Hurray for 'Simpsons' Family Values!

Underachieving Bart & his kooky TV clan celebrate 10 happily dysfunctional years

By David Bianculli

© New York Daily News, January 13, 2000.

The 10th anniversary of "The Simpsons," which the Fox network is celebrating tomorrow, is an amazing event in at least three ways. It's the longest-running current entertainment series in prime time; its quality has remained absolutely excellent all these years; and, in point of fact, Homer and Marge and the rest actually have been entertaining viewers for more than a decade.

They began as animated comedy bits on "The Tracey Ullman Show" on Fox in 1987, then were launched as a solo act with a Dec. 17, 1989, Christmas special. It boldly and brilliantly established the yellow-skinned Simpsons as a family for the ages, more than capable of carrying their own show.

Once it hit the ground running as a weekly series — and it's that Jan. 14, 1990, premiere that's being celebrated by Fox (and by the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which is awarding "The Simpsons" a sidewalk gold star) — "The Simpsons" quickly hit a pop-culture nerve.

Bart Simpson's rude remarks, like "Don't have a cow, man," and "Underachiever and proud of it" were emblazoned on T-shirts and coffee mugs, and "The Simpsons" became the most-popular series in the history of the fledgling Fox network.

All that fuss, though, was a decade ago. A few years later, the fickle attentions of pop-culture mania had moved on to obsess over other idols. Yet just as "The Simpsons" didn't allow the quality of its show to be ruined by success, it also didn't let it flag once the national spotlight had moved elsewhere.

The only other series that have lasted longer in the current prime-time climate are from the nonfiction or sports genres: "60 Minutes," "Monday Night Football," "20/20," "48 Hours" and "Cops." Otherwise, "The Simpsons" has outlasted them all, and shows no signs of losing steam.

Put it this way: There is no other series on television, either comedy or drama, where the environment is depicted so fully and consistently. "Simpsons" fans not only know what the family home looks like and where Homer works, but they also know the entire community of Springfield.

From the convenience-store clerk to the school janitor, from the town mayor to the police chief, from the kiddie-show local TV host to the violent cartoons he shows, the entire town is full of familiar faces. Add the witty writing, the wonderful music and creator Matt Groening's goofy animation, and you have a TV series that can stand the test of time.

"When I look back on when we first started," says Nancy Cartwright, who gives voice to bratty Bart, "I got married, and Bart [like all of 'The Simpsons'] went to a half-hour, and I got pregnant all in the same year." Now Cartwright's children are 10 and 8, and she's still doing Bart — sometimes at career day at her kids' schools.

"It's always 'Do Bart, Do Bart!,' and I say [breaking into Bart's voice], 'No way, man!' And everybody's happy," she says.

Mike Scully, one of the show's executive producers, is happy, too — happy that "The Simpsons" has maintained its quality for so long. But he acknowledges that the producers are wary of wearing out their welcome.

"A lot of people do tell us that the show could go on forever," Scully says. "It's weird because you don't see the characters age on screen, so it does seem like you could do that.

"We are very conscious of running out of stories to tell. But, that said, five years ago I never would have thought we would have been here for season 11, and we're already breaking stories for season 12. As long as we can keep the quality up and make it funny, we'll keep on cranking out the cartoons."

For 'Simpsons' Smarties …

1. How much is Maggie worth? (according to the supermarket scanner in the opening credits)

2. What did Homer give up his soul for?

3. What household appliance turned out to be a time machine, transporting Homer back millions of years?

4. Why did the baby-sitter accuse Homer of sexual harassment?

5. Bart once decimated the ecosystem of Australia. How?

6. Who once appeared as a guest voice on the show playing media mogul Rupert Murdoch?

7. Bart discovered his French host family adding a foreign substance to wine they were making. What was it?

8. What's the name of the character resembling Homer who was used to plug soap on Japanese television?

9. What induced Homer's Castaneda-esque hallucination at the annual Springfield Chili Cookoff?

Answers: 1. $847.63. 2. A doughnut. 3. A toaster. 4. He pulled a gummy Venus de Milo off her backside. 5. By introducing a foreign species that reproduced in huge numbers: bullfrogs. 6. Murdoch himself. 7. Antifreeze. 8. Mr. Sparkle. 9. Chief Wiggum's chili, laced with the merciless peppers of a legendary Guatemalan town. (The Associated Press)

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Last updated on September 23, 2002 by Jouni Paakkinen (