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Westernanimation: The Simpsons

The Simpsons first aired from 1987 to 1989 as a series of animated shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show. Unofficially known as "Season 0," the original 48 ad-bumpers kicked off what is now well established as one of television's all-time classic series (which premiered on the then-fledgling FOX network in December 1989). It is currently in its twenty-fifth season, making it the longest-running prime-time sitcom in American TV history (worldwide, that honor belongs to Last of the Summer Wine, although the latter has fewer episodes, with 297 while The Simpsons has surpassed 500). When it was first adapted into television, it set a new trend in animation - much of the voice acting had been rather industrial, with voice actors simply reciting a list of their character's linesnote , in whatever emotion the script called for. The Simpsons, however, recorded its lines like a live-action movie, the voice actors for a given scene recording together, allowing for more organic interaction between the characters.

Depicting the animated adventures of the upper-lower-middle class Simpson family, the show started as a parody of Dom Com conventions, but quickly incorporated elements of social satire, pop culture references, and a mix of highbrow and lowbrow humor that has kept it popular year after year. Originally the show focused most of its attention on 10 year old Bart Simpson, but after the first 3 seasons, his dad Homer gradually took on being the most consistent protagonist.

One reason for the show's longevity is the massive cast of over 100 recurring characters it has built up over time, allowing the writers to work with a rich variety of relationships and milieus. Another thing that has established The Simpsons as being unique is an absolute refusal to acknowledge the passing of time. Bart has remained 10 years old and in general the show employs an active Negative Continuity, sometimes even acknowledged in the show.

Roughly from about Seasons 2 - 9, The Simpsons was widely considered to be one of the most consistently funny TV shows ever produced. However, it is generally considered that at some point after that, the series declined in quality. Exactly when it declined, and by how much, is difficult to find a consensus on, but viewership has decreased over the recent seasons. Its numbers remain strong though, and the merchandising juggernaut shows no signs of stopping. Fox announced that it is considering setting up a separate Simpsons/spin-off network. Though, despite claims that it's not as good as it once was, there's something to be said about a show that debuted (as a series of shorts) when Ronald Reagan was U.S. President, was criticized by George H.W. Bush and his wife for being a large, pulsing boil on the hairy, yellow butt of decent American society, had its best years when Bill Clinton was in office, and was more-or-less still going strong as it coasted through the George W. Bush administration, and is around to see Barack Obama get elected twice.

A feature film (creatively titled The Simpsons Movie) was released in summer 2007. Perhaps not surprisingly, reactions from fans were mixed, with some fans claiming it to be on the level of the Golden Age episodes, and some considering it just an extra long Tarnished Age episode. Nevertheless, the film was a huge financial success and recieved a positive response from critics, earning a 89% Fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes and getting a 80 on Metacritic.

Many of the people behind the show are also responsible for Futurama (and while Futurama certainly takes some comedic cues from this show, it is a far cry from a Simpsons clone).

Matt Groening has said he created the core family members in The Tracey Ullman Show's production office waiting room after realizing he didn't want to sign the rights to his Life in Hell characters over to Rupert Murdoch.

In 2009, the show began its 21st season, officially dethroning Gunsmoke as the longest running primetime American television series of all time (although Sesame Street, among others, still retains an even longer run with 40 seasons, and Gunsmoke still has more episodes).

In addition to the video games with their own pages linked below, The Simpsons have featured in other fairly mediocre games including:
  • Bart vs. the Space Mutants (1991)
  • Bart vs. the World (1991)
  • Krusty's Fun House, released in 1992-1993, originally named Rat-Trap before being reworked as a Simpsons title. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis versions were named Krusty's Super Fun House. It was essentially a maze game.
  • Bartman Meets Radioactive Man, a platform game released in 1992.
  • Bart's Nightmare on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, released in 1992 (a Gameplay Roulette game)
  • Virtual Bart, despite its name actually released on the SNES and the Sega Genesis, not the Virtual Boy, in 1994. Another gameplay roulette game, with each level having a different theme.
  • The Itchy & Scratchy Game, a platform game starring the titular duo (and not Bart for once), released in 1993 and 1995 - you play as Itchy and battle against Scratchy.
  • The Simpsons Wrestling, a, well, wrestling game on the PlayStation released in 2001, featuring the voice actors from the show and unique special moves for each character.

Check out this character sheet for more info on Fox's "first family" of animation. Also has a work-in-progress recap page here.

Subpages and Other Works


Tropes Used:


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alternative title(s): Simpsons
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