Seth McFarlane has masterminded two of the best animated shows of the past 20 years, Family Guy and American Dad!. Family Guy came first, giving us the escapades of working class moron Peter Griffin and his quirky family. Returning from a four year cancellation in 2005, Family Guy has since become a beloved show, known for its cut-away gags, shock humor, and lewd dialogue. But in 2005, McFarlane gave us American Dad!, the story of gun-toting, God-fearing, Republican CIA Agent Stan Smith and his own quirky family…and their alien. As both series have gone on, it’s become increasingly clear that American Dad! has surpassed Family Guy in nearly every way. The characters are better, the comedic mechanisms are better, the storylines are better; the whole show is just better. It’s an argument that isn’t often brought up, but let’s bring it up here. Here are the 12 reason why American Dad! is better than Family Guy.
12. Doesn’t Rely On Celebrities to Advance Plots
Family Guy is known far and wide for its use of celebrity guest voices to spice up episodes. Chevy Chase, Dan Akroyd, Ryan Reynolds, and Cheryl Tiegs have all been prominent guest voices on the show starring as themselves. Rather than use current peripheral characters or introduce new characters, the writers of Family Guy have resorted to using celebrities to drum up viewer interest on dozens of occasions. By contrast, American Dad! rarely uses celebrities to advance its plots.
Yes, the show has had celebrity guest voices and did have an entire episode revolve around George Clooney, but it hasn’t become a hackneyed recurring ploy to get viewers to tune in. The occasional celebrity appearance can spice up an episode and be a great comedic mechanism when used in moderation, but Family Guy should be focusing more on its recurring characters than celebrity guests.
11. Doesn’t Rely on Random Cut-Away Gags
Family Guy’s classic comedic mechanism is its random cut-away gags. Often set up by Peter, these gags usually have very little (if anything) to do with the main plot and come off like a cheap way to get laughs, such as “Cleveland’s bathroom is the best discovery since fat women discovered diet coke.” While the jokes are funny and often rely on shock factor, they don’t really add anything to the episode; they just pull you out of it. Rather than overuse cut-away gags, American Dad! relies on all of the humor being centralized around the main plot or side plots.
Sure, there are peripheral jokes that use shock factor to make you laugh, such as Steve mentioning Roger’s Klaus tattoo, or any of Roger’s explanations for one of his many personas, but it’s rarely to the point of pulling you out of the episode. Most of the quotable material in Family Guy comes from cut-away gags that feature completely random comedy. American Dad! centralizes its humor to make you laugh while telling a story, rather than needing to consistently go off on a needless tangent.
10. American Dad! Hit Its Stride Right Away
It’s no secret that it took Family Guy until about season four or five to finally gain some traction and become a staple for comedy fans. The first few seasons were funny, yes, but they featured the usual growing pains that new shows do (and led to a temporary cancellation to boot). There were various voice actor changes, rapidly changing character personalities, and constantly developing comedic mechanisms.
Much like Futurama before it, American Dad! owns the rare distinction of being a great show from day one. Stan Smith was fully fleshed out as a gun-toting, liberal hating, God-fearing republican from the start of the series and still is to this day. The writers of American Dad! clearly had their ducks in a row when putting the first season together. None of the episodes seem out of place. Family Guy took quite a few season to finally get into a rhythm and have the characters properly developed for viewers to invest in them.
9. Their Fantasy Episodes Are Way Better
Yes, Family Guy’s Star Wars spoofs were pretty great and they’ve had some decent fantasy episodes over the years — mostly revolving around Stewie’s time machine — but American Dad! takes the idea of fantasy episodes to a whole new level. On several occasions the writers have completely abandoned the usual story structure and placed the characters in a totally different fantasy setting to give viewers something different. The best examples of this are season three’s “Tearjerker” which turns Stan into a James Bond-like character and Roger the supervillain. Season nine’s “Blood Crieth Unto Heaven” places the characters into a 1950s stage play framed by a live action Patrick Stewart. By giving viewers a completely different setting and story, American Dad’s writers are able to let the show’s base plot breathe and prevent episodes from becoming stale.
8. Better Peripheral Characters
American Dad! has an absolute plethora of peripheral and background characters who are well developed enough to carry a complete episode. Meanwhile, Family Guy also has great peripheral characters like Mayor Adam West, Mort Goldman, and Dr. Hartman, but most of these characters employ the same mechanisms to get laughs over and over and few have the ability to carry a whole episode. Sure, there have been episodes that revolve around Quagmire or Joe, but these are few and far between. On the other hand, the supporting characters in American Dad! have been developed enough throughout the series to have entire plots revolve around them.
Season 3’s “Surro-Gate” revolves entirely around the Smiths’ gay neighbors Greg and Terry and their attempt to father a child. Season 1’s “With Friends Like Steve’s” features Steve’s slow-minded friend Barry as the main star and much of his character gets fleshed out as a result. Family Guy has yet to prominently feature strong peripheral character development and it may never do so, considering how far along the series is.
7. Incredible Side Stories
Almost every episode of American Dad! has at least two storylines, one of which holds the main plotline of the show, and another which is either loosely related to the main plot, or not at all (also known as the B plot). Thus, the show offers the viewer two distinct storylines to break up an episode and keep it engaging. American Dad! does this better than any other show of its ilk and honestly it works ever better when the side story has nothing to do with the main plot.
In “Red October Sky,” the main story features Stan and Steve building a model rocket to compete with Stan’s mortal enemy, former Russian Spy Sergei Kruglov. However, it’s the side story of Roger and Klaus visiting Europe that contains some of the episode’s most memorable moments. The ability to maintain not just an interesting main storyline, but an excellent side plot is another advantage that American Dad! has over Family Guy.
6. Better Female Characters
Family Guy’s female characters aren’t really characters at all. Sure, Lois is involved in the plot of many episodes, but she’s mostly used as a prop. This is also abundantly clear with Meg. Even when episodes revolve around Meg, she’s more or less just poked and prodded for cheap laughs. American Dad! has female characters that are actually an important part of the cast ensemble. Many episodes feature female characters in a prominent and positive way.
Season three’s “Vacation Goo” revolves around Francine’s wish for the family to have a real family vacation. Season seven’s “White Rice” centers on Francine’s struggle to to get Stan to accept her family. Hayley is also featured as a centerpiece for many episodes such as “Adventures in Hayleysitting” and “She Swill Survive.” By featuring strong female characters, American Dad! has a leg up over Family Guy in offering more diverse storylines and doing right by its female audience.
5. Seemingly Unlimited Character Pairings
American Dad! has the unique ability to pair any of its two characters together and come up with an impeccable storyline. Whether it’s Klaus and Roger visiting Europe, Francine and Roger going to wine country, Hayley and Steve making fake IDs, or even Stan and Bullock on the run from CIA operatives, all the episodes work great. Unfortunately, Family Guy doesn’t have this sort of diversity when it comes to its character matchups.
Stewie and Brian work well together and usually have an episode to themselves per season, but Family Guy rarely uses diverse character pairings to build an episode around. Most stories revolve around either a single character or a small group of the same characters like Peter, Joe, Cleveland, and Quagmire. American Dad! has taken a step ahead by giving its viewers an endless array of character pairings to build unique storylines.
4. The Recurring Jokes Actually Have Substance
Anyone else getting tired of Peter Griffin fighting the giant chicken? Yeah, to be honest it was ridiculously hilarious the first time. It went on forever and it was unbelievable. The sheer fact that the writers even wrote the scene was enough to make you laugh. But what are we on now, like the seventh giant chicken fight? It isn’t funny anymore, it’s just grasping at straws. Recurring jokes should have substance and be presented in new and inventive ways. This is an area that American Dad! thrives.
The show features some of the best recurring jokes, the most prominent of which is Steve and Roger’s portrayal of their private investigator alter-egos “Wheels and the Legman.” It’s one of the funniest bits on television and recurs just enough to satisfy fans, but not oversaturate them. Each time “Wheels and the Legman” are brought back, it’s in a new, even better way. Whether they’re solving the case of the mysterious key, or trying to track down Francine after her disappearance in New York City, the bit works perfectly. Another great example of this is Stan’s eccentric boss, Deputy Director Avery Bullock (voiced by the incomparable Sir Patrick Stewart). It is established early in the series that Bullock is a complete wildcard, often given completely random material to spice up an episode, such as my personal favorite “What if the ‘C’ in CIA stood for Cat?”. A character like Bullock could have long since overstayed his welcome, but he’s used just enough and in enough different ways to make him a memorable part of the show, despite his short screen time.
3. The Ensemble Actually Works
Sure, the Griffin family has a great family dynamic. Peter is a moron alcoholic that always gets into hijinks, Stewie is an evil talking baby, and Meg is the one everyone hates (without it ever being explained why…). The problem with the Griffins though is that they don’t exactly play off each other well or pair off well together. Other than the few episodes that revolve around Brian and Stewie, the Griffins don’t work together to make you laugh; the laughter more often comes at the other’s expense.
In comparison, the Smiths have work very well together throughout the entirety of American Dad!. Multiple episodes revolve around their survival by working together as a family, such as season three’s “Vacation Goo,” and season seven’s “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls.” This can also be seen in the ongoing theme of Stan’s hatred for his son-in-law Jeff, and his eventual acceptance of Jeff through surviving a crisis together. Family Guy has never really come close to this level of emotional interaction between its main characters.
2. The Episodes Often Teach a Lesson
American Dad! has morals. Family Guy does not. In all seriousness, Family Guy’s episodes often end in a ridiculous manner without giving the viewer the satisfaction of any emotional experience. For example, season 10’s “Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q” shows a grim situation of spousal abuse but it simply ends (spoiler alert) with Quagmire killing his sister’s boyfriend. Bang, the episode is over; crack a joke about how she’s alone now, roll credits. The writers had an opportune moment to deliver some kind of social commentary on spousal abuse but instead, they just poked fun at it and called it a night.
American Dad! episodes have a few hokey endings as well, but the viewer is more often than not taught a lesson, or at least given something to think about. In season 2’s “American Dream Factory,” Stan learns that illegal immigrants aren’t “Parasites sucking on the life blood of America,” they’re just people like you and I, trying to make a better life for themselves. In season 7’s “Old Stan and the Mountain,” Stan learns to respect senior citizens through a Freaky-Friday-esque hex. Yes, the main point of both American Dad! and Family Guy is to make the viewer laugh, but American Dad! does that and more by offering the occasional moral for good measure.
1. Roger Smith
Roger Smith is the best animated character since Homer Simpson and may just be the most diverse character in cartoon history. He lives in the Smiths’ attic because of a life debt, runs a bar in said attic and has hundreds of personas, each complete with their own unique backstory. Roger’s personas alone put anything Family Guy has to offer to shame. Whether it’s Genie Gold, Wedding Planner, Ace Chapman, Ricky Spanish, or Roy Rogers McFreely, Roger’s personas could honestly have their own show.
Roger is a complete wildcard that always brings a different dynamic to each episode. His complete disregard for others is an incredible recurring theme that allows for seemingly endless stories. Family Guy has some memorable characters for sure: Peter has moronic escapades, Quagmire brings great hijinks, and Joe is the constant whipping boy for other characters, but the series does not have a character as dynamic and memorable as Roger Smith.