Content Warning: The following contains discussions of violence, abuse, terrorism, and ableism.
When Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy first hit Fox’s airwaves, it was criticized as a pale imitation of The Simpsons, and the show’s emphasis on the everyday suburban family made the comparison undeniably apt. However, the series eventually manifested a unique personality, brand, and sense of humor, and Family Guy went to carve a singular niche as the much darker cousin to The Simpsons.
Family Guy’s willingness to go to much more offensive and challenging places than The Simpsons, exploring dicier themes and pushing the boundaries of network television, has resulted in these unremittingly dark and controversial installments.
Updated on March 24th, 2022 by Tanner Fox: Though often uncomfortable and controversial, much of Family Guy’s identity is tied to its proclivity for potentially-distasteful humor. Making light of everything from the assassinations of prominent political figures to all-too-soon topical jokes, there’s almost nothing from which the showrunners will shy away.
With that in mind, there are almost uncountable moments in Family Guy meant entirely to offend. Some, of course, are more palatable than others, but these fifteen are some of the most egregious examples of the show’s over-the-top satire.
Seahorse Seashell Party (Season 10, Episode 2)
When Fox did a crossover event with hurricane-themed episodes of Family Guy, American Dad!, and The Cleveland Show, Family Guy’s entry in the “Night of the Hurricane” pantheon took a strange turn. Stuck in the house during the storm, Brian decides to take magic mushrooms and has a really bad trip.
There’s a lot of fun to be had with the surrealist animation as Brian hallucinates and Stewie helps him through it, but it’s more disturbing than funny, often evoking upsetting themes and playing on the paranoia of unfortunate experiences with recreational drugs.
No Meals On Wheels (Season 5, Episode 14)
After Peter receives a financial windfall, he uses it to open his own restaurant. Unfortunately, he struggles to maintain a loyal clientele, leading Joe to step in and make it the go-to hangout spot for his friends. To Peter’s dismay, his friends are all paraplegic. Believing that this would somehow further impact his business, Peter bars them from the establishment, prompting a fight between the friends.
As silly as it is insensitive, “No Meals on Wheels” is a particularly goofy episode of Family Guy. While the show often forces Joe to be the butt of many jokes, it feels particularly out-of-hand in this season 5 outing.
Stewie Is Enceinte (Season 13, Episode 12)
When he becomes worried that he and Brian are drifting apart in “Stewie is Enceinte,” Stewie secretly takes some of the dog’s DNA and impregnates himself with it, resulting in a troubling litter of dog-human hybrid creatures.
Brian and Stewie end up with way more kids than they can handle. Most of them have birth defects, necessitating round-the-clock care that the ill-prepared parents can’t afford. Eventually, they ditch their kids at an animal shelter. It’s a grim take on domestic mistreatment paired with a certain Cronnenberg-esque unpleasantness.
Trading Places (Season 9, Episode 13)
Chris works at the brewery and Meg becomes a homemaker while Peter and Lois go to high school in “Trading Places” in order to determine whether it’s easier to be an adult or a kid. Chris ends up being so good at Peter’s job that he’s hired permanently.
However, the stress of being the breadwinner of the house at such a young age gets to Chris, and he starts drinking heavily, having heart palpitations, and verbally abusing his family at every opportunity. It’s a not-so-fun shoe-on-the-other foot scenario that may cut a little too close to home in some cases.
Death Is A B**** (Season 2, Episode 6)
In this season 2 episode, Peter marks himself as diseased in order to evade a pricey hospital bill. However, this prompts a visit from Death himself, who later twists an ankle in pursuit of Peter. The Griffin family patriarch must then temporarily assume Death’s duties while he is recovering.
While it’s overall fairly light-hearted and features a guest spot from the late comedian Norm MacDonald, “Death is a B****” does deal with some fairly heavy subject matter, particularly during the finale sequence in which Peter must decide who to kill during a potentially-fatal plane crash.
Partial Terms Of Endearment (Season 8, Episode 21)
While it is available on home media, “Partial Terms of Endearment” has never been allowed to air in the United States. Fox refused to broadcast the episode and requested that Adult Swim not air it, either. Ironically, this likely drew more attention to the episode than if Fox had just aired it.
In the episode, Lois is asked by friends to be a surrogate mother. She gets pregnant, then the friends who were going to raise the baby die, so Lois has to decide whether to raise it herself or get an abortion. It’s a scathingly sardonic episode with a premise that doesn’t feel fit for a comedy series in the slightest.
Airport ’07 (Season 5, Episode 12)
A loose parody of the classic 1980s comedy Airplane!, “Aiport ’07” sees Peter and the gang stage an airplane hijacking in order to portray Quagmire as a hero of aviation, thereby reinstating his pilot position from which he was fired. Things don’t go exactly according to plan, though Quagmire is able to save the day at the last second.
Memorable thanks to a cameo from the late Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, “Airport ’07” draws a few uncomfortable parallels to the September 11th attacks. It’s also notable for its out-of-place “Prom Night Dumpster Baby” cutaway gag which has become famous among fans of the show.
Halloween On Spooner Street (Season 9, Episode 4)
Chris and Meg go to a party with the hopes of finding someone to hook up with in “Halloween on Spooner Street.” The only issue is that they unwittingly hooked up with each other because they were in a dark closet. At the end of the episode, after being initially horrified by the revelation, they decide to just enjoy the fact that they hooked up, despite it being incestuous.
Meanwhile, Peter and Joe develop a habit of pranking Quagmire. Sick of their antics, Quagmire takes them for a near-fatal ride in a Japanese World War 2-era fighter plane. The episode is offensive on all fronts, and, while that’s par for the course for the series, it may have even strong-stomached fans turning away in disgust.
Brian & Stewie (Season 8, Episode 17)
The episode’s titular duo of Brian and Stewie is trapped in a bank vault over a weekend in, the extra-long 150th episode of the series. The lack of cutaway gags and location changes puts the focus squarely on the characters, allowing for some uncharacteristic soul-searching.
The darkest point in the episode is when Stewie finds a gun in Brian’s safety deposit box and Brian reveals his dark reasons for keeping it. Unflinchingly morbid, “Brian and Stewie” strays from the show’s typical laugh-a-minute routine, forcing viewers through an uncomfortable emotional gauntlet.
Turban Cowboy (Season 11, Episode 15)
Peter befriends a Muslim man named Mahmoud in “Turban Cowboy,” and, since this is Family Guy and the most offensive stereotypes are indulged at every turn, Mahmoud turns out to be a radical extremist plotting an attack.
To make this episode even darker, it also has a gag about Peter killing a bunch of people at the Boston Marathon, and it aired just a couple of weeks before the tragic Boston Marathon bombings. Line-crossing to some and outright insensitive to others, “Turban Cowboy” showcased just how unafraid Family Guy‘s showrunners were to make light of taboo subjects.
Send In Stewie, Please (Season 16, Episode 12)
Ian McKellen guest-starred as a child therapist who was appointed to counsel Stewie after an altercation with one of his classmates in “Send in Stewie, Please.” The whole episode takes place in the therapist’s office, beginning with Stewie deducing everything about the therapist’s personal life from the personal effects around the room.
Throughout the episode, the therapist gets Stewie to open up and reveal that he puts on his pseudo-British accent. However, Stewie doesn’t like someone knowing his secret and decides not to save the therapist when he starts dying.
A Shot In The Dark (Season 14, Episode 9)
Taking inspiration from the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin which took place three years prior to the episode’s debut, “A Shot in the Dark” begins with Peter setting up a neighborhood watch organization and accidentally shooting Cleveland, Jr. when he thought he was breaking into his own house.
The ensuing court case in which Carter’s lawyers do everything in their power to discredit Cleveland, Jr. is a poignant, if unsubtle, take on how the justice system handles these cases. Unfortunately, Family Guy isn’t known for its moving social satire, and the episode can feel more like a wreckless jab than honest criticism.
Road To Germany (Season 7, Episode 3)
One of the most celebrated of the “Road To” collection of Family Guy episodes, “Road to Germany” sees Brian and Stewie time travel to 1939 Poland in pursuit of Mort, who accidentally stumbled into Stewie’s time machine.
Rife with extremely crass humor and featuring elaborate gags involving fascist dictators, “Road to Germany” makes light of some incredibly sensitive subjects. It’s a very on-brand outing for the series, but those potentially upset by subject matter relating to World War 2 will absolutely want to steer clear.
Screams Of Silence: The Story Of Brenda Q (Season 10, Episode 3)
Widely regarded to be one of Family Guy’s worst episodes, “Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q” revolves around Quagmire’s sister’s physical and psychological abuse at the hands of her fiancé. It’s Always Sunny alum Kaitlin Olson was squandered with a guest spot in an episode that has no redeeming comedic value.
Whenever Family Guy tries to get serious, it falls flat horribly, and that’s exactly what happens in “Screams of Silence.” The episode oversimplifies its subject matter and presents all the wrong messages.
Life of Brian (Season 12, Episode 6)
One of the most controversial episodes of Family Guy ever aired, Season 12’s “Life of Brian” depicts the death of one of Family Guy‘s most beloved characters following a car accident. Straight-faced and emotional, “Life of Brian” is an out-of-left-field gut-punch for fans of Family Guy, and it didn’t go over particularly well.
Brian was briefly replaced by Vinny, but showrunners eventually listened to the outcry from fans and returned Brian to the series. Changed, of course, can help to maintain a show’s appeal, but the axing of a beloved character is very rarely a well-received occurrence.
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