The Simpsons is the longest-running animated television series and sitcom series in U.S. television history, with 16 seasons and 336 episodes since its debut on December 17, 1989. Highly satirical, the show lampoons almost everything possible; mainly, the middle class, "Middle American" lifestyle its titular family exhibits, but more generally American culture, society, the Fox network, and television itself.
Setting, characters, and plot
Created by Matt Groening, The Simpsons is set in the fictional U.S. town of Springfield. A running joke is that the state in which it is located is never explicitly mentioned, although many irreconcilable details are given about it (see Where Is The Simpsons' Springfield? (http://www.snpp.com/guides/springfield.list.html)).
The show's basic premise centers on the antics of the family: Homer and Marge, and their children, Bart, Lisa and Maggie, as well as their pets Santa's Little Helper – the dog – and Snowball II – the cat. (Snowball I was run over and killed earlier in Simpsons history.)
Homer is a safety inspector at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant and a generally well-meaning buffoon whose short attention span is often drawn to outrageous schemes and adventures. Marge was once intelligent and sophisticated, but has come to conform with the stereotype of housewife/mother. Bart, the older sibling, is a troublemaker and classroom terror ("a vile burlesque of irrepressible youth" is how Lisa once described him) who thinks of himself as a rebel, while Lisa is a brainy student and jazz music fan who dreams of a better future (she is referred to as "the future of the family"). Maggie is an eternal baby. Despite the fact that numerous years (and birthdays) clearly pass (for example, many Christmas episodes), the Simpsons do not appear to age.
The show also has a vast array of quirky supporting characters, including co-workers, teachers, family friends, extended relatives, and local celebrities. Many of these characters have developed a vast cult following of their own. For a comprehensive list, see characters from The Simpsons.
Authority, especially in undeserving hands, is a constant target of the show's often sharp satire. This probably explains the often strong negative reaction to the show from social conservatives. Nearly every authority figure in the show is portrayed unflatteringly: Homer is thoughtless and irresponsible, the antithesis of the ideal 1950s TV father; though he always comes through for his family in the end. Springfield police chief Clancy Wiggum (voiced by Hank Azaria in an Edward G. Robinson-influenced tone) is obese, stupid, lazy, corrupt and not overly concerned with constitutional rights. Mayor Quimby – who sounds like John F. Kennedy – is a corrupt womanizer. Seymour Skinner, the principal of Springfield Elementary School, is an uptight, humorless bachelor who lives with his domineering mother. He has frequent flashbacks to his capture and imprisonment by the Viet Cong, and he is repeatedly likened to Norman Bates in Psycho. Reverend Lovejoy, the pastor of the local church, is jaded and moralistic. While most of these characters are more incompetent than truly evil, there is one true sadist: Montgomery Burns, owner of the Springfield Nuclear Plant and Homer Simpson's boss; he is often compared to Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane. It is probably not a coincidence that Harry Shearer's voice for Montgomery Burns closely resembles his voice for former US President Ronald Reagan.
The show also routinely mocks and satirizes show business conventions and personalities. Krusty the Clown has an enthusiastic following among Springfield's kids, but offstage he is a jaded, cynical hack, in poor health from a long history of overindulgence and substance abuse. He will endorse any product for a price. Kent Brockman is a self-important, spoiled TV news anchorman with little regard for journalistic ethics, possibly thanks to the fact that he won the lottery in one episode. Viewers also learn that Brockman had an ethnic name in the 1960s, which he anglicized by the time the Simpsons episodes of the 1990s take place.
The plots of most episodes focus on the adventures of one particular family member, frequently Homer. However the plots have never been very predictable or constant and tend to be very character-driven. Recurring themes in episodes include:
There are also a number of different types of scenes that recur often, in many different episodes, that have become conventions of the show's storytelling style. Examples of these stock scenes include:
The Simpson family first appeared in animated form as shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show, the first short "Good Night" airing on April 19, 1987. (The shorts were not aired by the BBC in the UK, though some of them, including "Good Night," were included in a Simpsons anniversary episode.) The Simpsons was converted, by a team of production companies that included what is now the Klasky-Csupo animation house, into a series for the Fox Network in 1989 and has run as a weekly show on that network ever since. (view photo of original Simpsons (http://web.tiscali.it/fabioracco/images/Evolution.gif))
In September of 1990, Barbara Bush said in an interview for People magazine that The Simpsons was the dumbest thing she'd ever seen. Later, an episode had George and Barbara Bush move to Springfield and leave after George gets involved in a feud with the Simpson family. One of the Simpsons DVD sets includes a special feature that presents an exchange of letters between the First Lady and show staff.
On February 9, 1997 The Simpsons surpassed The Flintstones as the longest-running prime-time animated series; and in January 2003, it was announced that the show had been renewed by Fox through 2005 – meaning it has replaced The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952 to 1966) as longest-running sitcom (animated or live-action) ever in the United States. If the series survives until its 20th season in 2009, it will tie Gunsmoke's record as the longest-running prime time series (of any genre) in American television history.
In its 1998 issue celebrating the greatest achievements in arts and entertainment of the 20th Century, TIME magazine named The Simpsons the century's best television series. In that same issue, Bart Simpson was named to the Time 100, the publication's list of the century's 100 most influential people. He was the only fictional character on the list.
Since the series originated as part of The Tracey Ullman Show, it is also considered the longest running and most successful spinoff of all time.
The voice actors have gone on strike on more than one occasion. In 1998, the actors were making $30,000 per episode and stopped working, forcing 20th Century Fox TV to renegotiate the amount to $125,000. Six actors (playing over 50 characters) – Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer – stopped showing up for script readings in April 2004. They asked for $360,000 per episode, or $8 million for a 22-episode season. On May 2, 2004, the actors ended their strike after having their demands met.
Origin of the names
Characters in the Simpsons take their names from important people and places in Groening's life:
The Simpsons opening sequence is one of the show's most memorable trademarks. Almost every episode opens with a title shot coming through the cumulus clouds and into the school where Bart is writing sentences on the class chalkboard, presumably set as a punishment by one of his teachers for some mischievous deed or wayward comment; Marge and Maggie are shown checking out at the supermarket with Maggie travelling across the scanner, ringing up at $847.63. The sequence then introduces Lisa and Homer, where the family is on their way to their house at 742 Evergreen Terrace (the address varied in the beginning, but the writers now use 742 Evergreen Terrace exclusively). The members of the family weave dangerously through traffic and in between fellow (and familiar) Springfield denizens, miraculously reaching home at the exact same time. Upon entering, they all speed towards the family room couch where, in comedic parallel with the audience, they settle to watch their "must-see" TV show.
For each episode, the sequence includes four variations: Bart writes something different on the chalkboard, Lisa plays a different solo on her saxophone, Homer screams in a differing way, and the attempt of the family to sit on the couch goes awry in an often surreal manner.
The "couch gag" sequence is frequently used to help show staff make the show longer or shorter, depending on the length of the episode itself. Most couch gags last only about five seconds, but the longest one on record lasted 46 seconds.
The first season opening sequence featured a number of differences from the later seasons, including a shot of Lisa riding her bike on the way home and Bart's way home consisting of snatching a bus stop sign, forcing several dazed Springfieldians to chase the bus, rather than just riding past a number of well-known characters.
See also: Simpsons couch gag
An annual tradition is a special Halloween episode, entitled Treehouse of Horror, consisting of three separate, self-contained pieces. The tradition began in the second season with Bart and Lisa telling scary stories to each other in their treehouse while Homer secretly listened in. Neither Bart nor Lisa was scared, but Homer was terrified. In later years the episode dropped the treehouse storytelling "frame", but kept the Treehouse title; for several years the characters broke the fourth wall and introduced their pieces directly to the audience. These pieces usually involve the family in some fantasy setting, and always takes place outside the normal continuity and rules of the show. Regular Simpsons characters play humorous special roles, and the two space aliens Kang and Kodos, featured in the original Treehouse episode, always make an appearance, albeit sometimes at the last minute and for no reason but simply to continue the tradition of their appearances. These Halloween segments have parodied many classic horror and science fiction films, and one segment is often a parody of a classic Twilight Zone television episode. The Halloween episodes have traditionally been quite popular.
In "Treehouse of Horror II", the writers decided to give everyone scary names in the opening and closing credits. It has become a tradition now, and has been done in every halloween episode except I, XII and XIII. The names have changed in subsequent seasons.
In a section of "Treehouse of Horror VI" called "Homer³ ", Homer and Bart go into a three-dimensional world. The computer animation company Pacific Data Images created the only time any part of The Simpsons was not drawn in 2D.
Voice actors and their characters
Many episodes feature celebrity guests contributing their voices to the show, as either themselves or fictional characters.
Several memes (often neologisms) that started on The Simpsons have now become mainstream words or sayings. The most famous of which is Homer's saying: "D'oh!", which is referred to in scripts, as well as at least one episode name, as "annoyed grunt". D'oh is now listed in the OED, but without the apostrophe. "D'oh" is the accepted spelling, and is certainly the most common; the closed captions for the program (at least in the U.S.), however, spell it "D-OHH".
Groundkeeper Willie's phrase, "cheese-eating surrender monkeys", used to describe the French, was picked up by US politicians and publications in 2003, after European and especially French opposition to the proposed war in Iraq.
The expression "excellent" – drawn out as a lisping "eeeexcelllent..." in the style of Montgomery Burns – has also entered popular use.
The show's creators also take pride in having passed on schoolyard rhymes to a new generation of children who otherwise may not have heard them.
Other memes are listed on the article Made-up words in The Simpsons
Music has been a recurring theme in The Simpsons with virtually all members of the cast breaking into song at least during the course of the series. Perhaps the best known song is "Do the Bartman", released as a single and becoming an international success.
TV series and movies within The Simpsons
TV channels that air The Simpsons
Serious academic work has been done on the show. Among the publications that deal with it are:
de:Die Simpsons es:Los Simpson fi:Simpsonit fr:Les Simpson I Simpson ja:ザ・シンプソンズ sv:Simpsons he:משפחת סימפסון pl:Simpsonowie