Family Guy has been on the air for 15 years now, and there’s *some* debate over its quality in recent years. The show felt dumbed-down when it returned to the airwaves in 2005, and in 2011, even Seth MacFarlane admitted it should probably be canceled (Keep cashin’ dem checks, Seth!). But as public opinion has turned on Family Guy, it’s important to realize that the show wasn’t always like this. The first three seasons were not only hilarious, but far less cynical. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at five early Family Guy episodes that even the most ardent detractor would have to admit are pretty damn funny.
5. “Fifteen Minutes Of Shame” – Original Air Date: April 25, 2000
There was a time when Meg was characterized as a real teenage girl with actual feelings, and not just a punching bag for the rest of the family to unload on. While Meg is embarrassed by her family here, they generally mean well, and in the end she realizes how much she loves all of them. That would NEVER happen today, where Meg openly hates her family, and they hate her back. It’s been discouraging to see the show go down this route because in the early days, this show had something resembling a soul, before becoming so mean-spirited in its later years. There’s plenty of great gags here, like the hilariously awkward scene at the Lobster Shanty (“she means your nipples are stickin’ out!”), and they’re time on the Springer-esque talk show when Peter yells “who are you callin Uncle Tom!” just because it feels like the right thing to yell out. This episode embodies how good the characterization used to be on this show, back when that was something the writers still cared about.
4. “Mr. Griffin Goes To Washington” – Original Air Date: July 25, 2001
Peter’s toy company (Hey, remember when that was Peter’s job?) is bought out by an evil tobacco conglomerate, and hilarity ensues. There’s just so many great bits here – the exploding company suckup robot who is destroyed with a logical paradox (Wait, did Family Guy actually do that before Futurama? I think so!), and Martha Stewart moving in with the Griffin’s and FINALLY letting out a fart when the rest of the family leaves the house. Other great bits include the That Girl parody (Ok, The Simpsons did that first. But it was still funny.), and Peter’s meeting with the cigarette company executives (“What about that sign that says the drawing was not made in art class, we really do want kids to start smoking?”). Of course, Peter does the right thing in the end and speaks out against the evils of smoking. But what matters most is how we get there, and this is one of the funniest episodes in the entire series.
3. (tie) “Road To Rhode Island” – Original Air Date: May 30, 2000, “Road To Europe” – Original Air Date: February 7, 2002
Yeah, I couldn’t pick from either of the first two “Road To….” episodes. These are one of the few aspects of the show that has remained strong in the show’s later years, but the first two will always be my favorites. In the first episode, we see one of the first few emotional moments between Brian and Stewie, as Brian copes with finding out that his mother is dead – and her family had her stuffed. There’s also some great bits of the two of them on the road, like the hotel owner struggling to describe the “blunt instrument” that he uses to beat people with bad credit cards (“I guess it’s kinda like a bat…”).
Meanwhile, the Europe adventure is brilliant in its own right, with Brian and Stewie’s adventures around the world all being hilarious. Particularly inspired is the bit where the fly around in a hot air balloon, and discover that from that view, the Earth actually looks just like a World Map – and with such nice lettering! They get stoned in Amsterdam, and find out that the German tourism industry is covering up some key events that took place between 1939 and 1945 (“EVERYONE WAS ON VACATION!”). In the end, Stewie’s dream of finding happiness in London falls through, but he realizes he has Brian there for him. The relationship between Brian and Stewie is one of the few things about this show that held up over the years, and these episodes did a great job of establishing it.
2. “Emission Impossible” – Original Air Date: November 8, 2001
As much of an evil genius as Stewie is, he was just as nervous about the arrival of a new baby as any little kid would be. So, he chooses the only logical option – go inside Peter’s testicle, and destroy every last sperm in there. Stewie listening to Air Supply while blasting away tiny sperm in his little spaceship just works perfectly, and of course, Stewie has his first encounter with his half-brother Bertram, who would go into be his nemesis in later episodes as well. One particularly funny gag is Stewie building a robot Peter to insult Lois (“I was in the can, because kissing you made me barf!”). Of course, nowadays Peter actually would say terrible things to his wife like that, so it’s nice to remember the earlier years, where the characters were actual human beings. Mostly though, this is just a great episode. Who doesn’t love Stewie and Bertram singing “Up Where We Belong?” Joe Cocker would be proud.
1. “Da Boom” – Original Air Date: December 26, 1999
One of the funniest 22 minutes of television ever produced. Beyond featuring the original Giant Chicken Fight, this one featured the A&E Biography of Twink the Twinkie Mascot (“We put a stop to the baton. We figured he was different enough already.”) and, of course, Stewie turning into an octopus (“I’ll show you inky!”). The funniest bit here might be their encounter with Randy Newman, who just spends the whole day singin’ ’bout what he sees. But really, you can’t go wrong. Nearly every gag works, as the idea of Quahog turning into a post-apocalyptic wasteland allowed for the show to embrace it’s weirdest tendencies.