"Cartoon Wars," a memorable 2006 "South Park" two-part episode, took dead-on aim at censorship, in perhaps the show's finest moment. The “South Park” team also skewered another target: "Family Guy," lambasting the Fox comedy's penchant for gag-driven humor, even while paying homage to "The Simpsons."
The "South Park" classic came to mind amid this big week for animated TV comedies. On Sunday, "The Simpsons" marks the start of its 25th season by inviting the "Family Guy" crew to Springfield for a crossover episode. Meanwhile, "South Park" and "Family Guy" begin new seasons that will bring both to the 250-episode club, a once unimaginable benchmark for shows scorned by some for their varying approaches to irreverence.
The scourge of censorship aside, we’re ready to declare the cartoon wars over – at least when it comes to animated TV comedy. And everybody's a winner.
Credit "The Simpsons," which made history and set the stage for the future when it debuted in 1989, more than a quarter-century after "The Flintstones" and then "The Jetsons" brought ink to prime time. Homer, Marge and their family have made the far-more lasting impression and have wielded greater influence – begetting an animation onslaught that’s wrought the likes of not only “South Park” and “Family Guy,” but “Beavis and Butt-head,” “Bob’s Burgers,” “Futurama” and Cartoon Network's “Adult Swim,” among others.
“The Simpsons” remains the cartoon comedy by which the rest are measured – a standard that was only reinforced by the recent marathon of all 552 installments broadcast on FXX. The consistent cleverness shined through in a show that still makes us laugh, even if it may have peaked years ago.
Sure, the longevity of “The Simpsons” resides in large part in its cartoon format (Bart at 35 makes for the occasional fun future-look episode, but not a series). But the show's greater appeal rests in its skewed, yet relatable depiction of family life, its funhouse mirror reflection of the popular culture and its growing parade of guest stars.
Expect an epic guest shot this Sunday when the Simpsons of Springfield meet the Griffins of Quahog. A nearly five-minute preview (above) shown at Comic-Con in July whet the thirst of both the Duff beer and Pawtucket Patriot Ale camps, giving a taste of the blending of two programs with very different sensibilities.
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.