peter: Hey, come on, now, this is my favorite beer you’re talkin’ about. Hell, I work for the company. It’s my livelihood.

Moe: Oh, yeah? Well, your livelihood is based on fraud.

Our intrepid reporter, Miss Hannah Hart, does her Duff due diligence at SDCC 2014. Photo: Twisted pair Photography
Our intrepid reporter, Miss Hannah Hart, does her Duff due diligence at SDCC 2014. Photo: Twisted Pair Photography

Deftly, metaphorically played out in a Springfield courtroom during the trial of Duff Brewery vs. Pawtucket Brewery, a plethora of evidence is set forth for the jury of viewers to contemplate: did Pawtucket steal Duff’s formula? No matter how much you may love Pawtucket Patriot Ale, if it pleases the court, Duff Beer was here first. Within the trial, the courtroom-scene is a curious stage all its own, with Simpsons characters sitting next to their FG counterparts: Carl and Cleveland (Yes, b/c they’re the two funniest guys in their towns.), Lenny and Quagmire, Springfield James Woods and Quahog James Woods, et al. In the end, after thirteen years of speculation, months of anticipation and :43 of running-time, Judge Fred Flintstone finds that the defendant, Pawtucket Brewery did indeed rip off the plaintiff and that Duff Brewery is victorious; he also declares both beers “a pale imitation” of his favourite brew, BudRock. Ha HA!

“The Simpsons Guy” was a chortling good hour of old catchphrases, new references and B-story character pairings that work far better than one might of thought: Lisa and Meg, Marge and Lois, Bart and Stewie and a beautifully done, Algonquin Dog Bowl summit of Santa’s Little Helper and Brian. To boot, because it’s just good fun to toss them into the mix, American Dad‘s Roger the Alien takes a spaceship ride with old summer camp buddies Kang and Kodos; whilst Bob’s Burgers‘ Bob Belcher takes a vintage plane ride with Homer and Peter: Oh, we gotta carry him ’cause he can’t fly on his own.

Homer introduces the Griffins to donuts, Lisa introduces Meg to the soul-lifting power of music and Bart introduces Stewie to the prank phone-call, the playful nature of the prank escaping Stewie. (Note that both Bart’s and Moe’s telephones are landlines. Classic.)

Moe: Moe’s Tavern, Moe speakin’.

Stewie: Hello, Moe? Your sister’s bein’ raped!

Still, if there is one complaint, it is only one, if not terribly long: the legendarily exhaustive, time-enough-to-brush-your-teeth, Peter-and-the-Chicken-(insert-Homer-here)-Fight. If it helps to understand the overbearing Chicken Fights, Seth MacFarlane noted in a 100th-episode, behind-the-scenes interview that he admired Steven Spielberg films and, notably, his lengthy fight scenes, particularly in Raiders of the Lost Ark, between Indy and the Nazis. The Chicken Fights, including the nearly five-minute run-times, are odes to Mr. Spielberg.

Comic Book Guy: Worst. Chicken fight. Ever.

Now, for all the applause and general pleasure over “The Simpsons Guy”, keep in mind the numbers. Sobering as it might be, Family Guy‘s 8.4million-viewer premiere, whilst better than anything most of us have produced, is still embarrassingly low compared to, say, the season premiere for CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, bringing 18.1m to its Monday night, double-premiere: “The Locomotion Interruption” and “The Junior Professor Solution”. Even CBS’ abominably bad, contrived and belaboured, wannabe geek-drama Scorpion debuted with a strong 13.8m viewers, all according to Nielsen. Meanwhile, back at FOX, the BAFTA-worthy, überbrilliant Gotham quizzically garnered even smaller numbers than Family Guy at 8.2 million: likely the same demo though and with healthy support from the 18-49 crowd. Of course, all these ratings are outstanding, given the modern competition. Come on, kids! Everybody into Stewie’s time-machine!

In the days of yore, from TV’s beginnings in 1941, with RCA’s WNBT (now WNBC) and CBS’ WCBW (now WCBS-TV), through the ’70s and ’80s heyday of cable/satellite TV, to FOX’s birth as a TV broadcast network in 1986, a 25%-market share (of approx. 80m TV-viewing households), was cause for celebration; even a 10%-share was a big deal. Today, with approx. 115m TV-viewing hh and more content than choice can comprehend, anything north of about 5m viewers is considered work well done! For reference, the most-watched series-finale ever is M*A*S*H‘s “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” (S11e16: 1983), with 125m viewers, a 77%-share of the then-83m hh; the most-watched broadcast ever is “Super Bowl XLVIII” (2014) with 111.5m viewers and spikes of 167m viewers, a 69%-share of today’s 115m hh.

Apropos to our general, geek-TV interests, Sleepy Hollow‘s S2 premiere lured a respectable, but lightweight 5.5 million into its catacombs and graveyards, down staggeringly from 10.1 million for its series premiere, last year. As much as some of us love an inky dark, Gothic mixture of American Colonial fantastic-history, 18thC. imagery, 19thC. literary foundations, 21stC. cop dramas and Tom Mison’s well-chiseled, posh, theatrical rants on the deplorable state of contemporary America, perchance 2014 is not the year for a dark drama based, fundamentally, on a headless, satanic minion hell-bent on beheading his foes. Perchance just not right now.

In the end, most will agree Duff and Pawtucket both make a pretty damn good brew and, after all, hanging out with old friends and enjoying a pint or two, or three, is really what matters. Speaking of old friends, in the courtroom scene of “The Simpsons Guy”, Matt Groening sits somewhat obscured in the very back row, directly behind Bonnie and Joe Swanson. Upon close inspection, in the spirit of Carl and Cleveland, James Woods and James Woods, etc., I searched for the Seth MacFarlane counterpart to Mr. Groening … did I miss him? Did anyone out there see him? If you did, LMK @JennyPopNet or @GoodToBeAGeek #!

Peter: I’m sorry we fought. I just wanted to make you laugh and cry. I’m a Family Guy. 
Homer: I understand. I’m a The Simpsons.
SDCC 2014 Photo: Twisted Pair Photography
SDCC 2014 Photo: Twisted Pair Photography

Now, because this stuff is important, especially if your name is listed:

Family Guy (S13e1) “The Simpsons Guy”

Production companies: Fuzzy Door Productions, 20th Century Fox Television

Directors: Peter Shin, Dominic Bianchi (supervising dir.)

Creator: Seth MacFarlane

Developers: Seth MacFarlane and David Zuckerman

Writer: Patrick Meighan

  • Next week, October 5, 2014, is the Season 5 premiere of Bob’s Burgers ! Thank goodness I was way off four seasons ago! Meet me back here for my S5-premiere review. Need more animation and JennyPop until then? Read her Bongo Comics article, Bartbarians at the Gate: 20 Years of Bongo on the Digital Frontier, from the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con Souvenir Book!

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