The Yellow, Nuclear Family from Springfield USA has been around since I first started high school. Now in its 23rd season, the show was saved from the brink of cancellation the other day thanks in large part due to the cast taking a huge per episode pay cut in order to keep the show profitable. So today, instead of writing what was going to be a eulogy, I get to write about the importance of the Simpsons as they run on through until their landmark 25th seasonâ€¦ and my 39th birthday.
The future of prime-time television’s longest-running scripted series looked in doubt earlier this week as Fox Television demanded a 45% pay cut by its six principal voice actors Dan Castellaneta (Homer), Julie Kavner (Marge), Nancy Cartwright (Bart), Yeardley Smith (Lisa), Hank Azaria (Moe and Chief Wiggum) and Harry Shearer (Principal Skinner and Ned Flanders). Reports say Fox didn’t get all they were after and I find that just as well for without the Simpsons there would likely be no Fox Television.
While the danger has passed as they say, the uncertainty of this past week obliged me to reflect on a show that has been a part of me, effectively for my entire life. I’ll be the first to admit that the show will never be as funny as it was between seasons three and eight. The writers were better, the jokes were better and the pot was better. I can still sit down for the hundredth time to watch an episode from back then and still I laugh out loud; the difference is today I laugh sober.
One thing that hasn’t changed much in twenty three plus years is the Simpsons ability to poke fun at pop culture and social taboos, all while keeping the moral high ground. While the Simpsons sometimes seemed controversial in its heyday, it did so in groundbreaking form and was fairly victimless. Most of the cartoon sit-coms that the Simpsons helped to spawn including the Family Guy, South Park and countless others needed to be as disgusting and mean as possible just to find a viewership.
The comedy of the Simpsons did not just have their characters poking fun at one another like most live-action sitcoms, their jokes and gags often times had real world significance. How many other situation comedies denounced the Iraq war, made fun of Dick Cheney or even poked fun at their owner (Rupert Murdoch)? These instances occurred after the Simpsons were past their prime, but they still managed to provoke thought in a humorous way and they did it tastefully.
Homer and his family haven’t aged a day since the Simpsons first appeared on the Tracy Ullman show back in 1987. Although a quarter of a century has nearly passed in the real world, the Simpsons continue to make me laugh by making fun of the same type of American pop culture that I despised nearly 25 years ago. More important still, occasionally they still have those story lines that revolve around the social issues of the day, subjects that no other shows dare go near, forcing people to learn if they want to laugh.
So while the great recession has caused some lower salaries in the land of Springfield, at least the depression was averted… for now. Even if the real life nuclear middle class lifestyle of the Simpsons is dying, I hope the show never shares that fate.
Interesting Simpsons Facts:
- 21 Simpsons staff members (past and present) graduated from Harvard.
- The Simpsons is the longest running animated series of all time. It passed “The Flintstones'” in 1997 and surpassed “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” in 2005 as the longest running comedy in TV history.
- Over 600 guest stars have been featured in less than 500 episodes
- D’oh is now listed in the Oxford English Dictionary
- Over 150 characters are featured on the Simpsons including main, supporting and reoccurring characters