If The Simpsons is absurdist theatre that came in the side door and got away with everything because it was a cartoon, Family Guy is the nightmarish carnival of a dream the senior custodian of the place had after he locked up and went home. It's the next step in abject crudery that makes even stalwart weirdos blanch at its rapid-fire nerve.
Like Matt Groening's flagship, it makes numerous popular culture references, as is fitting with its position as a no-holds-barred satire that even lampoons itself. Its greatest strength lies in its numerous bursts of puns and one-liners. Most of the zingers are verbal, as when the collegiate, highball-equipped dog Brian says "I leave more personality in tightly-coiled piles on the lawn." Others are visual, as when the (inevitably for a sitcom) idiot father Peter says "We'll just ignore it like we do the squid." The 'camera' pans over to show a giant squid wrapped around part of the furniture and slamming things around with a tentacle. That's it, one punch and off to the next surreal thing.
The hyper-intelligent, socio-/psychopathic baby Stewie is constantly working on plans for both world domination and matricide, but being about one and a half years old and a foot and a half tall tends to interfere with his efforts. Sometimes his words are understood, usually by only Brian; sometimes not. His lines and the exchanges with the dog are the sharpest parts of the show. It's also very good at parodies of existing things, such as quirky newscasters and an insane variation of Willie Wonka, wherein the product is beer rather than candy.
It is ironic that the stable of such cartoons have generally outstripped their live-action sitcom counterparts in real wit. While the dialogue is often oddly vulgar at times, the situations are even more peculiar, as when Lois discovers husband Peter can play piano like a champ… when utterly drunk. She keeps him plastered in order to win a piano competition over a social rival. When he takes the stage, he first sits on the bench backwards and starts "playing" the air. She turns him around and an awful cacophony ensues until she nudges the bench to the left. Then his playing is spot-on, of course.
Physical humor like this hails from as far back as Sid Ceasar's Show of Shows, with its slapstick improvisations. One episode is a blatant "road show" drawn directly from the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby films. For all of its low sexual jokes, strange violence and generally bizarre situations, Family Guy still shows a twisted regard for its roots.
It is definitely sick humor for the well-read yet jaded crowd, but at the same time, the demands its pace puts on the viewer makes it a fun ride. This is one of the cases in which simpler, less-expensive-to-produce animation is matched by more-complex-than-usual content and pacing. It has proven to be an effective combination with an adult crowd which still enjoys animation but needs loftier scripting to remain interested. Well, "loftier" isn't the right word for a show where the baby is trying to kill Mom; the dog is the smartest character in the place; one neighbor is trying to nail any woman in sight and has inflatable dolls for air bags in his car; Adam West plays the insane mayor who accuses his plants of conspiracy; and the worst behaviors people can display are the foundation for virtually everything.
It has a daffy charm and a strangely light air that is often a challenge to engage because of its breakneck pace. It can be quite startling in its audacity, which is saying a lot, considering the wide range of peculiar entertainments to be found today. Still, if you are even halfway game for a laugh that might require a few light rabbit punches to your mental resilience to make its point, you might be pleasantly chagrined at how much you enjoy it.
Unless you are a Pentecostal. In that case, it will make you foam at the mouth, speak in tongues and flop around on the floor, which is a scene you might see in the show.