Perhaps that’s because it seemed as though the writers were gun shy about taking real shots at their guests from Springfield. I salute Family Guy for finding a way to suck in so many Simpsons characters, but there were times when the entire endeavour seemed strained because Family Guy felt like it was holding itself back.
For example, Peter and Homer’s climactic “chicken fight” involves Homer using several Emmy trophies as sort of throwing stars, Peter responds saying that the move was unfair. “I don’t have one of those,” he whines. Before that, Stewie meets Bart and hears the iconic “Eat my shorts,” which enchants Stewie to the point of actually making someone later in the episode eat his Bart Simpson style shorts. Yes, Brian observes, “Eat My Shorts” is a much more durable catchphrase and known by many more people than Stewie’s own “What the deuce?” Later, Stewie even uses “Cowabunga!” When was the last time Bart used “Cowabunga?” It was still the 20th century, right?
But Family Guy’s got to be Family Guy, and in the midst of serious debates about gender equality, up to and including the theft of nude photos of female celebrities from Apple’s iCloud, the show heads into the issue like a bull in a china shop. The Griffins’ trip to Springfield is a sudden one after Peter’s poorly drawn newspaper cartoon, featuring a man bringing his physically injured wife to a repairman saying “My dishwasher’s broken,” draws a legion of female protestors. I know pointed social commentary isn’t Family Guy’s “thing,” but it at least seems to understand the dynamics. But then Bart and Stewie decide to make prank calls to Moe, and while Bart’s joke is to have Moe ask for a “Lee Keybutt,” Stewie’s is to tell Moe that his sister is being raped. Like father, like son, I guess.
But while Stewie’s hero worship of Bart goes to some dark places, I did enjoy the friendship that developed between Lisa and Meg. Poor Meg remains the Griffin punching bag, which makes her the ideal project for Lisa, who tries to bolster Meg’s self-esteem by finding something the oldest Griffin child might be good at. As it turns out, Meg, like Lisa, has a natural aptitude for the saxophone, and although Lisa’s initially jealous, she eventually gives Meg the saxophone, recognizing her raw talent and giving Meg a rare dose of positive re-enforcement. It doesn’t last long, however, as Peter puts the sax in the trash can, telling Meg that there’s no more room in the car.
By and large, I think this episode unfurled almost exactly how I thought it would. There were some decent gags, including a cutaway appearance by Bob from Bob’s Burgers, but there was also a terrible sense that the show was leaning on nostalgia rather than paving new ground from this unique team-up. For instance, Stewie’s encounter with Nelson seemed an awful lot like that time he had Charlie the Bully tied up in “The Kiss Seen Round the World.” As for the aforementioned “chicken fight,” it just didn’t work because either it’s been done to death, it went on way too long, or that it was ludicrously over the top, even more a cartoon that revels in absurdity.
So far as cartoon crossovers go, “The Simpsons Guy” doesn’t reach the subtle and subversive greatness of “A Star is Burns,” the Simpsons classic that brought The Critic to Springfield, but Family Guy’s typical self-awareness assures that it didn’t reach the low ebb of The Jetsons Meet The Flintstones. That was a TV movie from the 80s that showed a cave man could thrive in the future, and a guy who owns a flying car could survive amongst dinosaurs without being killed horribly inside of an hour. No choice in this crossover was that obvious, but there was a formula, even if it was more like a loose collection of highlights rather than a plot progression.
I doubt The Simpsons will ever be so desperate as to return the favour, but there is a crossover with Futurama coming soon. It took 26 years to get here, the point that The Simpsons staff would allow another show to play with their characters, or the point where they would exploit another show’s fanbase for their own ends. Maybe all the haters were right, but then again, if they’re anything like the Family Guy writers, that derision just disguises a love that will never die.