“A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.”
So said Jebediah Springfield, founder of the town that bears his name. You know the place; it’s in the same state as Shelbyville, Capital City, and what’s left of North Haverbrook after the monorail fiasco. From a high enough peak like Mt. Springfield one can see the neighboring states of Ohio, Nevada, Maine, and Kentucky. No matter where the hell it impossibly is, Springfield is most recognizable as the home of America’s most beloved family for 25 years: [angelic chorus] The Simpsons.
While I often make the vain claim that my birth was the highlight of 1989, I will set my narcissism aside to declare beginning of The Simpsons of higher world importance (but my coming into existence still trumps the going out of existence of the Berlin Wall). First starting in the comically distorted mind of Matt Groening, The Simpsons found their way onto TV when he was asked by producer James L. Brooks for a recurring set of animated sketches on The Tracy Ullman Show, a variety show that Brooks created to help advance the talents and career of the English comedian it was named after. After three seasons of supporting this cause, the crudely drawn yellow characters got their own show that Brooks also jumped on board with and on December 17, 1989, the world was presented with the first full half hour of the Simpson clan and all of their friends and neighbors in Springfield.
It seems fitting that the longest-running American television show is technically a spin-off that certainly is more well-known than the show it originated on. Sunday, September 28th will mark the beginning of the 26th season of the show. While everyone’s in agreement that the last few seasons (and by “few” I mean like 10 or so) haven’t been as good as earlier years, there is no denying that The Simpsons still have plenty of funny left in the tank and seem set for a long time. Isn’t that right clip-show song parody of “We Didn’t Start the Fire”? Of course considering the comic genius and brilliant talents of some of the Simpson alumni, many of whom have left the show for grander personal projects – such as Sam Simon, Brad Bird and Conan O’Brien to name a few – it is not shocking that the overall episode quality has decreased. Also consider the fact that as a result of The Simpsons incredible success and appeal the primetime adult-oriented cartoon was no longer a surefire failure for a network to avoid at all costs but a show that probably has a longer-lasting formula than live-action and is cheaper to produce and more merchandisable. Some of The Simpsons audience and younger generations that probably would have watched The Simpsons have shifted their focus onto some of these other cartoons. Many such shows have come (and gone) along over the years since The Simpsons, but a few stand out above the rest. Such as…
King of the Hill (1997 – 2010): Chronicling the daily life of Hank Hill, a Texas propane salesman who tries to live and enjoy an honest life and teach his son Bobby, not the brightest boy, how to do the same, usually with major hurdles to jump – often Hank’s family and friends – in this endeavor. Created by Mike Judge, the same guy who made the much more irreverent Beavis and Butt-Head and movies like Office Space and Idiocracy, King of the Hill had major lasting power of its own and was usually the most wholesome of all these cartoons with lessons to be learned. But rest assured that there is plenty of beer gulping, belly scratching, and belching to be had amongst Hank’s country coterie.
South Park (1997 – Present): Speaking of irreverent, no show, animated or live-action, has “gone there” as far or as often as South Park has. It has evolved from silly construction paper cutouts of crass fourth-graders to socially-conscious satire that holds back for NO ONE. Seriously, show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone say what they want one way or another. In order to purport Tom Cruise as gay in the famous episode that deconstructs $cientology, their compromise with Comedy Central’s legal department was to physically place Cruise in a closet for half of the episode, which is appropriately called “Trapped in the Closet”. And that’s one of the lighter episodes. Watch “Scott Tenorman Must Die” if you want to see the personification of evil arise in Cartman. And definitely worth a mention here is the episode entitled “The Simpsons Already Did It” which sees Butters’ Professor Chaos fail to conceive an original prank because there is nothing you can do that hasn’t already been done by someone on The Simpsons.
Family Guy (1999 – 2003, 2005 – Present): The clearest example of a Simpsons-influenced show with its dumb, fat father, bizarrely attached and forgiving wife, three children in a nuclear family (though not quite as nuclear in Quahog as in Springfield), and a large cast of crazy supporting characters. Family Guy has never measured up to The Simpsons in my eyes, but it has surpassed them in the eyes of others, most probably from being a more recent infusion of Simpsons-esque humor that tends to push society’s buttons a lot more fiercely (but nowhere near as hard-hitting as South Park). Unlike The Simpsons who have had a steady run for all 25 years, Family Guy has been cancelled and promptly brought back because of its popularity. Whatever your preference, often, not always, but often liking one usually means you’ll probably appreciate the other. A cross-over episode that finds the Griffins in Springfield airs on Premiere Sunday, September 28th, and may help to increase much-desired viewership in both shows because if there’s one thing fans can agree on it’s that there are less of them watching either show than in previous years.
Futurama (1999 – 2003, 2010 – 2013): If you really want a more recent infusion of Simpsons-esque humor than where better to start than with the show actually made by the same people?! A creation of Simpsons-life-breather Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, Futurama follows the adventures of Philip J. Fry, a dim-witted 20th century pizza delivery boy who accidentally gets cryogenically frozen at the turn of the century on New Year’s 2000 and thaws out 1000 years later. My personal favorite cartoon, Futurama allowed the Simpsons staff to play around with a new cast with about as few limitations as possible. Cartoons already have more room to run around than live-action shows, but when they’re set in the scientifically-advanced future the opportunities seem endless. Unfortunately they apparently were as Futurama was cancelled not once, but twice. Originally cut from the team in 2003 when Fox just stopped ordering and paying for new episodes. I guess they thought they already had a good enough Groening cartoon on Sunday nights. Of course Fox is infamous for making bad calls with how they air shows often leading them to cancel good TV series way too early, especially if they take place in space and I like them. But Comedy Central came to Futurama‘s rescue with an order for made-for-TV movies and eventually more seasons before cancelling them again just last year. Have no fear though Futurama fans! We’ll get at least one more chance to see our beloved buddies from New New York when they jump into a Simpsons crossover of their own called “Simpsorama” early in this upcoming season.
This newest season of The Simpsons is the last one that Fox, the network that has aired the show for its entire run, has a contract with the show’s producers. And FXX, the newest member of the Fox broadcasting family, recently completed a record-breaking marathon of every Simpsons ever originally called the Every. Simpsons. Ever. Marathon in which they spent 12 days playing all 552 episodes in chronological order and I spent much of most of those days laying on the couch eating while watching it. Now FXX is showing four hour blocks of The Simpsons five days a week, and that’s awesome, but does all this spell out the end of everyone’s favorite crazy family? Almost certainly not. Groening doesn’t seem to want to end the show anytime soon and I doubt Fox does either. Get rid of the greatest thing to ever grace your system of networks? Why would you, even if it hasn’t been as good as it once was. They are boneheads, but nobody’s that stupid, right? (Maybe I shouldn’t have asked that.) Nevertheless, even if we’re not watching every new episode religiously each week it’s still a comfort that The Simpsons are on TV. Other shows, comedic and dramatic, animated and live-action, come and go, but The Simpsons keep on truckin’ without even needing to pull over for a bathroom break. President George H. W. Bush once said, “We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like The Waltons and a lot less like The Simpsons.” I love living in a society that hears that now and replies, “Who the fuck are The Waltons?” I’ll tell you who they’re not: they’re not the family with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or their own theme area in Universal Studios parks (the highlight of my latest trip to Universal Orlando was drinking a Duff at Moe’s). Way back in 1992, The Simpsons had what many consider now to be a prophetic moment. I wish the clip was still online but c`est la vie. Bart and Homer are watching TV and learn The Cosby Show is ending after so many years.
Bart: “Hey dad, how come they’re taking The Cosby Show off the air?”
Homer: “Because Mr. Cosby wanted to stop before the quality suffered.”
Bart: “Quality Schmality! If I had a TV show, I’d run that sucker into the ground!”
Homer: “Amen, boy, amen.
Realistically, yes, someday The Simpsons will end and it will be a sad day for America and the world when they go off the air. We’ll probably even have an officially recognized holiday called “Simpsons Series End Day” or something that only banks will take off work for but all will celebrate. Until that fateful far off future day let’s enjoy some good old mind-numbing television. We might learn a little about ourselves too. And hey, turn it to channel 47, The Simpsons are on.
Thanks for reading, especially since you could have been watching TV. As always drop me a line in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Brave your way back here next week for a topic more to the liking of Groundskeeper Willie.