BACK IN MY DAY: The Simpsons

Monday, 26 May, 2014

When Matt Groening turned up in the waiting room of producer James L. Brooks in 1989, he wasn’t quite sure what he was doing there. Quickly scrawling down an episode of life within his own family, he substituted his own name for ‘Bart’and stepped into a meeting that would change his life. The Simpsons was born.

Seriously, he ‘quickly scrawled’ one of the most successful TV series of all time. It’s like those people who write a 4000 word essay on the day it’s due and get a H1.

Since its release, The Simpsons has become something of a cultural icon. It’s symbolic of  ‘90s humour, the birth of the sitcom, and the steady rise in popularity of animated television shows. The Simpsons family and their huge ensemble cast of over a thousand have parodied every popular event in a clever and childish manner. Every girl or boy who grew up in that era has the opening sequence mapped out in their heads; the many recurring locations in Springfield are almost as familiar as our own homes. Especially if you rearranged the furniture to make it look like the Simpsons’ living room and then wrapped your entire family in yellow cellophane before all trying to mount the sofa at once. Not that I ever did that…

I used to come tearing into the lounge after dinner to the theme of The Simpsons. Since they moved the programming around, six o’clock has never quite been the same. Once I reached the age of 12 or 13, my mum would let me stay up to catch the ‘special adult double episode’ at nine pm. I was the toast of the town. The town being my head and the toast being mildly burnt.

On top of the standard episodes there were of course the infamous special episodes, the most haunting of which being the Treehouse of Horror Halloween series. This annual tradition brought friends together with a bowl of popcorn under the dimmest of lights. My brother and I literally built a treehouse one year, specifically to watch the Halloween special. We got all the way to the Edgar Allen Poe ‘Bart Raven’ before we went rapping on the back door… never more.

The global impact The Simpsons have had is immense. It seems that everyone—regardless of their background—knows the characters of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie. The theme song is taught in music classes and a board game isn’t a board game until it has a Simpsons version. These days, you’d be hard pressed to find somebody who hasn’t seen an episode. But given that the show is now in its 25th season, there are still pieces of trivia that even the most hardcore of fans don’t know.

For example, were you aware that the city of Rio de Janeiro threatened to sue Fox and The Simpsons for representing their city as filled with kidnappings, street crime and monkey infestations? The case was never resolved and the charges were dropped.

Already knew that one, huh? Well how about this: Matt Groening has openly criticised several episodes of the show for its writing. This includes the episode where Principal Seymour Skinner is revealed to have been an imposter for the past nine seasons. According to Groening this “violated the Simpsons Universe”. But ripping the entire universe off for another show set in the future? Completely fine.

Not only has the series and the family changed in 24 years, but many of the key ensemble characters have changed with them. For instance, Mr Burns’ extremely loyal assistant Mr Waylon Smithers used to cross a few more boundaries than he does today. In his first appearance, when Maggie was a mere six scribbles, Smithers was accidentally featured as a gentleman of colour due to a stuff up in the animation department. He was switched back by the development team in the following episode as they thought it would be inappropriate to feature a black subservient character.

From the inclusion of ‘D’oh’ in the dictionary to the almost exclusive ownership of the colour yellow, The Simpsons is arguably one of the biggest hits of the ‘90s and certainly one of the longest lasting cult classics. Just as we can argue about which generation of Star Trek was the best, or forever discuss whether Ross and Rachel were destined for each together, we’ll forever be asking ourselves what’s next for the Simpsons and who really did shoot Mr. Burns?