After nearly 20 years on the air, there can’t be anyone who doesn’t know about The Simpsons. However, only the dedicated followers know all the intimate details that continue to make The Simpsons the most brilliant work of art in the history of entertainment. That’s right, The Simpsons is just the best thing ever.
Fair-weather fans may talk about the “Golden Age” of The Simpsons, as if it’s long passed. There may have been some rough spots, particularly one year that involved a Simpsons trip to Africa that just misfired. Still, a bad Simpsons is still better than most other shows, and shortly thereafter there was a new renaissance.
There has been no end to viable subject matter in the later years, from episodes where Mr. Burns hires Homer to be his personal prank monkey and Springfield bans sugar like Prohibition, to last year’s episodes where Homer dresses as a cow to save a real one from the slaughterhouse or The Simpsons’ family documentary enters Sundance. Even if they tweak familiar ideas, there is certainly more to say about film festivals in the 15 years since Mr. Burns hired Senor Spielbergo to make his biopic.
The Simpsons has evolved from a simple animated sitcom to a multi-layered cultural satire. Early seasons just focused on Bart misbehaving, but soon they started parodying film and television, institutions like religion and vegetarianism, and cultural milestone events like first loves and divorce, all the while exploring the characters and family dynamics.
The ensemble cast of minor characters have each stood out on their own, with complete backstories often explained in a single scene. Disco Stu has become a regular, based on the single joke that Homer tried to spell “Disco Stud” on a jacket but ran out of sequins. Crazy Cat Lady has developed to the point that we know what medication she is on. Each character is so full bodied, it makes their one-liner appearances feel like complete stories. Any one of them could be the star of an entire episode, should they ever run out of Homer stories.
That is perhaps the essence of The Simpsons’ humor. Their jokes tell entire stories, but they don’t explain them to you. A background gag reveals all the storytelling thought that went into it. For example, a mechanic advertising the “Blackest fingernails in town” contains the whole task of such a specialist’s work and the recognizable phenomenon that would never be considered a sort of ranking until The Simpsons went there. “Disco Stu doesn’t advertise,” also tells the entire story of Stu in the character’s first line.
The Simpsons Movie reintroduced a lot of people to a show they had taken for granted since it’s always on in syndication. The movie was no special occasion. The Simpsons has always been that good. They still do jokes like the aforementioned, and now they can play with their own history. One episode had Lisa consult the Simpsons episode guide to make sure they hadn’t already done something before. Lisa has also irritatedly pointed out logical flaws in previous episodes.
Fortunately, I can justify my adoration of The Simpsons with the brilliance they continue to employ. At this point, I just need to visit with them every week regardless. The day The Simpsons finally ends, I don’t know what kind of withdrawal symptoms I’ll have. I think if it had happened in the first 10-12 years I could have handled it, but now it is too big a part of life. Hopefully they will never stop. New writers could always come in with new ideas, although why would Al Jean ever want to stop running things? But for my grandchilren’s sake, it could theoretically go indefinitely.
Season 20 premieres Sept. 28 at 8/7c on FOX