Do you need to know your TV to enjoy Family Guy? Why not?

Family Guy frequently makes reference to other TV shows as cultural touchstones. Last week’s episode has a joke about the skin colors of the cast of The Cosby Show. A frequent Family Guy opening gag has the family watching the TV while a parodic version of a real TV show plays. These parodies are often quite negative on the show portrayed. For example, in an episode from Season 2, the family watch a segment from Dharma and Greg, which is portrayed as vapid and stretching a stupid joke. I suspect there is lots of this kind of “intertextuality” in Family Guy, including a self-conscious stance on its position in the dialectic of sit coms about a family with an incompetent dad.

I may be missing a lot of this. I haven’t seen a lot of TV, and when Family Guy makes reference to some canonical show I have usually never seen it (possible exception: Law & Order).

Yet I still really like Family Guy, and in fact I think I like the TV parody segments quite a bit as well. These segments seem to be talking to someone who’s very TV-literate, but because of their negative tone and condescension, they also appeal to the TV-illiterate snob in me. I am left wondering which is the intended meaning / audience.

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