Family Guy has been a lot of things over its 15+ years on TV: It has been hilarious and offensive; it has compelled fans to create crazy fan theories; it has been poignant, full of Easter eggs, and even canceled; the show has been prophetic; and, at times, it has even been incredibly heartbreaking. Family Guy's saddest moments are not just sad by Family Guy's standards; they are truly moving, emotional pieces of television. What's even more impressive is how long they've been able to maintain their range, with two of the saddest episodes of Family Guy coming 13 seasons apart.
Despite the fact that this show is an animated comedy, it still manages to depict true heart from time to time. No, showcasing emotional depth may not be a regular or even common occurrence for Seth MacFarlane and company, but over the course of 300 episodes, there are certainly enough examples of real pathos to celebrate. Not all of the most emotional episodes of Family Guy elicited tears from you, but they, at the very least, made you feel something.
Brian and Stewie's relationship is the heart of Family Guy, so it makes sense that its momentous 150th episode would revolve entirely around those two, trapped in a vault so as not to let any of the show's distractions in. What ensues is a deep dive into their individual psyches as well as an exploration of their relationship and what they mean to each other.
The revelation that Brian keeps a bottle of scotch and a gun in a lockbox in case his depression someday overwhelms him is inherently heartbreaking for obvious reasons. And this forces Stewie to open up about his love for Brian, admitting he couldn't live without him. Brian, in turn, shares his love for Stewie, but the relationship is complicated. Brian is Stewie's best friend, but in some ways he's his guardian as well given Peter's (and occasionally Lois's) ineptitude.
Really, when it comes down to it, this episode reminds us that Brian and Stewie only have each other in this world, as no one else in their lives can be relied upon, and that's what's most heartbreaking about it.
Original Airing: May 02 2010
Season: Family Guy - Season 8
Episode Number: 17
#21 on The Best Duos of All Time
While "Christmas Guy" has a happy ending, it took a sad path to get there. Just a few short episodes after Brian's death, Stewie is not feeling the Christmas spirit – still devastated by the loss of his best friend. His wish to Santa is to just bring Brian back, which pulls hard at the heartstrings. But the pathos doesn't end there.
It turns out Stewie is able to rebuild his time machine; in order to bring Brian back, though, Vinny has to leave the picture. Stewie is conflicted about this because he's grown to care for Vinny, plus he feels guilty for trading Vinny's life for Brian's. Vinny, however, is a beautiful soul, and he happily sacrifices himself so Stewie can have Brian back, but not before the two share an extremely touching goodbye. Stewie's reunion with Brian might even elicit tears from viewers – but the happy kind, so that's good.
Original Airing: Dec 15 2013
Season: Family Guy - Season 12
Episode Number: 8
Life of Brian
There's a whole lot of pathos in "Life of Brian." Smack dab in the middle of Season 12, Brian gets run over. Stewie is devastated by the loss of his best friend and cannot accept the new family dog Vinny, nor the fact that his family is able to move on so quickly.
Vinny, however, ultimately proves to be more human than the rest of the Griffins, and he's able to connect with Stewie about the loss of a friend (having lost his previous owner), who finally accepts him. The episode ends with Vinny curling up beside Stewie's bed.
Every heartbreaking note in this episode is poignant, a masterstroke proving that cartoons can have as much heart as any genre. There's a lot to feel in this episode, from Stewie's sense of confusion and abandonment to the perspective of a dog also dealing with the loss of a loved one – something that those remarkable creatures indeed feel concretely. Sure, bringing Brian back undercuts this a little, but that can't undo its initial impact.
Original Airing: Nov 24 2013
Season: Family Guy - Season 12
Episode Number: 6
After Brian is arrested for driving under the influence, he's sentenced to community service, which involves him caring for an elderly woman who hasn't left her house in decades. When he first meets Pearl, she's a miserable person who treats him like garbage, and he can't stand her either. But when he discovers she was once an opera singer and possesses a beautiful voice, he begins to see beauty in her.
Their friendship blossoms until one day Brian is able to convince her to go outside with him. She's promptly hit by a truck incurring fatal wounds. As she's dying in the hospital, Brian spends his last moments with her in a virtual reality session in which the two get married and spend a life together. She then dies in the real world, leaving Brian just as sad and lonely as he was before he found her. Even the episode's subplot has a sad ending, which sees Peter releasing his baby beard birds into the wild, a la Free Willy. Tears all around.
Original Airing: Jan 17 2002
Season: Family Guy - Season 3
Episode Number: 17