It's Home, Sweet Homer

By Simon Ings

© TV Guide (New Zealand), July 14, 2000.

Homer's fat and lazy, Bart's a brat, Lisa's just too clever, dummy sucking Maggie never speaks and Marge is.... Marge. So why do we love them so much?

Ten years on, it seems incredible that cult animated sitcom The Simpsons was ever feared or sneered at. Yes, Bart the high school terror is bad, yes his dad Homer is ugly. But how many shows do you know which show a stable, forgiving two-parent family that rallies round the kitchen table at times of crisis?

Well, former US president George Bush remembers one. "We're going to strengthen the American Family," he announced in his 1992 campaign - and dug his own grave by adding: "To make them more like The Waltons and less like the Simpsons!" Cheers there were none.

Not long after, a Simpsons episode screened that very speech - only this time, Bart was watching it on TV. "We're like the Waltons," he objected, frowning. "We're praying for an end to the depression."

Goodbye, George Bush. He was not only upstaged, he was SENT UP, and, needless to say, he lost the election. So beware, critics and caysayers: America's actually not-very-dysfunctional family´has a very powerful weapon at it's disposal - it is very, VERY clever.

US politician Al Gore, currently running for president, understood this, but too late. A few years ago he turned down the invitation to 'appear', adding his voice to his cartoon self in a guest spot. Recently, he called the producers, asking for a second chance. They turned him down.

So who is the mastermind behind the show? Actually, a chap called Matt Groening created the characters in 15 minutes while waiting to discuss a cartoon idea for producers of America's The Tracey Ullman Show, naming the wacky family after his own. Only Bart's name - an anagram of brat - is made up.

Although Matt Groening's yellow fever didn't reach British terrestrial until 1996, the loving satire of home and society offered something for everybody, and the traumas of family life captured the consumerism and the stresses of the nineties.

Incredibly, even among the British - who generally congratulate themselves on being able to spot irony at 20 paces - plenty of people just didn't get it.

Pupils from the Mary Whitehouse School of Taste have sited Itchy And Scratchy - the cartoon show within the show and a brilliant send-up of Tom And Jerry - as bad for children.

Like Tom And Jerry wasn't?

Similarly, Homer's poor parenting has come under fire from moral guardians.

Did it ever occur to them that the show was lampooning parents, their impossible standards, their inevitable mistakes, to which kids, in their long-suffering way, quite often turn a blind eye?

The BBC ignored the whingeing, and even tried to moe the family from BBC2 to BBC1 - without success. It is not, in the end, a mass-market show. Citizen Kaneimpressions and highbrow literary references alongside butt jokes in the six-to-seven slot was never going to be everbody's cup of tea.

In an odd way, the critics were right. The Simpsonsis more adult than it appears. The running gags, guest stars and absence of canned laughter mark out the show as a cousin to Friends, Frasier, and The Larry Sanders Show. The family's ongoing relationships with the neighbours, especially, have given extraordinary depth to this 12 times Emmy winning series. In lesser shows, next door's born-again Christian Ned Flanders, and school principal Seymour "Spanky" Skinner, ("What kind of little boy has a tea-set? I think we both know the answer to that. A LUCKY boy!") would blow the regular cast out of the water.

The Simpsons is both praised and reviled for being hilarious and subversive. Actually, it is uplifting - the most positive vision of family life on the box. Homer's Hercules in his wife's eyes, adn Bart adores them both. And maybe that's what is REALLY subversive, what REALLY puts out betters' backs up - the idea that you don't have to be rich or perfect to be happy.

Big names quick to join cast

THE SIMPSONS cast list reads like an international who's who.

New celebrities are coming, including horrormaster Stephen King and pop princess Britney Spears, but here are just a handful of familiar names from the past 10 years.

American presidents Bush, Nixon, Carter and Clinton have been characterised, plus Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, Charlton Heston, Quentin Tarantino and Billy Crystal and husband and wife team Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin.

Pop stars who have got in on the act include Paul McCartney, Aerosmith, Michael Jackson, Spinal Tap, Barry White, The Ramones, Sting, Elton John, U2 and James Brown. Even Tom Jones and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers have played in Springfield.

Frasier's Kelsey Grammer has a recurring role as Sideshow Bob, and his co-star David Hyde Pierce has joined him as his ven more villainous brother Cecil. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson played their alter egos Fox Mulder and Dana Scully in a send up of The X-Files. None other than Elizabth Taylor popped in to play Maggie!

Hollywood stars to have lent their voices include Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathleen Turner, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Mel Gibson, Danny DeVito, Martin Sheen, Kirk Douglas, Donald Sutherland and Dustin Hoffman.

Transcribed by Kenneth White

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Last updated on March 7, 2001 by Jouni Paakkinen (