After just one episode, Seth MacFarlane’s Dads was met with heavy criticism due to its controversial content. The sitcom, starring Seth Green and Giovanni Ribsi as two game developers whose fathers move in with them, was accused of racism, ageism and sexism. From the outset, Dads was challenged by various media watchdog groups determined to get it off the air, and BuzzFeed went so far as to call the show “actually evil”. To the relief of a lot of television critics, Dads has recently been axed after one season. While this could also be an issue of quality as well as controversy, viewers seemed to enjoy the show a lot more than critics did, as the audience nominated Dads for a People’s Choice Award for Best New Comedic TV Show.
Meanwhile, another Seth MacFarlane show, Family Guy, is currently on its twelfth season. The cartoon is undoubtedly far more offensive and controversial than Dads, with quotes such as “You’ve got the aids, you may have caught it when you stuck that filthy needle in here, or maybe all that unprotected sex you adhere!” and “So which of the Latin countries are you from: the one with the civil war, the one with the cocaine, or the one with the fancy hats?” Family Guy is challenged practically biweekly by the Parent’s Television Council and has provoked protests from groups such as the American Life League. Nevertheless, the cartoon is still going strong more than 16 years after its first episode, and it was recently named the ninth greatest animated show of all time by TV Guide. It’s not the only cartoon which continues to air despite offending just about everyone – South Park has been renewed for an eighteenth season.
It seems like it is a lot easier to get away with controversial scenes on cartoons than it is on live-action television shows. Seth MacFarlane has previously admitted that he can do a lot more with animated characters than ones played by actors, saying that scenes of domestic abuse on a show like Everybody Loves Raymond would be censored, but scenes which show Lois Griffin beating her husband or in combat with her son have not been met with quite as much horror.
Perhaps it is more difficult to get away with depicting controversial issues on live-action TV shows because of issues with exploiting actors. One of the most challenged scenes from Dads is one which shows Asian-American actress Brenda Strong dressing up as a sexy schoolgirl, and a male character howling “Hello, Kitty!” A lot of critics saw the scene as racist, sexist and humiliating for the actress, which is never an issue in the portrayal of Family Guy’s Tricia Takanawa, for example, who is just a drawing.
Dads is offensive, but Family Guy pushes far more boundaries, and often gets away with it. A lot of gags used on Family Guy would have been considered completely unacceptable on a live-action show like Dads, and the cancellation of the latter shows that producers should probably stick to cartoons if they want to write over the top controversial content.