D’oh! The Simpsons: Two decades of funny
By Rita Sherrow
January 10, 2020
Happy birthday, Bart.
You may still be a 10-year-old, but “The Simpsons” is wrapping up its 20th anniversary, and the celebration includes a 3-D event and the 450th broadcast Sunday of the longest running scripted prime-time series on TV.
The series started life as 30-second cartoon shorts on “The Tracey Ullman Show” in 1987 and grew into a pop culture phenomenon, proving cartoons weren’t just for kids anymore.
It was originally titled “Life in Hell” after creator Matt Groening’s comic strip. He came up with new characters to populate the half-hour series newly titled “The Simpsons” and named them after members of his family. The series stars the dysfunctional (not to mention yellow) Simpsons family and the denizens of the Middle-American Springfield.
Dad Homer is a safety inspector for a nuclear plant. Wife Marge is a full-time mom to trouble-making son Bart and two daughters, vegetarian Lisa and pacifier-sucking Maggie. Groening has agreed that Bart (his own namesake) is angry, frustrated and doesn’t respect authority — just like a lot of kids.
Never boring and often the subject of controversy, the series has been smashing TV barriers to smithereens since its inception as a Christmas special in December 1989 and a regular series in January 1990. It unraveled tightly held traditions about cartoons, animated series in prime time, humor on broadcast TV and how many stars in the entertainment stratosphere can a show get to voice a role. The Simpsons’ faces are even on a 44-cent U.S. Postal Service stamp; its 2007 feature film was a hit; and Michael Jackson wrote the No. 1 single “Do the Bartman.” Heck, there’s even “The Simpsons Ride” at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando Resort. Ay, caramba!
It was “The Simpsons” and NFL Football that basically opened viewers’ eyes to the existence of the Fox network. “The Simpsons” was Fox’s first show to be ranked in the Nielsen ratings top 30 (it was No. 28).
Now in its 21st season, the iconic show has garnered 24 Emmy Awards and a whole slew of other awards only a television editor would recognize. It holds the Guinness Book of Records titles for longest-running prime-time animated television series, most guest stars featured in a television series, most searched-for television show on the Internet and longest-running sitcom on American TV. And it has its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The anniversary celebration culminates Sunday with the 450th episode, “Once Upon a Time in Springfield,” in which Krusty the Clown gets a new female sidekick (guest star Anne Hathaway) who steals all his scenes and falls in love with him. It will be followed by the special “Simpsons’ 20th Anniversary Special in 3-D on Ice” executive producer and director of the special Morgan Spurlock’s own worldwide look at the series and its fans. For the special, he promises, “there may be a little bit of something on ice possibly towards the end” and ” a little 3-D-ish element” in the show.
On Feb. 15, the show moves into its next-generation phase — all-new main titles and the first high-definition episode of the series.