This perfectly summarizes why I love the Simpsons and hate Family Guy.
I watched that episode with my family and I could just feel how uncomfortable everyone was. Honestly, it was a really jarring, unpleasant episode.
Homer is a terrible dad. So is Peter. But Homer’s saving grace has always been that he tries—he’s bad at it and he fucks it up a lot, but he loves his family and he wants to be better than he is.
One of my favorite Homer moments is in “Diatribe of a Mad Housewife.” Tl;dr Marge writes a steamy romance novel starring herself and Ned, and when Homer finds out, he chases down Ned and, rather than attack him, asks him to teach him how to be a better husband.
There’s some part of his stupid self that wants to do better.
I never got that impression with Peter. Instead, the family has gotten more and more abusive towards Meg. It’s really unsettling for me when I started realizing that’s what happens sometimes in abusive families. Abusers sometimes single out one child to abuse, and quite often the other family members take the abuser’s side. After all, it’s easier to side with an abuser than to run the risk of becoming the target yourself.
There’s never really a point where it seems like Peter cares at all that his shitty behavior impacts his family. It actually seems to have gotten worse over the years. He expects everyone to clean up his messes because that’s always what happens; there’s really no reason for him not to be shitty.
And it’s easy to see how Meg is affected. She doesn’t have much of a character, really, because so much her screen time is devoted to being abused. The bits of character development all seem to hinge on her being this sad, neglected person who’s trying her best but never really gets any help from anyone. Quite the opposite; there have been a lot of episodes where her family sabotages any attempts to be herself.
It can be easy to forget how awful this behavior is when the only context is the show itself (frankly, everyone on Family Guy is kind of terrible). Seeing it played against the Simpsons, who are a flawed and dysfunctional but ultimately loving family, was painful to watch.
This commentary perfectly captures how the special made me feel. The humanity of the Simpsons and the complete heartlessness and cruelty of the Griffins being juxtaposed just made so uncomfortable. Whether it was the unfunny rape joke Stewie made to impress Bart (who found it shocking and disturbing rather than funny) or Lisa who tried to affirm Meg’s humanity (and the whole “shut up Meg” thing is such a grossly overused joke) or just the gratuitiously violent, drawn-out fight scene, the whole episode made me feel unsettled. It had some funny moments, of course, but the problem, in my view, was that the show took place within Family Guy, which is a show that derives its “funniness” from shock, meta-jokes, and cutaway gags not even tangentially related to the plot. There’s nothing even remotely redeeming about the characters, especially past season 7. The Griffins really are just abusers, especially in the recent incest episode or the one that made Meg lash out at the family only for nothing to change.