If there’s a phrase that could easily be applied to Seth MacFarlane, it would be “equal opportunities offender.” No one escapes his or his writers’ barbs, especially in his most successful project, Family Guy. Through the daily, animated lives of a Rhode Island family, MacFarlane and his creative team have successfully offended almost everyone, taking an admirably blanket approach — not to mention giving the Parents Television Council weekly entries for their “Worst Show of the Week” (MacFarlane has previously called the conservative, hand-wringing, anti-everything group “literally terrible human beings”).
As such, Seth MacFarlane’s animated fare has never shied from humor at the expense of the LGBT community. If we can laugh along at jokes involving race, disability, class structure and religion, why shouldn’t we take some of the heat, too? It’s a warped form of inclusion, but knowing that it comes from MacFarlane — a straight ally — means that even the most offensive jokes should be taken with good humor. After all, they’re included in shows happy to poke fun at everyone, regardless of who they are or whom they love.
We’ve chosen six moments from Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show, which touch on various facets of LGBT life in hilarious (and occasionally controversial) ways.
The Cleveland Show – “Terry Unmarried”
We’ll kick things off with, arguably, the weakest show of the trio. As average as it was, The Cleveland Show did offer one surprisingly great portrayal of coming out and acceptance in the show’s second season. While visiting a gay bar, Cleveland discovers that his best friend, Terry, is bisexual. Initially wary of him, by the end of the episode he is driving to Vermont so they can both marry their respective partners. Standout moments are Terry and Paul proving that not all gay men match the stereotypes, Virginians reacting with pitchforks and torches when the men attempt to bring gay marriage to the state, and Cleveland’s speech convincing Terry to go through with his nuptials.
Cleveland: “You know what bugs me about this whole thing? Neither of you seems gay. Gays should make their gayness obvious to everyone, like Paul Lynde or Adam Lambert or every conservative politician ever.”
Family Guy – “You May Now Kiss the… Uh… Guy Who Receives”
Same-sex marriage was tackled in Quahog while many states were adopting laws banning it, with Brian’s gay cousin Jasper bringing his boyfriend Ricardo home to marry. There are two storylines explored here: Mayor Adam West banning same-sex marriage to cover up a political scandal, and Lois initially (and surprisingly) being unaccepting of gay nuptials. It’s all resolved in one big, fabulous wedding, and was a hilarious exploration of the subject — even if (and especially because) Jasper is a flaming stereotype.
Jasper: All I ever wanted was to marry a skinny, hairless Filipino boy and live happily ever after. Isn’t that the American dream?
American Dad – “Surro-Gate”
Conservative Stan Smith has repeatedly been used to satirize right-wing homophobia, but never more pointedly than in “Surro-Gate.” His gay neighbors — news anchors Greg and Terry — announce that they plan to conceive a child, and Francine agrees to be their surrogate. Stan kidnaps the baby after she’s born, driving her to Nebraska to be adopted by straight parents. After a cross-country chase and an intervention by a lesbian couple (whose children he also kidnaps), he finally comes to his senses, realizing that gay parents are just as capable as straight ones.
Child: “Let me see if I got this right: You kidnapped us from a loving home and are taking us to an orphanage?
Stan: “Yes. Your nightmare is over. It might take years, but maybe someday a straight family will adopt you.”
Family Guy – “Quagmire’s Dad”
Possibly the most controversial LGBT-themed episode Family Guy has ever produced. MacFarlane was reportedly surprised at the criticism levelled at the episode by GLAAD and several LGBT reporters and bloggers, and it’s easy to see why. Anyone expecting a soft, touching portrayal of a transgender character’s transition was watching the wrong show. Quagmire’s father is introduced and reveals that she is transgender. Ida, as she is known, undergoes surgery and tries to cope with life as a woman, while Quagmire has to come to terms with Ida’s change, and their interactions are handled remarkably well.
Quagmire: “You know, you’re asking me to accept an awful lot. I don’t know if I can do this.”
Ida: “I understand. I had the advantage of thinking about this for years. For me it was easy: do I want to be happy the rest of my life or miserable?”
Quagmire: “So now you’re happy and I’m miserable.”
It’s everything around that which drew so much ire. The Griffins react with every stereotype the writers could seemingly conceive: Lois tells Meg to throw food Ida has prepared in the garbage, Peter asks Ida if she misses her penis, both laugh when Brian calls her a real woman, and Brian vomits for thirty straight seconds after learning that the “classy, smart, beautiful lady” he had sex with was Ida. It was comedy that, for some, cut a little close to the bone.
Quagmire: “It’s about my dad. He wants to have a sex change operation.”
Peter: “Woah. I knew he was gay, I didn’t think he was that gay.”
American Dad – “Lincoln Lover”
If gay Republicans ever seemed like a contradiction in terms, Stan Smith has you covered. Invited by the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) to speak at the RNC after writing an inadvertently gay play about President Lincoln and his bodyguard, Stan comes to terms with gay men in the GOP, and in general. His son, raised on his religious, homophobic views, attempts to save Stan by telling the LCR about Stan’s anti-gay past. Stan, desperate to speak at the convention, attempts to sleep with a man to gain membership to the LCR, only to realize that being gay isn’t a choice. Cue an impassioned speech at the RNC (which attempts to keep the LCR out), in which Stan convinces Republicans to embrace their gay members, as he has.
Stan: “How can you be gay and Republican?”
Greg: “Ugh, these preconceived notions about gay people. It’s time to dispel that stereotype …through a lavish musical number!”
Family Guy – Stewie Griffin
There’s something ridiculous about discussing the sexuality of a baby — even one as intelligent and eloquent as Stewie — but the continued exploration of Stewie Griffin’s sexual preference remains a constant source of humor. From his fantasies about his teddy bear, to his flirtations with Brian, to his continued exploration of gender identity, he’s one of the funniest LGBT characters on TV — though, remember that this is an animated, matricidal baby we’re talking about.
Stewie: “I love you.”
Brian: “What did you say?”
Stewie: “Uh… olive juice.”
Brian: “Olive juice?”
Stewie: “Olive juice you, too…”
Brian: “How are you holding up, Stewie?”
Stewie (dressed as a girl): “Umm, I feel right, Brian. I feel right.”
Game Show Host: “Something you do on the weekends?”
Lois: “Go to church.”
Stewie: “Black guys.”
Brian: “Are you queer?”
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