By Richard Corliss
'The Simpsons' is about to celebrate its 100th episode, and ten
reasons why the show has endured are discussed. Despite their
comical flaws, the Simpsons family displays a wit and love for
one another that is endearing.
Time, May 2, 1994; v143 n18 p77(1).
© Time Inc. 1994
Ten Reasons Why the Simpsons Are America's Ideal Family:
- They stick with one another through thin and thin. Father Homer, mother
Marge, 10-year-old Bart, eight-year-old Lisa and baby Maggie seem to be a
typical sitcom family -- the Honeymooners with kids, the Flintstones in
suburbia -- with typically outlandish dilemmas to face and resolve each
week. But there the similarity ends. Since it sprang in 1990 from cartoon
spots on The Tracey Ullman Show, The Simpsons has proved uniquely dense and
witty. And thanks to top writers, directors and actors in the care of
creator Matt Groening and comedy veteran Jim Brooks, it has stayed that way.
As it celebrates its 100th episode this week -- "That's 800 episodes in
sitcom years," says Groening of the six months' production time for each
show -- The Simpsons can celebrate more: its status as TV's most satisfying
- For a family of underachievers, the Simpsons have achieved quite a bit.
In the show, Homer has been a monorail conductor and a baseball mascot; he
won a Grammy (for Outstanding Soul, Spoken Word or Barbershop Album) and
survived eating a deadly blowfish. Marge sang Blanche Dubois in the musical
O Streetcar! Lisa created her own talking doll, mastered the saxophone and
the Talmud, was a Junior Miss Springfield, uncovered political corruption
and saved the Republic. Bart adopted an elephant, fell down a well and was
rescued by Sting, and was tried for murdering Principal Skinner.
Maggie had her first word voiced for her by Elizabeth Taylor.
- There is life beyond Bart. The scamp was the show's first star; his
ripostes ("Eat my shorts") became T-shirt slogans. Bart is still the richest
Simpsons character, but the purview has expanded to include all of
Springfield, with 50 or so comic figures, from the Kwik-E-Mart's Apu
Nahasapeemapetilan to the Kennedyesque Mayor Quimby to Krusty the Clown and
his sadistic cartoon cohorts Itchy & Scratchy -- a wonderfully congested
cosmos each week.
- Homer isn't bright, but he loves his brood. The poor patriarch is so dull
witted that he probably couldn't count to 16 if he used all his fingers and
his toes. But he is a faithful husband, and if he often derides his kids, he
will do anything -- go skateboarding off a cliff, defy his boss, buy Lisa a
pony -- if the tots scream loud enough and if Marge gives him a lecture.
- They have famous friends. Guest voices on the show have included Bob
Hope, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ringo Starr, Johnny Carson, Darryl Strawberry,
Aerosmith, Bette Midler, Michael Jackson and Dustin Hoffman. "For some
reason," says Groening, "a lot of Hollywood big shots are curious to see how
they'd be drawn with bulging eyes and no chin."
- They are excellent role models. True story: a few years ago, a
10-year-old successfully performed the Heimlich maneuver on his choking
brother after seeing it illustrated on The Simpsons.
- They're smart. Well, anyway, their writers are. "There are jokes you
won't get," says Groening, "unless you've actually attended a few classes in
college." Lit. 101 will teach you that Lisa's poetry is inspired by Allen
Ginsberg's and that the prison number (24601) worn variously by Marge,
Principal Skinner and Sideshow Bob is Jean Valjean's in Les Miserables. It
also helps if you know old movies. Simpsons plots have plundered King Kong, Citizen Kane, Thelma & Louise, Cape Fear and the entire Hitchcock oeuvre. "If you steal from a black-and-white film," Brooks told the writers, "it's an hommage."
- They're reliable. "Animated characters don't get busted," says Groening,
"and they don't get old." Maggie has not aged a day. Homer can't get much
fatter or balder. Marge's bouffant will always look like a neatly trimmed
blue fir. Bart frets about graduating from fourth grade, but fate and good
ratings will keep him there for life. Lisa, the poor stranded sensitive
intellectual, will never escape Springfield.
- After all these years, they can still surprise you. Part of the fun of
watching is trying to figure out what the main plot line will be; the first
few minutes of any episode are so packed with comic detail that the story
could go in any of a dozen directions. This is one show whose writers seem
to have too many good ideas.
- They have heart. One of Brooks' cardinal rules: Let's not be afraid of
emotion. The strongest episodes are those (like "Lisa's Substitute," "Homer Alone," "Like Father, Like Clown" and "Bart the Lover") that reveal the
bedrock fondness, desperation and loyalty that bond this or any other
frazzled clan. A viewer can feel awe at the show's cascading wit and still
purr at the sweet, deep sentiment. Hail, Simpsons! May you live another 100
episodes at the same apex of quality.