As we all know, MacFarlane came into the limelight when Fox approached him to create a new classic family-based cartoon for the network. The result of which was Family Guy, the catalyst for an empire led by the now highest paid television writer in the world. He wowed us, despite many considerations that it could never replace The Simpsons, a cartoon that was falling into it’s lesser successful twilight years (or so we, and Groening, thought) at the time Family Guy was in production. MacFarlane gave us a classic formula, but seasoned it with all new ideas for what a cartoon of this kind could bring to television and the animation world. He made his creative mark with a clever gag: the iconic Family Guy flashbacks that loosely tied into an episode’s actual plot, though at times with forced initiation in the writing. MacFarlane also brought back elements of television that had been missing for over ten years, the orchestral theme music. A passion of his that led to many humorous show tunes throughout the series, not the least of which was the profoundly hilarious and poignant “Fellas At The Freakin’ FCC.”
In the beginning, it was Seth’s passion for television and appreciation for classic music that kept us interested and tuned in to every episode. So much so that a massive population of fans, who apparently didn’t show up in the ratings, demanded the show be brought back to television after it’s cancellation, resulting in a landmark comeback episode that took every opportunity to crack a joke at Fox’s sketchy television history. But it was around this time that something began to change about the show. Whether or not it was any amount of bitterness on MacFarlane’s part is unknown (though often speculated), but the show started to make a distinct turn in a different direction, one where MacFarlane opened the floodgates of his humor, seeming to declare that nothing is sacred. Where before we had a Family Guy that made us laugh out loud with quick-paced slapstick humor and a motley crew of family characters, this new frontier of MacFarlane humor took us in a direction that cracked jokes at terminal childhood illnesses, the disposal of teenage mothers’ fetuses, and eventually, direct humorless comments of extreme criticism toward people of faith.
That final note was the segue into the more modern Family Guy we know today, where we now have entire episodes devoted to more serious topics, but with a heavy slant in the direction of MacFarlane’s personal ideals. His liberalism and atheism are well known, made very clear throughout his three cartoons currently running on Fox, Cartoon Network, and TBS. But this is not an article necessarily condemning these ideals; It is not my intention to debate religion or politics. However, the injection of these ideals into his cartoons and the execution of them within the writing is where I find a challenging issue. Fans of his cartoons sit down to enjoy the humor that MacFarlane provides, yet more and more we sit down and find ourselves listening to Seth MacFarlane’s personal views through a thin veil of pseudo-comedic dialogue and monologue. Where we once would see Peter Griffin topple over a chair because he forgot how to sit down, or Brian calling Peter an idiot for building a water luge down the staircase, we now listen to Stewie make incomprehensible connections to He-Man action figures and childhood homosexuality, breaking the fourth wall with a humorless imperative that people of faith will have to “explain” it to their god. Where we once enjoyed Brian’s quick-witted knocks on Stewie’s failures to murder his own mother, we now listen to Brian complain about republicans, Fox News, and anyone native to Texas, Kentucky, etc.
What is so troubling about these moments is that this is not what brought fans to the show. While it is true that every show needs to be more fresh with every season in order to remain enjoyable, Family Guy seems to have gone through a complete metamorphosis from its roots, and MacFarlane’s integrity has become highly questionable as a result. It leaves former fans such as myself asking if Seth’s passion for the industry can endure his seemingly unquenchable thirst to mold Family Guy into a soapbox for his political and anti-religious ideals. If he intends to do such a thing, it would seem to make far more sense for the creator, now notorious for pumping out new series’, to create a new show that allows for this writing platform to thrive, rather than twist Family Guy in a direction that many would agree does not coincide with the origins of the series and what made it so successful.
Even with these criticisms so prevalent, so perched above MacFarlane’s career, the hundred million dollar animation emperor has already extended into the film industry, with his live-action feature film “Ted” to hit theaters June 29th, a film already garnering criticism for it’s crass humor and MacFarlane-level offensiveness. However, another project comes with more general interest. Given the criticisms outlined about, particularly regarding MacFarlane’s integrity, he has recently been in dealings to reboot the iconic series “The Flintstones.” According to MacFarlane, the show will be carefully developed to coincide with the series’ original appeal, which I need not remind you, was starkly family friendly compared to Seth’s reputation as a television writer. This may be just the project to prove to the industry that he has the will power to curb his ideals in lieu of sustaining the integrity of what is arguably the most classic television series in animation history. If MacFarlane fails this task, if he fails to meet the standards of such a highly respected series as The Flintstones, there is significant reason to believe that the career he has built may be stifled for years, or even for good.