Let’s start with the assumption that almost nobody playing this game, is anything less than a huge Simpsons fan. Yes. I know you are out there, those of the “I really don’t watch the show…I just like the game,” variety…or even those of you would argue that “The Simpsons is good, but it doesn’t stack up to Deep Space Nine!” But, I suspect you are in the minority.
However, once again, a pair of well-known media critics have written a book about the top 100 television shows of all time, and “The Simpsons” comes out on top!
The numbers speak for themselve. But surprisingly, the notion that “The Simpsons” is the “longest running television series” isn’t even close to being true. While our favorite show is in fact, the longest-running animated American series,the longest running American sitcom and the longest running scripted prime-time series, it’s 27-year run doesn’t even come close to the 68-year run of “Meet the Press.”
But, “The Simpsons” is a heck of a lot funnier…unless you count the times that Sarah Palin was on “Meet the Press.”
So, what makes “The Simpsons” so enduring? What keeps a show fresh well beyond the “expiration date” that most viewers would expect?
There are a lot of reasons… Let’s Take a Look!
Warning: What follows is an “opinion piece,” designed to offer my opinion, and solicit yours. Just like the show itself, it may be deemed controversial in nature in some topics, and in no way should be construed to represent the opinions of “the management.” It is also a LOT of words for some of you who don’t really like to read. So, if allowing someone their opinion, while you offer yours is not your cup of tea…then go back to tapping robots. OK?
In my opinion, the reason “The Simpsons” continues to remain fresh, topical, and consistently good, starts at the top. And I mean the top of the top (since the show’s inception as part of a short subject feature on the “Tracey Ullman Show”) namely, co-creator and producer, James L. Brooks.
Brooks has the kind of short, but amazing pedigree that includes some of my very favorite movies and television shows of all time, both as a writer and producer. It is short by some Hollywood standards with a little over 35 credits as producer, and an equal number as writer, but laden with some of the most beloved, “game-changer” productions from their time.
If you want to hear an amazing interview with Brooks (and aren’t afraid of the language used in the WTF podcast with Marc Maron), you can listen to a great recap of the origination and insider info on some of the best of the best (The Simpsons, Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, The Tracey Ullman Show, Terms of Endearment, As Good as It Gets, Jerry McGuire) as well as his favorite show that didn’t make it past one season (The Critic). Be warned…it is two hours long. But, would be great way to pass the time while you are making room for your SciFi stuff in your Springfield. But through it all, you sense Brooke’s intelligence, courage to do something different, and absolute joy in the creative process.
In my opinion, it is that last bit that keeps the Simpsons amazing, funny and bitingly current after almost three decades. He still loves doing it.
What is most amazing to me, is that since its inception, The Simpsons has remained controversial while being almost completely innocuous. It remains political, without fully stating a partisan view. It remains an “equal opportunity insulter,” in a way that makes us laugh at the system, while pointing out the shortcomings of leadership.
If you take politics seriously, you are likely to get your dander up at some point, no matter which side of the spectrum you fall, because for the most part, the show remains neutral in taking a specific side to an issue. It just points out the ludicrous nature of the “controversy.”
There have been countless classic examples of this throughout the history of the show, going back as far as President Bush the elder’s re-election campaign in 1992, stating that “The next value I speak of must be forever cast in stone. I speak of decency, the moral courage to say what is right and condemn what’s wrong, and we need a nation closer to the Waltons than the Simpsons. An America that rejects the incivility, the tide of incivility and the tide of intolerance”
Ironic, right? Given to the de-evolution of politics, into a generalized, inarticulate shouting match, this seems old fashioned, and sweet. As does “The Simpsons” reply in a couch gag when Bart replies to the speech they are watching on TV, “Hey, we’re just like the Waltons. We’re praying for an end to The Depression too!”
There are simply too many instances of political and social humor in the show to mention in any one article. One could write an entire book on the subject. But, some of the hottest issues of our time have been featured, along with some of the best-known pop and cultural icons of the era. It’s almost a badge of honor to be skewered. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the huge list of celebrities who have braved running the gauntlet of being “Simpsonized.”
Gun control? Gay rights? The inability for Congress to be anything but ridiculous and broken? It’s all in there…but with a simple bluntness that makes us laugh, rather than wince.
This WIKI article lays out some of the most controversial and topical episodes.
In an article from the “AV Club” a longstanding TV/Media site, their article, “How The Simpsons mastered the art of neutral political satire“ really hits the topic squarely between the eyes. It’s a good read, but also has a ton of clips from the show as examples.
If you think that the “hold your nose and pull the lever” is a new concept to this Presidential election, take a look at this short…and then grimace along with the reality of where we are today. That’s right…the show was lampooning the limitations of the two-party system, clear back in the Dole/Clinton/Perot days.
The Simpsons is edgy, silly, and painfully honest. And some would say, has been a “predictor of the future” in ways that would have conspiracy theorists burbling with excitement and flow charts! (this video is kinda over the top…)
The most amazing thing that continues to keep the show fresh, is the ability to laugh at itself, poke fun of popular culture and communications, while having a consistent running battle with the very network that has been its home for almost three decades.
The show lampoons Fox tirelessly and unmercifully. I can only imagine what Brooks and company have in store with the recent Roger Ayers debacle. Biting the hand that feeds them (Rupert Murdoch) has been a standard since the first season. But, even more “accepted as the norm” is the fact that the show makes fun of television, news broadcasters, kids shows, and yes…even MOBILE GAMING…with the same sort of pointed irreverence.
On a personal aside; there is an irony to being a TSTO blogger, and being called out for “not loving the game enough,” or “being too hard on EA,” when the very game we play, is based upon a show who continually “keeps it real,” by not being afraid to call out those who stand to prosper the most for lazy or poor leadership and programming. But, I digress…
In my opinion (and this is so far…just that), this show, is part of the bedrock that makes democracy great. It is the ability to entertain, while holding those in power accountable, with an almost constant push to force us to look at ourselves and our own sense of prejudice and hypocrisy. In short…taking from one of my favorite Brooks movie, “As Good As It Gets,” the Simpsons makes me want to be a better person.
We are able to laugh at our own shortcomings, while learning to be tolerant and forgiving of those that are different than we are. Do I want to be Smithers? No. But, who doesn’t appreciate his unbridled devotion? Homer? Same thing…while making an ass of himself, his devotion to Marge is almost never in question (even when being tempted by Lurleen or Mandy). We would all like the scruples of Lisa (until there is a boy involved) and ultimately, even Bart has a heart of gold (plate) that keeps you loving the little scamp.
While the Simpsons characters are broadly painted in personality, it is the subtleness and humanity that keeps us watching.
For me, one of the constants for almost half of my lifetime (and I suspect the whole of some of your lives) has been knowing that the Simpsons will be here to keep us honest, self-reflecting, and laughing. What greater gift can we ask of a television show?
Meet the Press? Pfffffftttttttttttttt…. I haven’t watched it more than a handful of times in my entire life (which is shorter than the 67-year run). But, I wouldn’t miss an episode of The Simpsons. Ever.
So…NOW IT’S YOUR TURN? One of the Best? or Best Show EVER?
Too political? Not political enough? Do you watch, or did you stop watching after the “Golden Era” before Season 9?
Let us know…you know we LOVE to hear your thoughts and opinions!