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How Family Guy Uses Sitcoms Like Modern Family To Stay Grounded

When Seth MacFarlane's now-iconic adult animated comedy "Family Guy" hit the airwaves in 1999, it didn't deviate too far from the tenets of the genre. It focused on the Griffin family, who'd get up to all kinds of hilarious hijinks in their town of Quahog, Rhode Island. They were surrounded by a colorful cast of characters who'd stop by for a quick joke or, in some instances, a lengthier story. The main thing that set it apart from other shows of the era was the cutaway gags, which put characters in random wacky situations to get a laugh out of the audience.

For the most part, the "Family Guy" cutaway gags have no limits. They've shown everything from main characters enduring serious injuries or dying to globe-impacting events that, logically, should impact the story going forward. Nevertheless, they're almost always isolated from the central narrative of the episode they're in, which is surprising considering how off-the-rails modern "Family Guy" can be. As the years have gone on, the show seems to have gotten increasingly wild with its stories, though the minds behind it attest it's still very much grounded.

To remain as grounded as possible, the "Family Guy" team looks to live-action sitcoms such as "Modern Family" as a guide. Here's why.

If it couldn't happen on a regular sitcom, it can't happen on Family Guy

In September 2022, "Family Guy" executive producer Richard Appel pulled back the curtain on how the show's team keeps it grounded. As it turns out, the secret comes down to looking at other TV sitcoms, such as "Modern Family." He explained to TV Fanatic, "We have this unwritten assumption or goal for ourselves when we're breaking a story to think: could this story be told, in its own way, on 'Modern Family'? Could it be told on: a fill-in-the-blank sitcom?" Appel notes that once the narrative throughline is established and it meets this caveat, then the famous "Family Guy" touches enter the equation.

At the same time, just because "Family Guy" tries to remain grounded in reality doesn't mean that its storylines always sit right with fans. In a Reddit thread by u/MysticOneIX, they asked fans for their weirdest moments from the series. In no time at all, the thread became a string of some of the most hard-to-watch scenarios ever featured. Peter Griffin (Seth MacFarlane) marrying his son Chris (Seth Green), Brian Griffin's (MacFarlane) relationships with human women — since he's a literal dog — and Brian eating the contents of Stewie Griffin's (MacFarlane) diaper all stood out to fans as difficult to make it through.

On paper, the "Family Guy" team has come up with a smart way to keep the show properly grounded. However, the matter of how successful they've been at doing so clearly remains up for debate.