The Simpsons At 700: Why It Has Endured
I love The Simpsons. When most people say that, they usually mean that they love the scene when Sideshow Bob steps on the rake, or when Homer says “Tramapoleen! Trabopoline!” but that’s not what I mean. I mean I utterly love The Simpsons. It’s my favourite TV show of all time, and my love for it is too deeply ingrained for it to ever really be challenged for that title. I’ve watched every episode, all 699 of them, at least twice bar the most recent season, and many from the earlier seasons over ten times each. I got Disney+ specifically for The Simpsons, I own all of the released seasons on DVD, I have Simpsons books, Simpsons collectibles, Simpsons games – I even spent way too much money on the recent Simpsons-Vans sneaker collection. I. Love. The. Simpsons. This week, the show is turning 700, having already edged out Gunsmoke as the longest running primetime show ever 64 episodes ago. As a huge Simpsons fan – did I mention that already? – I think I’m well placed to describe just why the show has endured for so long.
Let’s get the obvious reason out of the way first: it’s funny. Very funny. It’s not quite as funny now as the Golden Era episodes, but it’s often still hilarious. If your standard for television being good is “is it better than The Simpsons season five?” then my friend, your standards are way too high. Just because The Simpsons is no longer the best thing ever doesn’t mean it’s not still great. Season 27’s Barthood can kick it with the classics when it comes to heart, and Halloween of Horror from the same season isn’t too far behind. Season 30 brought us Thanksgiving of Horror, a riff on the horror – am I saying ‘horror’ too much? – trilogies usually saved for Treehouse of… um… Horror episodes, set against a Thanksgiving backdrop. It’s one of the best episodes in years, and it took a risk by doing something new. Some of the jokes don’t land, some of the plots are weird, and some of the cameos are wedged in there, but it’s still very funny. Trust me.
And hey, even if you can’t trust me, you don’t need to. The classic episodes are that good that they have endured to the modern day. Homer The Heretic, Kamp Krusty, Lisa’s First Word, When Flanders Failed, Flaming Moe’s… these episodes are all literally older than I am, but anybody who has ever owned a television is at least vaguely familiar with them. These classic Simpsons efforts have a timeless quality to them, and even with the advancements in animation, people still look at these episodes as being quintessential Simpsons. Modern day episodes aren’t as bad as people say – though they’re not perfect – but a huge part of why The Simpsons reached 700 episodes is because we all love the first 200 so damn much we’re still watching them today.
Then there’s the tie-ins. The Simpsons has been able to reach 700 episodes because it still makes buckets of money, both through the episodes themselves and the syndication sales, but also through those collectibles and books and sneakers I mentioned at the start. There’s even a Simpsons Land at Universal Studios Florida – no, I have not been, and yes, it physically pains me. Even with a lower audience pull, and even with people complaining that it’s not like the Golden Era anymore, as long as the show remains on the air, it remains a current show – not one living in the spectre of cancellation that might harm the value of their tie-ins. Hey, they work for Disney now, so they’re the mascots of an evil corporation.
But as I say, it’s not perfect. The Simpsons used to represent the American family like no other; so much so that George W. Bush once called them out during a campaign speech – this later served as the inspiration for the episode Two Bad Neighbors. However, these days, the Simpsons do not represent the American family. In this era of wealth inequality, generational divides, and economic downturns, they simply have too much money. It’s not just about what they have in the bank, either – the Simpson family never stress about money in the way the Belchers from Bob’s Burgers or the Harts from Bless the Harts do. We can no longer relate to them as we once did, and that’s why the point about the longevity of the Golden Era is so important.
There’s also more than a few clunkers in the mix. Not just bad episodes, but really off-colour jokes that don’t belong in The Simpsons. I can’t think of anything particularly controversial or offensive in the Golden Era. It didn’t get away with stuff because it was funny – it was just funny. There was nothing to get away with. In fact, with episodes like Homer’s Phobia, they were bold. In the post-season ten episodes, you’ll find more stuff that surprises you. Jokes that poke fun at gay people, trans people, and far more suicide jokes than I bet you remember. Thankfully this humour has mostly bitten the bullet these days, but the recent handling of the Apu controversy wasn’t great either.
The TLDR on this is that Apu is an Indian man with an Indian accent, voiced by a white guy. Recently, Hank Azaria – the white guy in question – has stepped down from the role, as well as stepping away from Carl, with Harry Shearer – also white – no longer voicing Dr Hibbert either. However, a few seasons prior to doing this, The Simpsons did a rare fourth wall break mocking PC culture and belittling concerns over Apu’s accent: this segment was narrated by Lisa, and regardless of what you think about Apu, borrowing Lisa’s integrity and forcing her to act so out of character is demeaning and insulting. It’s easily my least favourite moment in the history of the show.
None of this has dampened my love for the show, however, because with The Simpsons, the good times are just too good to let the bad times get in the way. Reaching 700 episodes is just showboating. It’s already the longest running primetime show ever, and the stars will never again align as they did for episode 666 being Treehouse of Horror XXX. Modern episodes aren’t as good as they were in season eight – but neither are 99 percent of television episodes anywhere. It feels like The Simpsons is held to an unfair standard, but at 700 episodes in, it’s still drawing a crowd. Here’s to another 700 more! Who’s with me? Nobody? D’oh!
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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