"The Family Guy/Simpsons" crossover episode this Sunday -- which has very nearly been overlooked by the vast republic of viewers out there more intent on checking out the new "NCIS: New Orleans" -- was handed a gift Wednesday by the AP's respected TV writer, David Bauder. He reported there is growing controversy over a line embedded in the sizzle reel released at Comic-Con:
Stewie makes a prank call to Moe's tavern to one-up his new hero, Bart Simpson. The full transcript of that call: "Your sister is being raped." Click.
It is of course an awful, horrific line -- utterly characteristic of Stewie -- and is meant to underscore Stewie's pathetic attempt at matching Bart's attempt at humor. In other words, it is meant to be awful.
But on it's own, it looks like another vile -- in this instance misogynistic -- "Family Guy" joke, which could underscore something else: There's real risk for "The Simpsons" by agreeing to this melding of sensibility and humor.
Who knows how many other bombs are in this thing, which threaten to blow up in "The Simpsons'" fans' faces?
I have, I think, an answer to that question right here and now: This is it, no more. (Fox declined to give this out for review -- but happily gave us "Red Band Society." Thanks, Fox.)
Show bosses Al Jean (and Matt Groening) have said repeatedly they have no beef with the show, no issues to speak of, although Jean did say at the recent press tour this: "We said, 'Can you cut one rape joke?' And they said, 'No.' And we said, 'OK.'"
(There was another line that was problematic and apparently the "Family Guy" guys agreed to making that adjustment.)
"The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" have an interesting and fraught history -- which I discuss in a column Friday (briefly). Everyone who knows both shows knows the history intimately -- embedded little missiles that fly back and forth between both series that castigates the target's relevance or Neanderthal sensibilities. "South Park" -- it seems to me -- has been a far more effective critic of "Family Guy" and its formula, but that's just one opinion.
Here's the brief outtake from my Friday piece which (briefly) discusses the old rivalry. In a 2007 episode:
"Guy's" Glenn Quagmire shot and killed every member of the Simpsons after having sex with Marge; Fox refused to air the bit, and it was cut (but was reinserted on the DVD set). The rivalry can seem a bit vicious -- "The Simpsons" have poked at "Guy's" habit of borrowing from it -- although both insist it's all been in good fun: "If anything, we have the same kind of competition that Pugsley Addams and Eddie Munster had in the old days," Groening once said.
Again, none of this is news to fans, but does beg the old question: Why are these two in bed together?
Another outtake from my Friday column:
In television, the answer to "why" is always "to make money," but there may be elements of homage here, too. "Guy" would simply not exist without "The Simpsons," and this is certainly a form of payback. Now, back to the money bit: As a Fox corporate asset, “The Simpsons” has skyrocketed in importance, as the foundation for FXX, while a vast new website, Simpsons World, is expected to bow in October. In a deal valued at $700 million-plus, FXX has full digital rights to 552-plus episodes of “The Simpsons.” With that kind of money on the barrel, the more exposure (and promotion), the better.
So there you have it, friends. Television is about money and cross-promotion is about making money. If it takes a bad joke by Stewie to underscore this point, so be it. The republic of television will continue.