The PC Thug: Celebrating “The Simpsons” 20th Anniversary

The canvas of television has changed drastically since “The Simpsons” premiered. Reality TV was a fresh concept, FOX was only just starting out, and the animated sitcom was a wildly unexplored idea. Before “The Simpsons” the only real animated sitcoms we had was “The Flintstones,” a pop culture gem that spoofed “The Honeymooners” and was intended for adults. Instead it ran for five seasons and eventually became a franchise meant for children. Then there was “The Jetsons” a rip off of “The Flintstones” that focused on a family in the future, another mature series that became a hit with children later on in its run.

Back then it was pretty apparent that just about everyone assumed animation was strictly for children. Thanks to the works of Disney, animation was a medium that only appealed to children and when the series premiered many assumed it was only for the kids, which is why many of us grew up with the show. “The Simpsons” was a slick formula because it could be enjoyed on two levels. For kids it featured wacky antics and sight gags and when you grew older you could really appreciate the in-jokes, adult humor, and genuine heart. Years later the series has become the longest running show on television and is celebrating its 20th anniversary weathering the ever growing popularity of trash television and a recession that’s caused many networks to cancel their shows in exchange for cheaper productions.

Miraculously enough, the series doesn’t seem to be on the verge of ending any time soon. In spite of becoming slightly irrelevant in the changing face of television, “The Simpsons” is still a pop culture sensation, one that has become a bonafide legacy, a dynasty, and a lasting reminder of FOX’s impact on television worldwide. Hell, it even inspired wannabes that eventually failed including “Capital Critters,” “Fish Police,” and “Family Dog.” I am one of the many who grew up watching the series and to this day I still pay a visit to the series because it’s become honest to goodness comfort food. Like “Cheers,” the show has become a place where you can feel at home at, a place where you can have some laughs and watch an honest to goodness story unfold.

Since its introduction “The Simpsons” have had a considerable importance in comedy. The series spawned the landmark careers of Brad Bird who would go on to make “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” for Pixar Studios, and Conan O’Brien who went on to write for “Saturday Night Live” and hosted “Late Night” on NBC for almost twenty years spawning a massive cult fan base with his off beat humor and characters. Though the documentary FOX aired celebrating the show’s amazing run was just plain fluff, if you looked close you could make some interesting observations. For example, there’s a considerable undertone of bitterness with Tracey Ullman’s interview who explains that she originally wanted a role on the show but just couldn’t do it.

As we all know, Ullman’s show was canceled while “The Simpsons” (which made its start on Ullman’s comedy series) went on to success without her. Another interesting interview was with Seth McFarlane who was really only interviewed once and featured for a short time. He goes on to declare how much of an influence the show had on him, which becomes pretty hypocritical if you’ve ever seen his series because clearly the show doesn’t show any influence from “The Simpsons” other than the fact that McFarlane has ripped off much of the show’s characters and gags. That said, “The Simpsons” was a hefty gamble from FOX who experimented by only making one episode which happened to be a holiday half hour show that failed to fully sell what the show had in store for us. It became a hit but when you watch it it doesn’t completely explain what the concept has in store for audiences.

“Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” gave us the introduction of the pivotal characters of the series including Grandpa Simpson, Marge’s obnoxious big sisters and of course, their dog Santa’s Little Helper. The pilot episode was purely an inspirational Christmas tale about the Simpsons, a group of losers intent on seeing the positive in their misery. The theme would resonate throughout the series as the writers gradually built a wackier darker framework that revolved around witty writing and gags that are practically timeless. The reason why the show has continued to live on is because the care the creative team provides not only for the show but for the audience. There are hilariously wacky signs, thousands of supporting characters, self-referential puns, and of course fantastic guest spots.

The series has also continued on because in the midst of the jokes and sharp writing these characters are actually quite complex and three dimensional. While there are sex jokes, and jabs at politics, there’s also some genuinely deep storytelling that keeps the audience watching. For examples of that watch “Mother Simpson” where Homer re-unites with his estranged mother, or “The Way we Was,” where we learn how Homer and Marge met and eventually fell in love. This has become a staple of the series that has sorely been lacking in modern animated series. Shows like “South Park,” “Family Guy,” or “Moral Orel” have all hit big, but clearly lack what has made “The Simpsons” so beloved. Sure, two out of three of those shows are funny, but we never connect to the characters as we do with Matt Groening’s series.

But there’s much more to that than just relatable characters and heartfelt storytelling. Even in the face of potential cancellation in the past, “The Simpsons” has managed to stay the course and dominate pop culture. Just when we think it’s pretty much accomplished all it could, we’re given “The Simpsons Movie” that once again showed us why Groening’s creations will continue to push the envelope and bring in a hardcore audience winning out over other series in the long run. I’m secure in the prediction that “The Simpsons” will keep running longer than “South Park” or “Family Guy” and that’s because of what it brings to the table, and this fan intends to continue supporting the show as long as it runs.
Happy Anniversary!