My buddy Dave said something interesting on Saturday: we were talking about the Halo video game franchise, and I mentioned that I thought the first Halo game was more enjoyable at the time it came out, but that it seems a little bit simple compared to Halo 3 and Halo 4, and to other game franchises like Call of Duty.
Dave disagreed, pointing out that the series, and video games in general, keep getting better because each new edition improves on the last. Then he said something which shocked me - he used this phenomenon of improving video game franchises to explain why Family Guy is better than The Simpsons: it improved on the original.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, you're not serious?!" I exclaimed.
"Yeah," he replied, rather nonchalantly. "Family Guy is waaaaaay better."
I decided not to pick a fight with him on Saturday night and cast a pall over the evening. But since it's Monday and I've got nothing better to do, and since we enjoyed new episodes of both series last night on Four (including the final Family Guy episode for 2012), I thought I'd break it down in nine different categories here at OTB, and see what you think. So, have a look at what I made of this rivalry, and don't forget to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Category 1: Production
See, I would have to think that The Simpsons is the easy winner here - the show has had over 500 episodes, been running in primetime for over 20 years, is consistently popular with viewers, and is generally considered one of the greatest television shows of all time. Family Guy, by comparison, is only in its 11th season, and was actually cancelled at one point. It's a no-brainer. Advantage: The Simpsons
Category 2: Main Characters
Homer Simpson is a more interesting character than Peter Griffin, and Bart - as the eldest child - is a much better character than Chris (despite the latter's more appealing, intelligent sounding name). It's trickier from there, though. Family Guy gets better mileage out of Lois than The Simpsons gets out of Marge, Meg is funnier than Lisa by merit of the number of jokes that are aimed at her, Stewie is easily a better character than Maggie, and Brian is a hilarious sixth banana which The Simpsons just can't match. Advantage: Family Guy
Category 3: Supporting Characters
Beyond Quagmire, Joe, Mayor West, Mort Goldman, Consuela and the fighting chicken, is there another really memorable recurring character on Family Guy? I say no. Meanwhile, The Simpsons is set in a town stocked with a plethora of brilliant supporting characters, from Moe Szyslak to Ned Flanders, from Mr Burns and his hounds (quite often released) to Krusty The Clown, to Sideshow Bob and Fat Tony. Advantage: The Simpsons
Category 4: Best Overall Episode
Individual episodes and gags is where the comparison starts going pear-shaped, at least to me. I've talked before of my fondness for Deep Space Homer, my favourite episode of The Simpsons, ever. My favourite episode of Family Guy - I Dream of Jesus, with its repeated Surfin' Bird renditions and Office Space-style slo-mo record smash - is great, but it doesn't even come close. Advantage: The Simpsons
Category 5: Best Supporting Character Episode
As mentioned, Family Guy doesn't have too many memorable supporting characters it can rely on, so there aren't many episodes to choose from here - if I had to choose, I would go with Believe It or Not, Joe's Walking on Air, in which Joe Swanson regains the use of his legs. The Simpsons, meanwhile, has about 50 episodes that could conceivably qualify here. My favourite: Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song, which starts with an Alien reference in the school air ducts and follows Skinner through a firing-and-rehiring at the hands of Superintendent Chalmers. Advantage: The Simpsons
Category 6: Single Funniest Moment
It might just be the time of year, but carol parody A Peter Griffin Christmas is always good for a laugh at my house, as is any moment featuring Consuela ("nooo, Meesa Superrrman no ess heeere"). However, the sight of Sideshow Bob repeatedly getting smacked in the face by multiple rakes in Cape Feare is so pervasive that Family Guy has often used its "repeat until it stops being funny then keep repeating" format (for example, every time Peter skins his knee). Advantage: The Simpsons
Category 7: Related Shows
The Simpsons has, thus far, really only given birth to Futurama, which is patchy (at best) but can sometimes hit the same highs as its parent show. Seth MacFarlane, on the other hand, has done decent stuff with American Dad and The Cleveland Show, even though both aren't really a patch on the original either. Besides, so successful are those shows, MacFarlane - not Matt Groening - was asked to develop a remake of The Flintstones for Fox. Advantage: Family Guy
Category 8: Influence & Legacy
Family Guy doesn't get made without The Simpsons. End of story. Advantage: The Simpsons
Category 9: Entertainment Factor
This was the trickiest category for me, and while I think The Simpsons is probably a more cohesive show - inasmuch as each episode holds together pretty well - I have to give this one to Family Guy: if I'm looking for a more entertaining half hour filled with laugh-out-loud moments and crazy plot twists, I would go for an episode of Family Guy every time. Its more consistently enjoyable week to week, despite its noticeably lower quality. Advantage: Family Guy
Overall: The Simpsons
A final score of 6-3 means that America's first family of primetime animated comedy takes out this one - and I think it's the right call, matching up with my instinctual response to the question of which is better. But now it's over to you ...
Which show do you think is better, Family Guy or The Simpsons? Do you think I'm on the mark with my breakdown?