I’ve given you one word to work with, and I’m sure from that one word already you can guess that this article will be about The Simpsons.
Originally I was going to call it “What the Simpsons Mean to Me”, but “D’oh” gets to the true point I’m trying to make-To figure out just how truly transcendent the show once was. All the proof you need lies in that one word though. Homer Simpson created a sound that became so popular, it’s became an actual word in the English language. That kind of social clout and relevance is not only spectacular for a show to have, but it’s also unprecedented. That’s how big, how important The Simpsons was to society and pop culture.
But, it’s only now that The Simpsons marathon on FXX is over that I realize how much the show has had an effect on me, my being, and my childhood development. I don’t remember how or when I came across the show, I just remember always knowing what it was. The best way to describe it is in the same way that I’ve always known that my older sister is my older sister. All I remember is knowing her as my sister, not the realization that she existed in that capacity. With The Simpsons, it’s been a part of my life for so long now, that I don’t remember neither how it got there, nor do I remember what it was like to not know about the show.
The very first episode that I remember really well is one I’ve only seen twice, once as a kid when I was really young, and once again last week as a 23 year old. “Homer and Apu” wasn’t the first episode I ever saw, nor was it the first one that I thought was funny, it’s the first one that I remember laughing hysterically at. And I can tell you why. Even though I had no idea who James Woods was at the time, I still though the randomness of hiring an actor to work at the Kwik-e-Mart was hysterical, especially this foul mouthed and short tempered star. It was after seeing “Homer and Apu” that I started making James Woods jokes, jokes that featured no punchline and usually involved putting this manically aggressive actor in nonsensical situations.
“Homer at the Bat”, another episode I’ve seen too few times is another one that stayed with me as a kid. Just like James Woods’ guest appearance, even though I didn’t know who the guest stars were I was amused by their interactions. When I look back on it, it’s because the show really captured the essence of the guest stars so perfectly. James Woods, Albert Brooks, Michael Jackson, and Meryl Streep had some of the best appearances because the writers made jokes that were reflective of the stars personality. So even if a five year old didn’t know who was guest starring, they could still be included in the jokes. The best example is Mr. Burns’ interaction with Don Mattingly in “Homer at the Bat”. After making repeated demands that Mattingly shave off his nonexistent sideburns, Mattingly shaved a third of his head from ear to ear in a horseshoe pattern to satisfy Mr. Burns. When it still didn’t meet Mr. Burns, he had Mattingly thrown off the team.
Being the oblivious five year old I was, I didn’t know who Don Mattingly was when I first saw the episode a few years after its original airing, but the gag of Mr. Burns not knowing what sideburns were was hysterical. It even made me question if I really knew what sideburns were. Maybe it was because I was five, or because the jokes were stellar, but it was these intricate gags and jokes that made me think of The Simpsons as high-brow humor, which for a time I really think it was. But it was high-brow in the same sense that South Park is high-brow, in convincing people that its crudeness and crass exterior are actually indicative of the show as a whole, that it’s blatant low-brow with no deeper value. Unlike a show like Family Guy, The Simpsons and South Park have a soul to them, a creative spark that goes beyond simple and contrived jokes. Look at how James Woods and Adam West were used on The Simpsons, and then compare their appearances on Family Guy; they’re completely different and indicative of the show as a larger whole. The early humor of the show, especially under the tenure of Al Jean, and Bill Oakley is deep and in some cases so meta that they have two or three layers of jokes laid in the punchline. Season five’s “Cape Feare” is the perfect example of this more nuanced sense of comedy that the show perfected during its golden age.
Having missed “Bartmania” due to being either in utero, or an unintelligible punching bag for my older sister, I was still old enough to witness the last remnants of this fad. By the time I was six I was so enamored with the idea of this sarcastic wise-ass character that I tried to adapt it for myself. I thought it would be really entertaining to become that character that I started to emulate it myself. I wasn’t a troublemaker or a slacker, in fact one of the points that I wanted to make was to prove that I could be like a Bart Simpson but get good grades. What’s scary is that I don’t know if I’m naturally a smartass, or if that role, influenced solely by Bart Simpson, has become so embedded into my personality that’s it’s become the Tom Hagen of my psyche.
Besides helping me relive parts of my childhood, and convincing me to go out and buy the first ten seasons of the show on DVD, The Simpsons marathon also made me witness just how far the show has fallen. It really made the dip in quality after season nine more dramatic and jarring, because you realize it wasn’t an instantaneous drop in quality, it was something that became more and more apparent as the latter seasons went by. The last 350 episodes don’t hold a candle to the first 200, not necessarily because they’re so bad, but because the episodes of the first third of the series were just so good. It’s sorta sad in a way to see something that was once so great, become something mediocre, and a shell of itself.
So the question is “What do I owe The Simpsons?”. Well, to be honest, probably more than even I realize. It was the first thing that I can really remember immersing myself in; it was the first time that I felt like something was mine. The very foundation of my sense of humor is cemented in the early Conan O’ Brien, John Swartzwelder episodes, marked by absurd but engaging situations, and witty dialogue. It was the first time in my short life that I was able to see something and then try to mold myself from that model in emulation of it. I think everyone of us has that at some point in our childhood, and I think it’s a pretty big psychological development. It represents cognizance, analysis, and repetition, but also a degree of self-awareness since you have to be aware that you’re trying to change your behavior, or yourself in order to emulate, or replicate some external stimuli. For me, that stimuli was The Simpsons, and for this I owe the Simpson family, and Matt Groening a Duff.
 Yes, I was that pretentious even in elementary school.
Bart and Lisa Simpson, Chief Wiggum and son Ralph, bartender Moe and Apu from Kwik-E-Mart celebrated 25 years of “The Simpsons” in Hollywood on Friday.
Under the starry skies of Hollywood on Friday, the animated world of America’s longest-running television series “The Simpsons” came alive through music and lively performances from the cast on stage at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl.
“Payload checklist: IRS surveillance satellite.” – Race Banyon
“Check.” – Buzz Aldrin
“Any farm.” – Race Banyon
“Check.” – Buzz Aldrin
“Children’s letters to God.” – Race Banyon
“Check.” – Buzz Alrdin
The Simpsons have never been a family to shy away from trends sweeping the internet, and unless you
I’m told that there was some sort of mega-Simpsons marathon on TV yesterday. I’m told, rather than I know for sure, because I don’t watch a lot of TV, and in any event I’m spending most of my time in a research library coming up with awesome stuff like this for your amusement (and my dissertation). Yesterday morning I had a good-natured, light-hearted spar session with one of my Twitter buddies (he happens to be the author of a couple of great books on Slayer) where he chided me for not spending the entire day watching Simpsons episodes. At the heart of this jocular spat is a terrible truth: I’m not really a very big fan of The Simpsons.
I know that’s un-American, if not completely unimaginable. But it’s true. In my life I think I’ve seen maybe five or six episodes of the show, and they didn’t impress me. It is absolutely astonishing to me to behold that The Simpsons has been running continuously on American television for nearly 25 years. I certainly remember when it debuted, and most of the five or six episodes I saw when I was in college, at what I guess was the series’ heyday in the early 1990s. Again I look back at that sentence and am amazed: this show was in its heyday when I was an undergraduate in college. And it’s still on the air. How this happened utterly baffles me.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t deny or malign the impact that The Simpsons has had on American popular culture in the past quarter century. There’s no question that it’s an important show in the history of television, and most likely a significant piece of art in its own right. Matt Groening, who created the show, is justifiably hailed as being brilliant. Bart Simpson is the Charlie Brown of the post-Cold War era, and Homer’s trademark “D’oh!” is now indelibly part of the English language. I get all that. It’s just that, for all of this, The Simpsons never engaged me on an emotional, intellectual or artistic level. To me it’s a cartoon sitcom. There, I said it. Believe it or not there are such people who think that.
The “couch gag” is a perennial trope of the opening sequence of The Simpsons, which varies from show to show.
My first encounter with The Simpsons was not on TV, but in a movie theater. Shortly before the show debuted on Fox in December 1989, Matt Groening and the producers sought to drum up buzz for it by releasing a few Simpsons cartoon shorts to run before some big-name movies out that fall. One of them was The War of the Roses, starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner (a highly under-rated film in my opinion). A Simpsons short ran before that movie. It was funny, and I remember thinking, wow, that’s great–if we’re rebooting the old days of cartoon shorts before movies, as was the custom in from the 1930s to the late 1950s, that’s pretty cool. (Better than endless previews of superhero movies, which is all we seem to see these days). But alas, no such plans were afoot. The short was merely meant to promote the series. The only show I watched at that time was Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I wasn’t enthused enough about the short to change my viewing habits so as to stay home Sunday nights watching a cartoon sitcom.
I think the initial power of The Simpsons, aside from the iconic art style of Matt Groening, came from the time in which it premiered, and specifically how the American family was being depicted on TV at that time. The period 1989-90 was the heyday of what some television historians have called the “anti-family sitcom,” which, instead of depicting an idyllic middle-America dream of what a family should be, which had been the blueprint of family shows since the 1957 debut of Leave It To Beaver, showed families more like they really are: riven by conflicts, often with wisecracking, misbehaving kids, marital strife and the various maddening details of modern life left in rather than excluded. Shows like Roseanne and The Simpsons were the vanguard of this movement. Clearly there would have been no Simpsons without the 1980s mega-hit The Cosby Show, which was simply a modern redress of the Beaver-like “perfect family” show advanced forward in time 30 years. Indeed, I don’t think you can understand The Simpsons without understanding The Cosby Show, which was its direct progenitor. The gestalt of The Simpsons, in a way, is simply reaction, not action.
The Simpsons are so culturally pervasive that this image of Homer appears in the corner of a bronze bas-relief in the grand entryway of the Cunard passenger liner Queen Mary 2, launched in 2004.
But where have all the “perfect family” shows gone since the 1980s? As I said, I don’t watch much TV, but I certainly don’t hear about squeaky-clean family shows burning up the airwaves the way one did 25 or 30 years ago. Nowadays, family sitcoms are almost always wisecracking and satirical rather than milquetoast and sanitized. The Bundys–Family Guy–American Dad–these are the families that have been on TV since 1989, and they’re stamped from the mold of The Simpsons, not Beaver or the Cosbys. In this sense you can see the cultural impact the Simpsons has had. I think the “perfect family” show is dead as a genre, except perhaps in some fringe niche market. The Cleavers, Bradys and Huxtables of the TV universe are now as archaic as bell bottoms and makaha beads. Bart Simpson drove a stake through their hearts. Maybe it is for this that The Simpsons deserves to be lionized.
That still doesn’t make me a fan, though. And maybe, after 25 years, it’s time to move on to another trope, to reinvent TV in some new creative, rather than reactive, direction. That’s just my uninformed, unpopular opinion. Homer, Bart and Lisa have been clowning every Sunday night since the first George Bush was in the White House. Maybe it’s time for them to make their entry into rerun-syndication Valhalla. Or maybe that’s blasphemy. You be the judge.
All visual depictions of The Simpsons are owned by Fox Broadcasting Corp. and are under copyright. I believe my inclusion of them here constitutes fair use.
Originally posted on : – 1. Use bad grammar? That’s unpossible!I’m far from the grammar police. I do