February 19, 2012
1 | The American Dream
… and the invaluable lessons Homer has taught us on how to live it. Montgomery Burns: “Turn around, Simpson.” Homer: “No! I can’t get in trouble if I can’t see you.” Smithers: “I’m afraid he’s got us, sir.” Or Homer’s “If you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now, quiet, they’re about to announce the lottery numbers.” Most importantly, of course, his life-lessons to Bart … “Don’t tattle, always make fun of those different from you, never say anything unless you’re sure everyone feels exactly the same way you do.” Then there are the three sentences he thinks should get any youngster through a life of work, should they be lucky enough to find a job: 1) “Cover for me.” 2) “Good idea, boss.” 3) “It was like that when I got here.” His legacy to Bart, Lisa and Maggie is: “Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is: never try.”
2 | The bit-part players
The extra, if not entirely extraneous, characters have been one of the joys of the series’ in-depth work, teaching lazier writers how to make the most fleeting appearances interesting and also, happily, reminding us of the glorious powers of prejudice and stereotyping. Best “only mentioned in passing” character was surely Bad Jack Crawley, “such a bad man that Bob Dylan wrote a song to keep him in jail”. But we also had such subtle nomenclatures as Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel, and of course Groundsman Willie, whose denunciation of the French as “cheese-eating surrender-monkeys” might have been uttered in 1992 but has nevertheless comprehensively guided US foreign policy since. And the likes of Bleeding Gums Murphy, Lisa’s dentist-averse sax mentor, who incidentally prompted Homer’s grudging yet timeless compromise to Lisa: “Go ahead and play the blues then, if it’ll make you happy.”
3 | The in-jokes
Matt Groening was not above slipping in a few sly references in the same way the ocean is not above the sky. Against lawyers, mainly – the series very nearly never got off the ground because of greedy copyrighting kerfuffles – but also Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, which couldn’t complain too often because Groening was making its most successful series ever. Homer once complained to Marge about her ethical stances, moaning that, “We can’t watch Fox because they own those chemical weapons plants in Syria.” How did they get away with that? And one of Bart’s blackboard punishments was to rewrite the line “Temptation Island was not a sleazy piece of crap.” Guess who made the TV series Temptation Island?
4 | The guest stars
A curate’s egg, this. Some glorious appearances, even in voice, starting with Liz Taylor (who voiced baby Maggie’s first word – “Daddy”) and including Michael Jackson, who provided the voice for a fat white character from an insane asylum who believed that he was Michael Jackson (I hope you’re still with me) in what was my personal favourite, if mad, episode. Yet who can fail to forget Tony Blair? Russell Brand? Often the best were musicians, allowing Homer some of his most genially addled rejoinders, especially when shaking hands with “Hi – Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins.” “Um… Homer Simpson, smiling politely.” Ricky Gervais was good, though not as good as he thought, but the stand-out line relating to guest appearances must remain Homer’s, after Stephen Hawking had featured. “So, Lisa, did you have fun with your robot buddy?” Quite why the makers have chosen to feature, as the guest on their 500th programme Julian Assange, who is possibly the most humourless person to have inhabited the Earth, remains a mystery wrapped inside an enigma wrapped inside a finger-wagging bore, and augurs ill for continuance to a 1,000th episode. The guys must be getting tired.
5 | Love
Homer and Marge, of course. Ahh. He just kept coming out with the winners. “Marge, look at me: we’ve been separated for a day, and I’m as dirty as a Frenchman. In another few hours I’ll be dead! I can’t afford to lose your trust again.” Or, in one which must both resonate with and yet deeply trouble any long-married couple, his response to Marge’s question: “Homer, is this the way you pictured married life?” Homer: “Pretty much. Except we drove around in a van solving mysteries.”
6 | The false names
Part of the decency of the family lies in the fact that when they tell lies they do so with inordinate klutz. Decent Marge, making an anguished anonymous call to the police, gives her address as “Um … 123 Fake Street.” Best, surely, was when Homer tried to get on a VIP-only rocket to escape the end of the Earth. “I am the piano genius from the movie Shine!” Homer declaims – this series has loved its cultural references over an interesting 23 years – and the smiling guard ticks his box before he has a thought. Guard: “And your name is?” Homer: “Um … Shiney McShine?”
7 | The unseen peripherals
We have the geeks to thank for this. The credits on something the family watch from their famous couch, or the super-fast scrolling of Bart’s blackboard lines, which mere mortals miss. Blackboard favourites have included: “I was not touched ‘there’ by an angel”; “Fire is not the cleanser”; “Fish do not like coffee”; “The hamster did not have ‘a full life'” and “I will not surprise the incontinent”. On the family’s cartoon telly, the world’s worst TV show, “Rock Bottom”, was once forced to apologise for many things, but unreadably fast. Such as: “Styrofoam is not made from kittens … Roy Rogers was not buried inside his horse … Saltwater does not chase the thirsties away” and, aptly enough … “The nerds on the internet are not geeks.”
8 | The horror
Many fans have loved most the Halloween horror specials. The Simpsons does gory-funny better than anyone, and seldom better than with The Itchy & Scratchy Show, loosely based on Tom and Jerry but with fewer gentle anvils and many, many more rocket-launchers, napalm, torture and screaming fiery death, in grand film-homage episodes with such sweet titles as Field of Screams, Skinless in Seattle,Why Do Fools Fall in Lava? and, of course, Reservoir Cats, and mostly set in either Searing Gas Pain Land or Unnecessary Surgery Land.
9 | Food
Doughnuts or, if we must, “donuts”, and Homer’s asssertion to his daughter that the purple in doughnuts is “a fruit”, and – best of all in all 23 years – the time he tried to become a newspaper’s Jay Rayner. Editor: “We’re looking for a new food critic, someone who doesn’t immediately pooh-pooh everything he eats.” Homer: “Nah, it usually takes a few hours.”
10 | Endorsements from on high
The number and quality of the people who have loved (or hated) the programme speaks volumes. AS Byatt adores it and thinks that Homer’s Y-fronts are “the best bit”. According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams: “It’s one of the most subtle pieces of propaganda around in the cause of sense, humility and virtue.” That was a marked difference from a very early statement attributed to George Bush (senior) that the ideal American family must be “more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons”. And which family do we now laugh at more – in a good way?
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