Mmmmmmm ... The SimpsonsBy Jane Wilson
© National Post, Weekend Post, September 29, 2001.
It's a mystery as elusive as the riddle of the Sphinx, the existence of the Loch Ness Monster and Who Let the Dogs Out?:
Where is Springfield?
As television's most innovative animated show (and, incidentally, the longest-running comedy series currently on network TV), Fox Television's The Simpsons swings into season 13 on Nov. 4 with more surprises than Homer has doughnuts and an episode that, in this reporter's opinion, may just add a little boost to the argument for a Canadian connection.
You see, there's a debate raging over where Springfield actually is. It has never been officially aligned with any particular state (although some American fans have ferreted out what they think is proof for Missouri, Kentucky and Washington) -- and there are those who discard the entire American argument, convinced you'll find Springfield north of the 49th. It's a controversy sure to last through this season and into the next.
Controversy is The Simpsons' stock in trade -- a big part of what keeps the show fresh and original season after season.
This year, the show continues to expand the dimensions of the envelope, tackling (among other topics) a computer that falls in love with Marge and Homer's addiction to medicinal marijuana. Bart has another diabolical plan to humiliate his father (not much of a stretch, really), and famous names of fact and fiction who are given Simpsons treatment this season include Harry Potter and Erin Brockovich.
Certain elements remain the same -- the established tradition of attracting the biggest names to "guest voice" a character on the show. Dozens of Hollywood's hottest actors have already strapped on the earphones and stepped up to the mike: Meryl Streep, Danny DeVito, Sharon Stone and Robin Williams to name but a few. This year, a partial list of visiting voices includes Richard Gere, Pierce Brosnan, Julia Louis Dreyfus and Jon Lovitz.
On the surface a thoroughly American institution, The Simpsons commands an enormous international fan base. Internet fan clubs and Web sites are legion, translated into multiple languages and representing not just the show and its stars, but the more obscure characters as well. You can check out Web pages dedicated to The Comic Book Guy, Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel, and Kang and Kodos -- those adorable drooling aliens bent on world domination -- and you can read El Fichero del Bumblebee Guy (The Bumblebee Guy File).
Like film buffs on the lookout for wristwatches in old gladiator movies, many people in the online discussion groups chat about lapses in continuity and offer outlandish bids for Springfield's "real" location. There are also valuable answers to puzzling questions: How to tell Patty and Selma apart (jewellery and hairstyle); who was the original voice model for Homer (Walter Matthau); and the proper spelling of Homer's "annoyed grunt" ("D'oh!").
And then there's the "Canadian Connection."
It's embarrassing to admit -- though not so surprising in a country that counters the motto "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" with "Peace, order and good government" (Note to under-20s: The Canadian version gets better as you get older) -- how absurdly flattered we feel when anything Canadian is mentioned on American television. Unless you're watching the NHL, you've got to listen pretty carefully, though -- references to the land of "Pardon me, 'scuse me" are pretty rare. Except on prime time's most popular animated show. On The Simpsons, Canada rocks. Some might even say Canada rules.
The jokes are the kind only a Canadian would love. Who else would appreciate references to Alan Thicke, Gordie Howe or Ontario's Highway 401? Who else would laugh when Homer, responding to Marge's concern that it took children 40 minutes to find Canada on a map: "Marge, anyone could miss Canada -- all tucked away down there." And who else would take pride (or the trouble to do a frame-by-frame examination of the episode) to discover in the credits of a truly awful film the family watches, that the National Film Board of Canada helped produce it?
It's our kind of humour: obscure, self-deprecating and virtually invisible to anyone else. We're a nation of Sally Fieldses: "You like us -- you really like us!"
Well, they do.
And they don't just like us -- they hire us. Scribbling away behind the scenes is a significant Canadian contingent. Funny guys from Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan have laboured in the Simpsons salt mines. Former Simpsons writer Rob Cohen (author of the famous "Flaming Moe" episode) hails from Calgary, as does his brother Joel, who's been with the show for three seasons. Joel says he and Tim Long, from Exeter, Ont., are the brains behind an upcoming episode based in Toronto, supplying the most current clue for Canadian fans to claim Homer's hometown.
There's more proof. Consider:
Last updated on September 23, 2002 by Jouni Paakkinen (firstname.lastname@example.org)