Sunday, January 27, 2008

South Park Vs. Family Guy Vs. The Simpsons

So a reader left a perfectly innocuous comment in response to some links from yesterday, saying he thought that I preferred Family Guy to South Park. Not true at all. (As an aside, can I reiterate my request for commenters to leave a name, nickname or pseudonym, any form of identification really, when leaving comments? As I said earlier, we will not enforce any hard and fast rules, so you can continue to be "anonymous" if you so desire, but I do think it serves our small Rs.5 community better if we know who's saying what).

There are a number of reasons I think South Park is easily the best animated show ever produced, and arguably the greatest television show overall. I'm not going to go into all of them at this point but I do think a short-and-sweet comparison is in order.

I think South Park guarantees six or seven laughs every single episode. Not giggles. Not smirks. Not smiles. Not quiet acknowledgments of humor, when you say "Heh...that's hilarious". I'm talking about side-splitting laughter, the kind your neighbors hear if you have thin walls. In that respect, it's probably unlike any other television comedy ever made. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a single comedy show that does that. Not The Simpsons. Not Family Guy. Not both of The Offices. Not the first few years of Friends or the middle years of Seinfeld. Nothing. Think about it: how hard do you laugh when watching South Park? At some points, it's incredibly funny even when there's no joke involved - you simply laugh at Cartman's voice, or his relationship with his mother, or the show's tongue-in-cheek mundane treatment of truly ridiculous events (like a teacher having a sexual relationship with a kindergarten student). To a certain extent, this is only possible because of the show's format and place in the world - an animated show on Comedy Central, where anything goes. But it's not as if there aren't other animated shows, or other shows on Comedy Central, and yet they can't seem to come close to replicating the South Park magic.

I do think, therefore, that the show's consistency is something astounding. Every episode in every season for eleven years has been laugh-out-loud funny. But if you're talking about consistency, you can't really ignore The Simpsons can you? It's been on for almost two decades. And it hasn't been able to work in plot lines available to non-animated shows, where characters grow and develop, both physically and emotionally. Think about how many Sopranos episodes were about Meadow discovering something about herself, or going to Columbia, or going through her bratty phase. Think about AJ and his troubles in school and how his character slowly changed toward the last couple of seasons. Entire episodes revolved around these issues. That's something simply not available to the writers/creators of The Simpsons, who have to make do with the same cast, with the exact same characteristics they had in the late 80s. They've essentially written the same story 400 times, except somehow made it different every time and funny (almost) every time. Isn't that worth something?

Of course, the key difference between The Simpsons and South Park (for me anyway) is that by this point, I'm more respectful of The Simpsons than truly excited by it. I don't download any of the episodes and I don't buy the DVDs. If it's on, I'll make sure to watch it, and I'm guaranteed a good half hour, but I'm not truly upset if I go months at a time without watching it. South Park, on the other hand, has a magnetic quality to it - you simply can't go without watching it. That's why I think it's a better show - The Simpsons may be more intelligent and crafty, but South Park is funnier, and that's the point of a comedy show.

What about Family Guy? Truth be told, when it first came out, I loved it. I was especially enamored with Stewie's character, who I thought was the funniest character on any television show that I'd ever seen, funnier than Cartman, George on Seinfeld, Chandler the first few years of Friends, or anyone else. Slowly though, I began to question Family Guy. Not in a born-again-Christian type of way, but in a "hmmm, is this really that funny?" type of way. I asked myself: what does this show offer? What does it bring to the table?

That may have the beginning of the end of my love affair with Family Guy, but what truly brought it to a close were two separate developments. The first of these was the discovery, through YouTube of course, that Family Guy had many of the same jokes/plots as The Simpsons. Call it in an inconvenient coincidence, or call it plagiarism, but it was there for everyone to see. Here's some evidence:



Pretty damning, yes? But that wasn't the worse of it. No, it's when South Park took on Family Guy in the Cartoon Wars that I completely lost my respect for Family Guy. I'll explain why in a minute, but first let me show you the relevant clips.

This background for this first one is that the South Park guys discover that Family Guy employed the image of Muhammad in an episode (this was around the time of the whole Danish cartoon fiasco). This brings the entire town into a frenzy, because they're afraid they'll be a target of a terrorist attack from angry Muslims upset by the whole deal (this particular episode of South Park, by the way, was the most brilliant interpretation of the entire Danish cartoon affair that you could hope to find. If you're interested, and you haven't seen it before, go to comedycentral.com and you can watch it for free by searching for "Cartoon Wars").

Anyway, Kyle and Cartman decide to go to Hollywood to try and get the Family Guy episode pulled, lest Muslims get offended and blow everything up. On the way to Hollywood, the following exchange takes place:



That was merely the first salvo. Cartman's diatribe got me to like Family Guy a little less, but not give up on it completely. No, that happened in the next episode, when Cartman found out who the writers of Family Guy really were. Check it out:



Tell me that isn't the most incisive and cutting criticism of Family Guy you could ever hope to construct. Go on, tell me it isn't. After I saw this episode, I never saw Family Guy the same way again. It was like seeing the hot girl from your high school become fat and covered with chickenpox-type sores. Family Guy became a strictly only-if-nothing-else-is-on type of show for me.

Why did those two clips have such an effect on me? I suspect it's got something to do with the relationship between humor and debate. This is a theory that I've presented to NB before, and he actually agreed with me, which must make it true (only things that are Truly True are agreed upon by myself and NB). Consider this: when you're in a debate or an argument, your guard is up. You want to win. You want to convince the other person you're right, and they're wrong. Your face is in front of your chest, your shoulders point forward, and everything about your body language suggests combat. This in turn has a cyclical effect on your position, which you consider more right than you did before the debate started. Consequently, because you are so entrenched in your position, you are less likely to budge.

Now, consider how humor works. Whether it's a stand-up show or something on television, you're relaxed. You're not expecting a fight, you're expecting to be entertained. You're not in combat mode at all, and so your guard is down. It as this point where comedy is most deadly - when you've been disarmed of your preconceived notions. It's a lot easier to see a differing point of view when you're not forwarding or guarding your own. So when South Park took apart Family Guy, with humor and not anger, it was easy to see they were right.

Another example of humor being powerful in changing preferences was when I saw a DVD of a Bill Bailey stand-up (just an unbelievably funny guy). I was never a huge U2 fan, but I'd listen to a few songs here and there. That changed when I saw this:



It's funny because it's true.

28 comments:

naqiya said...

I couldn't agree with you more! I always thought Family Guy wasnt all that, but after watching the South Park episode on it, I know of a certain die-hard Family Guy fan who admits it'll never be the same again for him.

Just another reason South Park is brilliant...

naqiya said...

I meant to say "for him either"

I can't edit/delete my own comments?

NB said...

A pretty strong case, and Id have to agree(which means its truly true!). Famliy Guys biggest failings are Peter Griffin and the 'random flashback'.

While Southpark does have some boring episodes, and Family guy does have some truly stand-out hysterical moments, the bottom line is that Im happy to watch clips of family guy on youtube, whereas i want to see the whole episode of Southpark.

NB said...

Sorry Nakko, cant edit the comment. You should be able to delete and repost the corrected one though.

Farooq said...

I always figured Family Guy would be funnier for people more familiar with American television since most of the flashbacks and sight gags revolve around parodying American sitcoms, gaeshows and other staples of their television culture. Thats why I was even surprised Ahsan would enjoy it in the first place since you really woldnt care less about such references.

But yeah. South Park is clearly superior. Chris Griffin's voice really grates on me.
I even recently watched a Family Guy episode where they ripped on Walmart much the same way South Park did a couple years back.

Quagmire is BRILLIANT though.

Ahsan said...

i think considerably more interesting than the south park vs. family guy debate (which is fairly one-sided i would say) is the south park vs. the simpsons debate. it's definitely a closer contest, though i still maintain south park wins it handily. the simpsons does score points on (a) a complete lack of uncouth humor,(b) less preachiness, and (c) a greater balance of characters (SP would completely fall apart without cartman, but no character is truly hegemonic in TS). but overall i suspect most people who've watched both shows prefer SP.

bubs said...

I think if you polled guys in their mid-30s (like me) The Simpsons would win hands down. This has less to do with the quality of the show than the fact that having grown up with Knight Rider, Airwolf and Small Wonder, The Simpsons (along with Seinfeld, Twin Peaks and The Larry Sanders Show)completely changed what we though was possible on television.

I think there is no doubt that South Park is more consistently hilarious than The Simpsons, but do you feel South Park will be as revered say 30 years from now? All to often it relies on topical humour that quickly gets dated. The question with The Simpsons is this: Do 10 years of mediocrity tarnish 10 years of genius?

naqiya said...

nope, cant delete and repost either...

also, i don't know if i agree completely with farooq's comment. i know more than enough americans who follow american pop culture/tv closely who still dont find family guy all that funny (including myself)...

as for south park vs. simpsons...i think it comes down to what kind of humor appeals to you, more than anything else.

there are people who find south park-ean humor too obvious, whereas simpsons is more interesting for a number of reasons: theres the millions of instances of pastiche they shove into each episode (sorry, my media studies prof is obsessed with how the simpsons incapsulates every piece of media theory ever written, but anyway), the ref. of pop culture and all, and the fact that the "message" is not always explicit..

personally, i think the simpsons is way past its prime... there are a few great episodes now and then, but not like before. as ahsan said earlier, south park is way more consistent in its humor, plus i like the smarmy/crass-ness of its particular brand of comedy

sidenote: its a little sad that this is the first time i've discussed something so much on your blog, given how much i was moved by some of your earlier more serious posts

Ahsan said...

bubs: airwolf kicked ass. i was a toddler when it was on in the late 80s, and i temporarily decided i wanted to be a helicopter pilot. just a brilliant all-round show.

you make a good point about whether or not SP will be considered funny years from now. i was actually thinking of stuff like this in a different context recently: namely, slavery and its morality. after all, the idea that slavery is morally reprehensible, let alone illegal, is a very recent one in human history. if morals aren't universal, then why should tastes in art and entertainment be?

i would also say you're being slightly harsh by terming the last 10 years of TS as "mediocre".

naqiya: hey man, better to start at what you consider a non-serious post than not start at all. i say "what you consider" because i spent close to an hour on this post, significantly longer than many of the "serious" ones! personally i think it's very serious topic worthy of discussion.

AKS said...

Bubs you missed out the A-Team, or perhaps you didn't quite enjoy it as much as I did. Nonetheless when you compare Family Guy, Simpsons and South Park, one thing is certain, that Family Guy doesn't deserve to be on the list.

I would also rate South Park as the funniest but sometimes their sermonising does get to me.

asfand said...

Most of south park's season 10 was apalling in my opinion.

Case in point the Oprah minge episode. Not bad, but they took one remotely funny premise and bludgeoned it to death. I was frankly annoyed by the end.

Fair play to Stone and Parker though cause season 11 was absolute class.

bubs said...

@aks: I missed out the A-Team for the same reason I missed out Automan, Manimal, Alf, Moonlighting Dukes of Hazzard, Perfect Starngers, Full House and Remington Steele. They sucked. Boy was it awful growing up in the 80s.

@ahsan: suggestion for future posts since TV discussions seem to stir so much debate. Which series currently considered great do you think will suffer a fall in it's perception? And a list of the best individual seasons of TV shows should also be fun.

FaisalK said...

Eric Cartmen is brilliant.. but he ain't nothing compared to our "great leader"
http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/check/urdu/meta/dps/2008/01/080126_musharraf_zia_sq?size=au&bgc=003399&lang=ur&nbram=1&nbwm=1&bbram=1&bbwm=1

naqiya said...

This is completely unrelated, but heres a website you guys might find interesting:
http://www.bigthink.com

naqiya said...

I should add that the site is 15 days old, but theres a huge potential for interesting discussions

@bubs: I agree with the desire for more tv/pop culture related posts. Greatest tv shows of all time?

Also, what do you guys think about Arrested Development?

asfand said...

The first four seasons of OZ were absolutely fantastic.

As were the first four of West Wing.

Wish they hadn't gone downhill..

AKS said...

@Bubs

I'd forgotten all about Automan, that was one bad, bad show.
A-Team wasn't really all that bad, ok maybe it was, but I liked it, so whatever!

@afsand

I agree about West Wing, wish Aaron Sorkin had continued writing the screenplay. His latest project "Charlie Wilson's War" however is quite ordinary, which is a shame considering the strength of the book.

NB said...

Dude, Automan was great. I watched that shit as a kid, and you dont really care if it sucks. Kids suspend disbeleif easy, and enjoy laughing at lame jokes. Now the Highwayman, that show sucked balls.

And dont forget Manimal and the Wizard (the one with the midget and the toys).

AKS said...

The Highwayman used to scare the fuck out of me. The special effects used in Automan and Manimal were so lame. Man, T.V. really was shocking in the 80s.

Anonymous said...

south park is more shocking and offensive than family guy, and it does not have as much heart as the simpsons does. but family guy is an excellent appeal to those of us with a very sarcastic sense of humor. in the end it all depends what kind of humor you prefer...more witty, catchy, less offensive stuff with good story like the simpsons...more sarcastic, but not very thought provoking, somewhat offensive family guy hilarity...or some south park, most shocking and offensive but also very deep and surprisingly intellectual. i prefer family guy over south park occasionally though not often on account of eric cartman the fat antisocial, selfish bastard who is just about the funniest little creature i've ever witnessed....

Anonymous said...

it's so ovious that family guy is not really copying the simpsons in those clips...family guy is mocking the hell out of em' by making their situation funnier!example....notice the way peter griffin still said hit me after 30, but homer said d'oh! after 22...hahahaha...sarcasm is cool

Anonymous said...

there was nothing relaxed and comical about eric cartman's diatribe.he seemed pretty pissed off that people thought him to be a family guy fan.so how can they(south park) be right.it's ovious that south park is trying to ridicule poor family guy....just the same way they try to ridicule everything...i mean, if yer gonna believe what south park has to say about family guy then you might as well believe everything they have to say about everyone they've ridiculed...which by now is pretty much the whole freekin world...note: there was nothing sarcastic about the family guy short parody clip in south park's manatee idea balls episode...and family guy absolutely must be sarcastic 100% of the time if it wishes to remain popular and unique, it is unmatched in this category. south park wishes it could pull off mindless sarcasm but insted it's just raunchy...deep, but raunchy. won a date to mexico with gary coleman?...que pasa senors?..what choo talkin' bout willis?...dude, willis is dead...totally lame and unlike anything the real family guy would ever muster up.

Eerie Nim said...

i like the simpsons better..

go vote for that at my Voting Polls:
http://VotingPolls.blogspot.com

^^

Anonymous said...

i prefer family guy and use to watch every of its episode.I use to download family guy episodes some times.

zubair khan said...

south park is funnier then family guy...although i like em both..

Anonymous said...

Wow, I guess I still like Family Guy, even after enjoying Cartoon Wars. I can think for myself.

Obviously in a politically correct media culture, SP is the most brave and relevant of satires. Family Guy, the most Politically Correct and accomodating-SP is the only exception to this rule in entertainment today anyhow. But still funny. But I enjoy this holy trinity: FG, SP, and the Simpsons, immensely. (While I am pretty sure of the Leftist and safe bent of Matt Groening, he still gets some good swipes in at political correctness that makes The Simpsons great still.) I certainly couldn't take any of this seriously enough to spoil that. Although I'd enjoy a Family Guy spoof of South Park.

Just an observation, you have to get hooked on FG to enjoy it, and once you do, at least for me, The Simpsons didn't seem quite so funny anymore, at least the new ones. Not sure why.

stephen said...

for me south park tv show is the clear winner. as Simpson is too old and family guy is no way near these two.

Fronge said...

You have chosen an interesting topic and you already got so many comments on this one. Among three i like to Watch Family Guy only. I also agree with the South Park option but Simpson is always rubbish for me right from the beginning.