The 20 Best Family Guy Episodes
Family Guy and its creator, Seth MacFarlane, are ubiquitous today, but it wasn't always so. The show suffered from low ratings in its first three seasons, and Fox, after bumping its time slot around like a pinball, cancelled the show in 2002. But then, Family Guy found new life in college dorms, thanks to Adult Swim, DVD sales, and Kazaa file sharing. Fox revived the animated sitcom in 2005, and it's been high-flying ever since; its 17th season debuts on September 30.
Numerous show clips have gone viral--everything from Giant Chicken Fights, to Cool Whip, to Bird is the Word, to Ipecac Drinking Contests. Put enough of these in a 22-minute running time, and you have a show that will never earn the critical acclaim of its peers, but will always garner the most laughs per minute.
We're celebrating the 20 best Family Guy episodes from Season 1 to Season 16--the episodes with the perfect mixture of pop culture references, blue humor, and non-sequitur storytelling. Nearly all them, not coincidentally, have a generous helping of Brian and Stewie. Here are the episodes, listed in chronological order.
Season 2, Episode 3
Timing is key here. This episode originally aired on December 26, 1999, a prime position to goof on Y2K conspiracists. Peter shuttles his family down into the basement of the house to watch the clock strike midnight, and when it does, everyone's worst fears come true: Planes fall out of the sky, trains derail, and scores of nuclear warheads launch into the sky. The rest of the episode is a dystopian dark comedy, in which the Griffins search for other human life and try to rebuild society. "Da Boom" also features the very first Giant Chicken Fight, one of the most famous recurring gags in the show's history.
"Death is a Bitch"
Season 2, Episode 6
In this episode, Death comes for Peter's soul. But when Death sprains his ankle chasing after Peter, Peter must don the black robe and take up Death's scythe. Adam Carolla is the regular voice for Death. But in this episode, Death's first appearance, he was played by former SNL Weekend Update anchor Norm MacDonald, whose laid-back, sarcastic delivery worked perfectly.
"Road to Rhode Island"
Season 2, Episode 13
The first "Road to…" episode, starring Brian and Stewie, was presented as special; instead of beginning with the regular piano introduction, the show began with still shots of Brian and Stewie on various adventures. This was a buddy comedy rather than a family sitcom. And the plot--a road story where Brian and Stewie track down Brian's mother--delves deeper into the characters than before. This, and an earlier Season 1 episode "Brian: Portrait of a Dog," proved the show could be more than just random collection of cutaways.
Season 3, Episode 7
This episode had two main intersecting plotlines: rude New Yorkers traveling to Rhode Island to see the leaves change color, and Lois taking martial arts lessons and learning to stand up for herself. In the third act, the episode becomes a critique of violence, which, per Family Guy style, is resolved with an all-out brawl.
"To Love and Die In Dixie"
Season 3, Episode 12
Chris witnesses a crime, and the family is forced into witness protection in the Deep South. Stewie starts a bluegrass band, Peter disrupts a Civil War reenactment, and Chris falls in love with a Southern girl named Sam (who he originally mistakes for a boy). Chris and Sam's inevitable goodbye is sweet and touching.
Chris: "I'll be sure to write."
Sam: "And I'll be sure to learn to read!"
Season 4, Episode 14
When Family Guy returned to the air after its cancellation, it took the new writers a few episodes to find their footing. And "PTV," a clever takedown of the FCC and its weird, draconian prudery, is where the show hit its stride again. It's anchored by one of the best Family Guy songs ever written--so good that Brian and Stewie performed a version of it at the 2007 Emmys.
"Meet The Quagmires"
Season 5, Episode 18
This time travel episode explored an alternate future where Peter blew his chance to marry Lois, and Quagmire married her instead. In later seasons, the humanity in Peter and Lois' marriage is completely sucked dry. This is one of the episodes where their love still feels believable and real. The episode concludes with a tribute to Back To The Future and a Broadway-esque Rick Roll, courtesy of Brian.
"Believe It or Not, Joe's Walking on Air"
Season 6, Episode 4
Joe gets a new pair of legs, can walk again (just go with it), and becomes a complete douchebro as a result. The episode ends with Peter, Cleveland, Quagmire, and Bonnie trying to maim Joe because they liked him better when he was handicapped. A crass and mean-spirited episode overall but funny enough to overlook the worst of it.
Season 6, Episode 8
Sometimes, a Family Guy episode seems like a collection of random jokes rather than an actual plot. That's certainly the case with "McStroke," in which Peter grows a moustache, has a stroke, and exposes a fast food corporation all in a single, convoluted plot. But the individual parts are so funny that the lack of cohesion matters less. Meanwhile, Stewie attends Chris and Meg's school as Zac Sawyer, and he quickly becomes the most popular boy in school.
"Road to Germany"
Season 7, Episode 3
A time travel episode, "Road to Germany" Brian, Stewie, and Mort Goldman are transported to Warsaw, Poland in 1939--right before the Nazi occupation. Their efforts to return to the present day takes them to both London and Berlin, and Stewie dresses up as Hitler to steal some uranium. The "mirror gag," when Stewie Hitler meets the real Hitler, is an old time vaudeville routine lifted from Marx Brothers classic film "Duck Soup."
"Road to the Multiverse"
Season 8, Episode 1
If there's a single episode to put forward as the best of the entire series--proof of the show's comedic value and creativity--"Road to the Multiverse" is a great candidate. Stewie builds a contraption that allows him and Brian to travel to an infinite number of alternate universes. The funniest is the Disney universe, where every character is reimagined as a squash-and-stretch character from the House of Mouse. It even comes complete singing animals and a Disney-esque ballad titled, "It's a Wonderful Day for Pie."
"And Then There Were Fewer"
Season 9, Episode 1
In Agatha Christie's mystery novel And Then There Were None, ten people are trapped on an island during a storm. They all begin dying one by one, and the surviving guests realize that one of them is the murderer. "And Then There Were Fewer" is Family Guy's tribute to the entire British 'locked room' mystery genre. It also led to the permanent deaths of two main characters.
"Brian Writes A Bestseller"
Season 9, Episode 7
One of the best running jokes in the series is Brian's misadventures as a writer. He's a terrible one, and that forms the main plot of "Brian Writes A Bestseller." Brian deliberately sets out to write a terrible self-help book and in a Producers-esque twist, it becomes a national bestseller. The success goes to his head, and he ends up being humiliated by Bill Maher on Politically Incorrect. Stewie, who works as Brian's manager, is the perfect comic foil as Brian slowly becomes a spoiled diva.
"Road to the North Pole"
Season 9, Episode 7
A bawdy Christmas special with a lot of heart, "Road to the North Pole" stars Brian and Stewie. They find Santa close to death due to exhaustion and excessive demands, and they decide to deliver the presents in his stead. The attempt is, of course, an unmitigated disaster, and it features some of the darkest comedy in the show's history. But the episode manages to bring it back around with a heartfelt message against greed and materialism.
"Back to the Pilot"
Season 10, Episode 5
Family Guy is great when it goes meta, and this episode, where Brian and Stewie travel back in time to the pilot episode of Season 1, serves as a self-analysis of the show's evolution. The episode plays on every time travel paradox and loophole in a late sequence, where hundreds of Stewies and Brians from multiple timelines debate about whether to change the past to alter the future.
"Lois Comes Out Of Her Shell"
Season 11, Episode 6
Lois has a midlife crisis, brought on by the worst imaginable birthday toast by Peter. And although Peter likes the new Lois, he eventually can't keep up. It ends with Peter beating up Justin Bieber, and reasserting his love for Lois. The B-plot, where Stewie adopts a homicidal turtle, is a zany complement.
"Roads to Vegas"
Season 11, Episode 21
The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Second Chances" deals with a transporter accident that creates two William Rikers. "Roads to Vegas" has an identical plotline; Stewie and Brian use a transporter to travel to Las Vegas, and the transporter creates a separate Brian and Stewie. Each set goes to Las Vegas unbeknownst to the other and while one wins big, the other loses all its money and becomes indebted to a loan shark. Well-plotted, clever, and well-resolved, "Roads to Vegas" is further proof that Brian and Stewie are the most fleshed-out, funniest characters on the show.
Season 13, Episode 3
Peter and Lois start a cookie shop that Peter, despite his best intentions, slowly transforms into a strip club. In the B-plot, Stewie gets addicted to cough syrup, and Brian holds an intervention with all of Stewie's stuffed animals. "Baking Bad" features Cookie Monster, who bookends the episode with two well-placed cameos.
Season 14, Episode 6
After over a decade, we finally learn why Peter constantly bullies Meg. It's because of his professional wrestler sister Karen, who bullied him when he was a kid. And when Karen comes to visit Peter during Thanksgiving, it's Meg who tries her best to support her father. This episode features a rare father/daughter moment near the end, when Meg tag teams with Peter to beat up Karen in the ring.
"Dog Bites Bear"
Season 16 Episode 11
Last season, Family Guy dialed back the cutaways and the crassness; the writers are harkening to an earlier time, when the characters had heart. "Dog Bites Bear" deals with the "death" of Stewie's teddy bear Rupert, and it eventually becomes a deconstruction of Brian and Stewie's long-standing friendship. The two friends climb a mountain to scatter Rupert's ashes, and they end their eulogy with a Boyz II Men cover that strangely works. No matter how crazy the show gets, the Brian and Stewie relationship has always kept things grounded, and "Dog Bites Bear" is a case in point.