Everything you thought you knew about Stewie Griffin is wrong. All this time, he’s been pretending to be someone he’s not.
Not that Family Guy’s resident smarm factory isn’t most likely gay. That is still very much true, and the 1-year-old’s understandably complicated sexuality was acknowledged directly for the first time in Sunday night’s landmark episode “Send in Stewie, Please”—also the first time Fox’s long-running series aired without commercial interruption.
No, the ruse is that the sardonic toddler has been faking that British accent—the catalyst for his condescension, the trait that has defined his entire aesthetic—this whole time.
Stewie’s real voice, it turns out, sounds a lot less like Seth MacFarlane doing his best British accent than it just sounds like Seth MacFarlane.
Don’t be confused. Unlike Stewie’s sexuality, which has been a running joke long enough that fans have made supercuts of jokes referencing it, this wasn’t a revelation that has been brewing in the minds of the Family Guy creative team from the start. As Gary Janetti, who wrote the episode and has been a producer and writer for the series since 1999, tells The Daily Beast, “We literally just decided it… It wasn’t anything that was planned at all in any form.”
And, Janetti says, don’t expect anyone else to learn Stewie’s secret anytime soon. We saw at the end of the episode just how far the diabolical youngest Griffin would go to make sure the truth doesn’t get out.
The episode takes place throughout the course of a therapy session Stewie is forced to attend after shoving a classmate. It’s a 30-minute window into his mind, insecurities, and complicated identity as he verbally spars with Dr. Cornelius Pritchfield, voiced by Sir Ian McKellen, an older gay British man who turns out to be both the perfect foil and catalyst for a project for Stewie.
Especially if you watched the episode having been tipped to the fact that Stewie’s thinly veiled sexuality would be addressed, the Sunday-brunch-in-Chelsea’s worth of pop culture references Janetti scripted are a hoot, from his complicated feelings about Bethenny Frankel, to his lusting over Grant Gustin’s Instagram, and even one cheeky quip about Janetti’s own husband, Fashion Police host and reality TV star Brad Goreski.
There’s a jaw-dropping monologue, too, in which Stewie dresses down Dr. Pritchfield’s relationship with his younger partner. It is so packed of hyper-specific details relating to pressure, shame, and elitism in gay culture that we couldn’t believe we were watching it on Family Guy.
Does Stewie end up coming out? No. That “would be a simpler way of handling it,” Janetti says, than the direction the episode takes: attempting to understand the journey that Stewie still needs to go on. Poignantly true to life, it’s one that might be full of repression, self-loathing, and denial, as he combats the tension between his desire to fit in with maintaining his fabricated personality (and accent) to, if he’s going to be different, at least feel superior.
So now that the episode has aired, we chatted more with Janetti, who has also served as a producer and writer on Will & Grace, about the significance of the episode, why he doesn’t want to take Stewie out of the closet entirely, the accent twist, and that incredibly dark ending.
At what point did the creative team decide that the accent was an affectation and not Stewie’s real voice? Is it a twist that’s been brewing for a while?
We literally just decided it. “What if Stewie’s accent is fake?” “OK, that could be something…” It wasn’t something that was planned at all in any shape or form. It was just spontaneous.
Will it be revisited in the future?
I don’t think it will be, and I don’t think it should be revisited. He goes to great lengths to hide it. We’ve seen Stewie do a lot of dastardly things in the course of the 16 seasons this show’s been on the air. He’s never had ramifications for it. And now he has to do something to protect his secret. This man is saying to him, “You will regret this one day.” Stewie’s having complex feelings about something horrible that he did, and what he will be willing to do to protect it. I think that’s best left not revisited.
It’s interesting that the fake accent was revealed in this episode because there’s some real relatable gay psychology going on there. Putting on the artifice of a heightened personality because you already feel like you don’t fit in.
(Laughs) Yes. Yeah, I guess it’s always just trying to find my way into something so that it’s truthful, and it’s truthful for Stewie. The idea that he not only grapples with his sexuality, but on top of that he is extraordinarily intelligent. His intelligence sets him apart from everybody that he comes into contact with. That’s a very an isolating thing, in the way that when you’re different, it’s very isolating to feel like you’re the only one in a sea of everyone being the same. But then at the same time, there’s something attractive about being different. I think what Stewie’s faced with is that you can be like everybody else, if you allow yourself to be. The pull of, but I don’t want to be like those people. What does he want? I think that a lot of gay people can also identify with that. “I don’t feel like everybody else, and I would like to. But at the same time, the things that make me me, I want to be able to celebrate them. Why can’t I have both?”
There’s an emotional intellect going on, where Stewie’s hyper-self-aware that things he’s saying might be misconstrued for coming out as gay. What’s behind that awareness, that his behavior and personality signals as gayness, and his insecurity?
Stewie’s extremely intelligent. When he walks into the room, within a second he identifies that therapist as gay. And the way he acknowledges that is when he says to him that this isn’t a coming out session and I’m sure you lick your chomps every time you get one of those. But I think that’s also Stewie’s way of bringing up the subject, you know? “I’m not being defensive, but…” I think he’s seeing an opportunity to say, “This isn’t easy. What you think this is going to be, it’s not. It’s not as actualized.” Obviously that’s very astute for a one-year-old to be grappling on that level. But he mentions it to diffuse it.
That monologue in which he completely eviscerates Dr. Pritchfield’s relationship with his younger partner has some really specific details that you almost have to be a member of the gay community to understand the minutiae of.
Very specific. I know! I never thought it would end up being so long. My feeling was that I was just going to write this insanely long and let it reach its logical conclusion. I let it go how I felt it needed to go, the length it needed to go in order to be what I wanted it to be. I thought we would edit it or trim later on. But as you said, it’s so specific. I get into minutiae even within the gay community, specific within specific within specific. But I think that specificity is also what gives it a certain universality, because even if you don’t get all the references you understand what they mean.
Obviously the age difference between Dr. Pritchfield and his younger partner is much bigger than between you and your husband, Brad. But you are older than your husband, and I wonder if there was anything cathartic you were airing out in that monologue?
Um, no. I mean, I’m 10 years older. No, no. No catharsis in getting it out. Only in as much that it’s really fun to let Stewie loose. It was more the sense of letting him unfold his wings, in a way. We danced around it a lot of times. Obviously you can’t often have the opportunity in those episodes for a 10-page monologue. But this episode lends itself to it. He really gets to spread his wings and go off in a way that is so specifically gay, and now was the time to do it. So the freedom and the fun in that, I think.
Seth MacFarlane spoke years ago about how he had once written an episode in which Stewie comes out as gay but opted not to run with it because he’d rather his sexuality remain ambiguous. While Stewie doesn’t come out in this episode, it does address his sexuality in the most direct way the series has yet. Why do you think now is the time to do that?
I think it hasn’t been addressed in a different way. I think we’ve just gone deeper inside Stewie’s mind and his inner workings. So it’s not that he’s coming out as gay in this episode. Nothing has changed from what Seth said about keeping it ambiguous. I think there’s something more vulnerable and human and actually interesting about keeping it ambiguous. We’re just kind of addressing the things going around that in this. It’s not a question of coming out or not coming out, which is a kind of simpler way of handling it. It’s also a change of the show. If he were to come out suddenly, the show becomes pre- and post-coming out. The more you leave it there, the more fun we can have with him over the course of 20 years. The show will be on for 20 years pretty soon. In the longevity of the show I think it’s best to keep him where he is.
In 20 years of this show and with this character, this is maybe his biggest episode. It’s the first time the show has aired with no commercial break. It’s just him and one other character. How does it rank for you in terms of your work with the show?
What’s great about this show is it goes all different places and it’s willing to do so many different kinds of episodes. This is the most freedom I felt I’ve had. It felt great to have a character that you know so well and be able to learn new things about him. It was really a gift.