I Don’t Want To Hear Arianna Huffington’s Voice Coming Out of a Cartoon Character

But Seth MacFarlane is going to give it to us anyway. (She’ll be one of the talking bears on The Cleveland Show, the Family Guy spinoff.)

The article is mostly a MacFarlane puff piece, but it indirectly clarifies one thing that has been puzzling me: why American Dad has gotten better while Family Guy has gotten worse. American Dad, which went into production just before Family Guy was revived, started out as a lame cross between Wait Till Your Father Gets Home and 24 (actually, all MacFarlane’s shows have some Wait Till Your Father Gets Home in them — Meg and Chris on Family Guy started out as more or less the kids from that show), but has developed into a pretty good show, the best show in Fox’s animated lineup, given that I have big reservations about King of the Hill these days and The Simpsons was reduced last night to doing a leftover American Dad plot. It has its flaws, but Steve Smith is an excellent character and the stories actually go someplace.

Family Guy seemed to be improving in its third season, when Fox executives forced the writers to cut down on the cutaways, do more traditional storytelling and pay more attention to characterization — one of many illustrations of why it’s often good for creatives to have their vision changed and bastardized by network executives. (The showrunner’s vision is frequently stupid.) But when the show came back in triumph, buoyed by its huge fan base, it forgot everything it seemed to have learned and became worse than it ever was; it’s spent the last few years as complete mean-spirited mess whose idea of a great sequence is tracing over some old MGM animation for two minutes.

The NY Times article suggests the reason for the difference: MacFarlane spends most of his time with Family Guy, and leaves American Dad (and now The Cleveland Show) to others:

The lesson he learned from managing an overstuffed portfolio, Mr. MacFarlane said, was: “You can only really run one show at a time. I basically pick people who I think are capable of creating their own worlds, and let them do what they do.”

This does not mean that I give MacFarlane no credit for any improvements in his other shows. But there is something about Seth MacFarlane’s sensibility that really bugs me — it’s that combination of incredible nastiness (he always seems so proud that Meg is treated more cruelly than any character in history) and shameless padding (his two trademarks are jokes that go on for years, and jokes that simply re-enact sequences from movies and TV shows he’s seen). But when you combine some of the MacFarlane trademarks with someone else’s sensibility and a less cavalier approach to character and storytelling, I find it more tolerable. Which is why I’m actually looking forward to Cleveland, because the co-creator, Richard Appel, is a very talented showrunner — one of the best showrunners King of the Hill ever had — and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the new show turned out to have some actual stories and characters and stuff, as opposed to Meg getting punched in the face and Seth Green forgetting what character he’s supposed to be playing.

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