The Simpsons turn 20 today (that is, if you don’t count the Christmas special as the first episode and completely ignore the original shorts from The Tracey Ullman Show), and there’s been a number of retrospectives to mark the occasion. An oft-repeated claim in many histories is that creator Matt Groening, fearing the loss of his Life in Hell characters, came up with the Simpsons in fifteen minutes before a meeting with Ullman producer James L. Brooks. But the characters actually originated nearly 40 years ago, in an unpublished novel Groening wrote in high school:
Question hobgoblin: How old were you when you first came up with the idea for “The Simpsons”? I know that the show has been on for a long time.
Matt_G “The Simpsons” originated in high school.
Matt_G I wrote a bleak little novel called “The Mean Little Kids” starring a teenage Bart Simpson with buckteeth and a very bad complexion.
How quickly did The Simpsons gel in your mind?
I needed to come up with an idea really quickly. In the back of my mind was the idea of doing something that might possibly end up spinning off into its own TV show, so I created a family which I thought would lend itself to a lot of different kinds of stories. In high school I had written a novel, a sort of a very sour Catcher in the Rye, self pitying, adolescent novel starring Bart Simpson as a very troubled teenager. I took that family and transferred it, made them younger, and then drew. It took about 15 minutes to design the characters the first time out.
Were they all the same characters that we now know and love?
Yes, but they’ve been transformed.
Why didn’t you leave Bart as an adolescent?
TV does children really badly, and I thought there was room for something different. Teenagers are already running rampant on television, but kids are done very unrealistically in sitcoms. Sometimes, a particular character gels with an audience and becomes the star.
Was Bart at the center all along?
Yeah. The rest of the Simpsons in my original conception were in a struggle to be normal and Bart was the one who thought that being normal was boring.
And now you know… the rest of the story.
- The show has yet to be renewed beyond the 2010-2011 season (season 22), so there’s no guarantee there’ll be a Season 23.
- In November, the Animation Guild blog mentioned that the writers were working on “another thirteen episodes”. Each production season, the last couple of episodes become the first episodes of the next season; these are called “holdovers.” The current season (season 21) has eight holdovers – notice the production codes in this chart. Presumably, this means next season will also have eight holdovers, which when coupled with the aforementioned thirteen episodes will fulfill a complete season order of twenty-one episodes, with no holdovers for a 23rd season.
- The show has been losing a million viewers each season for the past couple seasons with no end in sight. It often gets lower ratings than Family Guy. Each episode costs somewhere around $3 million. All of these must be major concerns for Fox executives… but then again The Simpsons is the sixth-highest earner on television, and makes like a billion dollars from merchandise and syndication, so ratings are probably irrelevant.
- The 20th anniversary hoopla feels like a final victory parade to me, a last hurrah before they ride into the sunset. It’s probably wise to end it while goodwill is high.
- I just want to be right so I can look prophetic.
What’s different: The storyline (no more Smithers stealing Maggie for some bizarre reason), you can only play as Homer, you can slap him to revive him, new design (as far as I can tell, it looks like a modern episode and not all pixelated), and characters/locations that weren’t around or as iconic in 1991 (including the Republican Party Headquarters and Rich Texan).
What’s the same: The basic controls (I think?), and the dated Binky-with-a-ghetto-blaster level transistions (which I like). [United Simpsons]
Months passed. Christmas. New Year’s. And last Sunday, I was in the car on my way to a birthday party when someone called and said, “Hey, your ‘Simpsons’ episode is on.”
And I said, “Again, please?”
They never called to tell me.
So I missed it.
I just want to direct your attention to this Dead Homer Society post from last February because it owns:
The Simpsons has been on for so long now that the world itself has changed around them and as a result the characters no longer epitomize what they’re supposed to be satirizing. Homer and Marge are exquisitely crafted late model Baby Boomers; they came of age in the seventies and became adults in the eighties. He’s a union guy; she’s a housewife; they have cranky World War II generation parents, they go to church out of a sense of duty and their kids lead unstructured, small town lives. They are run of the mill late 1980s Americans, that is when they were created and that is the context in which they best fit.
The show is on Season 20, but culturally speaking it’s going to enter its fourth decade next year. The characters can always be drawn the same way, but that doesn’t keep them from showing their age.