Family Guy is a haven for pop culture references – particularly gags involving parodies of other TV shows. This was subject of much criticism in the early days of the show, as one critic described the entire series as “The Simpsons as conceived by a singularly sophomoric mind that lacks any reference point beyond other TV shows.” But as the show has gained more and more fans and become one of the most popular shows on television, those critics have been silenced by millions of fans across the world who fell in love with the non-sequitur cutaway gags that poke fun at TV shows and fictional characters. Sure, series creator Seth MacFarlane might rely on pop culture references for laughs, but so what? They’re hilarious! There’s no show that’s more unabashedly funny than Family Guy. That’s all the show is trying to be. It’s not trying to be higher art. It’s not trying to stack up to the works of Proust and Shakespeare. It’s just trying to make you laugh. It just wants to provide you with some offensive, postmodern, intertextual comedy. So, sue the writers and the animators and the voice cast for trying to entertain you. God. Anyway, here are the 10 greatest television parodies on Family Guy!
10. Rodney King of Queens
Some of the best parodies and comedy sketches out there combine two movies or TV shows or real life events that have nothing to do with one another, but with some sort of thread that you can find that you might be able to use to link the two. This is a perfect example of that. The King of Queens was a very popular sitcom starring Kevin James that was often described negatively as a “cookie cutter sitcom,” because it had the fat husband and the beautiful wife who nagged the husband to do household chores and there was a resident wacko. This may be the case, but it was still a great show. Anyway, Family Guy saw this and decided that it might be funny to do “Rodney King of Queens” – Rodney King, of course, being the black taxi driver who was brutally and unnecessarily beaten by police in an event that kicked off city-wide riots in Los Angeles in the ‘90s. So, naturally, the joke is that when the wife from King of Queens asks Rodney if he has done a household chore and he tells her he hasn’t, she brutally beats him to the floor in the same way that the real Rodney King was beaten by the police in L.A. It’s not very tasteful, but then this is Family Guy.
9. The Hills
The Family Guy episode “We Love You, Conrad,” in which Brian begins dating The Hills star Lauren Conrad, is filled with accurate future predictions. Stewie tells Brian that Caitlyn Jenner is an “elegant, beautiful Dutch woman,” and this was years before she came out as trans. Plus, the episode implies that Conrad had a shady sexual encounter with Bill Cosby, five years before the first allegation of sexual assault was made against the comedian. The show also acts as a hysterical takedown of the MTV reality series The Hills. When Brian and Stewie take a look behind the scenes of the show and sits in on the editing process, the assertion that an episode of The Hills is cut together using just a few seconds of original footage along with shots of the streets of Los Angeles and clips from old episodes of The A-Team is delightfully absurd. It’s ridiculous, but it’s not that far from something you could actually wrap your head around being real. Also, portraying Spencer Pratt as an orangutan from the Planet of the Apes movies was a stroke of absurdist genius. While Lauren Conrad herself has no intentions to become an actress and believes her own acting abilities to be “awful,” Seth MacFarlane commended her performance in the episode as “surprisingly fantastic.”
8. All in the Family
It would very hard to get a show like All in the Family made in today’s age of blind political correctness, but the show was actually very progressive for its time. It’s about the clash of conservative and liberal views in an era when the traditional American values were being challenged. The show inspired everyone from Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park to Family Guy’s very own Seth MacFarlane. From the opening titles of Family Guy, you can see the influence of All in the Family. For starters, there’s Peter and Lois playing the piano, just like the opening titles of All in the Family. Plus, the lyrics of Family Guy’s theme song (specifically “But where are those good old fashioned values/On which we used to rely?”) reflect those of All in the Family’s own theme song, “Those Were the Days.” All in the Family’s lead character is a brash, loud-mouthed conservative named Archie Bunker and he’s a comedy icon, but he does have some questionable prejudices (it was the ‘70s). Those prejudices are finally questioned in this Family Guy gag, in which Archie and his wife Edith don white sheets and burn a cross on the lawn of an African American family.
Obviously, all the best parodies of Jeopardy! and its host Alex Trebek are on Saturday Night Live and come courtesy of Will Ferrell and his rolling roster of celebrity contestants. But there’s a pretty great one on Family Guy, too. Adam West appears as a contestant on the show and gets Trebek to say his name backwards, “Kebert Xela,” in order to send him back to the fifth dimension. This is a reference to Superman villain, Mr. Mxyzptlk, who is sent back to the fifth dimension with the same technique. Exactly why Alex Trebek was chosen for this joke is unclear, but it is hilarious. And amazingly, the producers of the show managed to get Trebek on the show to play himself, just for this absurdly funny scene. The episode that it’s from, “I Take Thee Quagmire,” is a hilarious one. It sees Quagmire fall in love and get married, only to realize that his new wife is a psychopath who is on the brink of killing both herself and him and need to fake his own death in order to get rid of her. The critics described the episode as “dark and horrible, but brilliant.” Given that this is Family Guy, that makes it a classic episode!
When The AV Club reviewed the Family Guy episode “The Man with Two Brians,” they criticized the opening for “started things out on the wrong foot with an oh so relevant Jackass storyline.” They were being sarcastic about it being relevant, but a good parody of something can be enjoyed at any time. Who cares when it is? Family Guy’s lampooning of Jackass was spot on. They managed to get Johnny Knoxville to play himself in an exaggerated Jackass stunt where he has his face blasted off with a shotgun – and that gives Peter the idea to try it out for themselves. Cleveland has all the best lines during the Jackass sequence. When Peter suggests that they try doing some Jackass stunts of their own, he says, “That skull and crossbones warning before the show was pretty clear about not doing that.” Plus, when Peter does his stunt on the roof (which he calls “Shopping cart…Roof…R-R-Roof shopping cart…guys”) and dislocates his spine and doesn’t know whether to apply ice or heat, Cleveland sternly says, “Ice now, heat later.” The best moment has to be Quagmire’s stunt, where he lathers his genitals up in honey and unleashes a hive of bees on it. The second the bees come out, you can tell he regrets it – and the other guys don’t make it any easier for him. When Peter goes around shaving parts out of everyone’s hair set to the theme music from Psycho is a close second, too.
5. Looney Tunes
A lot of great Family Guy gags take innocent kids’ cartoons that we all remember from our childhood and make them very dark and real. That’s exactly what they did with Looney Tunes, with the relationship between Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. See, in the cartoon, Elmer Fudd is a hunter who is constantly being made fun of and undermined by the rabbit he’s trying to kill. If he was a real hunter, none of that would happen. He’d just shoot Bugs Bunny a bunch of times, snap his neck, and then haul him off to have for dinner. And that’s exactly what he does in this particularly shocking and graphic Family Guy cutaway gag. In real life, the rivalry between Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny would not last for years and Fudd would not be the loser in every instance. Taking Looney Tunes into the real world is a great comedic concept. We’re all familiar with the characters from those cartoons – especially Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd – and so we’re all, in equal measures, horrified and amused by the sight of Elmer Fudd shooting Bugs Bunny in the chest, snapping his neck, and dragging his bloody corpse through the woods.
4. Dawson’s Creek
The WB drama series Dawson’s Creek, a teen soap opera that starred James Van Der Beek and Katie Holmes, opens itself very much to parody – and Family Guy clearly took note of that. In the episode “Peterotica,” Carter loses all of his money after he gives Peter $5 to self-publish his erotica and it ends in a lawsuit. At first, Peter tries to explain how to live like a poor person to Carter, before they both realize how much that sucks and resolve to make a bunch of money and become rich. Among their terrible ‘get rich quick’ schemes is the idea to make their own TV show for the same teen audience as Dawson’s Creek. Their show, Quahog Creek, is nothing more than a shallow rip-off of the WB show. It starts with Peter standing on a boat in a lake, vaguely bluffing his way through the lyrics of the Dawson’s Creek theme song, which is hilarious. But the pièce de résistance is the following scene, in which Peter is in bed with Carter in a wig, trying to convince him to have sex with him. In the end, Carter leaves, because it all becomes to real, and Brian turns the camera on himself and says, “We will be back.” If only the real Dawson’s Creek was this entertaining…
3. The Jetsons
The best pop culture parodies in Family Guy – and this goes for movies and music videos and historical events as well as TV shows – take something that’s familiar and endearing to us as an audience and put a fresh and interesting spin on it. The opening titles of The Jetsons are usually delightful and amusing. The kids whizz off down to school in their floating pods and then Jane holds her hand out to George for some money. He takes one bill out for her to take, and then she grabs the whole wallet and disappears with all of his cash. In real life, if this happened, George would be furious. Well, the same goes for this Family Guy joke, in which George grabs Jane, drags her back on board, and tells her, “No, no, no! No! No! I took this one out for you. You take this one, I keep this! You are not taking my whole wallet so you can go shopping.” This cutaway gag gets bonus points for being an important part of the plot of the episode, “Meet the Quagmires,” since Jane’s death is what gives Peter the chance to see Death again and get sent back in time to fix things.
2. The A-Team
“Brian Goes Back to College” is an episode about Brian getting a job at the New Yorker, losing it for not having a college education, and heading back to Brown University to finish earning his degree. But it’s really about Peter and the guys winning a costume contest for dressing up like the characters from The A-Team and then deciding to stay in those costumes and use it to help people. Series creator Seth MacFarlane promised before the episode aired that it would be “a real treat for The A-Team fans.” Casting Peter as Hannibal, Quagmire as Faceman, Joe as “Howling Mad” Murdock, and Cleveland as B.A. was a stroke of genius. Plus, the parody of the opening title sequence of the show, tweaked to reflect the plot of the episode, was spot on. This was achieved by the animators doing a whole bunch of different attempts at the opening title sequence in order to get it as close as possible to the original. They took the original frame by frame and drew it from that – and it paid off! A critic from TV Squad wrote that the episode’s “thirty second recreation of The A-Team opening had me about as excited as anything else on TV.”
1. The whole of “Emmy-Winning Episode”
The greatest TV parody in the history of Family Guy came in the form of an entire episode called “Emmy-Winning Episode,” in which Peter tries to figure out why the Academy voters have snubbed his show for so many years. Over the course of the episode, pretty much every single show that’s ever won an award gets lampooned: The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards, Girls, Transparent, Modern Family, Cheers, How I Met Your Mother, Better Call Saul, The Big Bang Theory, 30 Rock, The Daily Show, Mr. Robot, The Simpsons – literally so many TV spoofs. Plus, every celebrity who is an Emmy darling either appears as themselves or as a parody version: Sofia Vergara, Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, a pre-scandal Louis C.K., Bill Maher, Tracy Morgan, Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Kelsey Grammer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Shonda Rhimes, Aaron Sorkin – the cameos don’t stop coming (some of whom, admittedly, could not be brought on to play themselves, but the jokes against them are all great). There’s even a live action appearance by adult film star Asa Akira. The meta episodes of Family Guy are always the best, and this one goes above and beyond by having a genuine and honest moment of acceptance about the show’s shortcomings and why it will never win an Emmy.