Lucky there’s still a Family Guy.
As hard as it is to believe, Family Guy first aired 20 years ago, debuting after Super Bowl XXXIII on January 31, 1999. It’s been a long, interesting road since. Family Guy managed to develop a cult following, survive cancellation, and return to FOX more popular than ever. It’s spawned a spinoff series and made creator Seth MacFarlane a major player in Hollywood.
And while Family Guy isn’t exactly always known for its highbrow quality, what with its emphasis on cutaway jokes, shock value, and pop culture references over plot, it’s still delivered some pretty memorable episodes over the course of 17 seasons. In honor of this anniversary, we’ve selected the 20 best episodes from Family Guy’s long run.
North by North Quahog
“Christians don’t believe in gravity.”
“North by North Quahog” marked Family Guy’s big return to FOX after several years of slumming it on Cartoon Network and racking up DVD sales. The show didn’t seem to miss a beat, luckily. After poking fun at their own cancellation in the opening moments, the writers launched right into a new adventure that saw Peter and Lois take a romantic vacation to rekindle their marriage while Brian and Stewie babysat Chris and Meg back home.
Much of the show’s best material comes from the Brian/Stewie pairing (a fact that will be reiterated many times on this list), and this episode is no exception. It’s funny to see the two quickly settle into the role of a quiet, suburban married couple and do all the things parents do, like planting cocaine in the school locker of Chris’ upside down-faced nemesis, Jake Tucker.
But the real fun in this episode comes from Peter’s war against Mel Gibson. Desperate to reclaim his stolen reel of The Passion of the Christ 2: Crucify This, Gibson kidnaps Lois and drags Peter through a Hitchcock-inspired thrill ride. In the end, Gibson is destroyed by his own hubris. Rarely has a celebrity been more successfully lampooned on the show. And given how often Gibson has had public meltdowns in the years since, this episode has only become more appropriate.
Back to the Pilot
“Brian, you shouldn’t have done that. Who knows what unforeseen consequences are awaiting us? Saddam Hussein could be president. Mexico could be the world’s dominant super power. Cookie Monster could have invented Facebook.”
While Brian and Stewie’s road trip adventures were nothing new by the time “Back to the Pilot” rolled around, this episode managed to put a clever spin on an old formula. The Dynamic Duo found themselves travelling back to the Family Guy series premiere. This allowed the show to become even more self-aware and self-deprecating than usual, poking fun at the extremely dated animation quality and unrefined humor of Season 1.
If that were all we got out of this episode, that might not have been enough to make this list. Luckily, it veered in some pretty crazy directions once Brian warned his past self about the 9/11 attacks and history took a serious left turn at Albuquerque. Brian and Stewie learned the lesson so many time-travelling adventurers have before them – you mess with the timeline at your own peril.
I Take Thee Quagmire
“I don’t know what to do, Brian. Breast-feeding’s just so painful since Stewie’s teeth are coming in. Now I know how Alec Baldwin feels when he feeds his brothers.”
This episode fires on a number of cylinders, beginning with an entertaining Peter storyline that involves Quahog’s dumbest inhabitant winning free maid service after an improbably Wheel of Fortune victory. From there, though, Quagmire takes center stage as he falls in love with Peter’s overworked new maid and decides to settle down. Naturally, it isn’t long before Quagmire gets back in touch with his inner bachelor and tried to break off his engagement by any means necessary. His rapidly escalating attempts to end the relationship are hilarious. They also show a much darker side of Glenn Quagmire. Case in point – his morbid request to Death. Who else but Quagmire?
Balancing out the Quagmire storyline is an equally amusing look at Lois’ futile attempt at weaning Stewie off of breastfeeding. Between a well-placed jab at the Baldwin family and some wonderfully awkward Lois/Brian moments, this simple premise really paid off.
E. Peterbus Unum
“Just like the bad guy… from Lethal Weapon 2… I’ve got diplomatic immunity… so Hammer you can’t sue.”
“E. Peterbus Unum” marked one of the earliest points where Family Guy seemed to find its voice and become more than just a Simpsons clone. And like so many great Family Guy adventures, it all boiled down to Peter chasing one of his flights of fancy.
Here, Peter seized upon a clerical error that allowed him to secede from the United States and become ruler of his own tiny nation, Petoria. We got to see Peter make friends with the world’s worst dictators and tyrants, annex Joe’s pool and even bust out a catchy musical number in the form of “Can’t Touch Me.” And for an episode so old that Bill Clinton is still depicted as US president, the political humor feels surprisingly relevant even today.
This is also a case where the ending really ties the whole episode together. We always get a kick out of the closing scene, where a futuristic classroom finishes learning about the story of Petoria, with their only question being whether the Griffin family can understand Stewie. Honestly, we’re still confused about that 15 seasons later.
Send In Stewie Please
“Well, I like to talk about world domination. Some people don’t think that I talk about it enough anymore, but ‘mind your own beeswax’ is what I say to them.”
In many ways, this episode feels like the spiritual sequel to “Brian & Stewie.” The premise is similar, with the series foregoing the usual cutaway jokes in favor of focusing on two characters in a single setting. And the tone is far darker than the usual Family Guy episode, with Stewie finally getting in touch with his true self as he pours his heart out to a child psychologist (voiced by none other than Ian McKellen).
This episode has its moments of hilarity – mostly poking fun at Stewie’s faux-British accent and murky sexuality. But for the most part, this episode serves as a rare opportunity to explore an inherently goofy character in a real, earnest manner. It celebrates the good and bad (mostly bad) of Stewie Griffin and reminds us just how much of this flamboyant, evil baby genius’ personality is all a carefully constructed act.