Animation The Simpsons Essay

zom·bieadj. remaining animate despite lack of thought or consciousness

Simp·sonsn. an American television program

By almost any measurement, The Simpsons is the most influential television comedy ever created.  It has been translated into every major language on Earth and dozens of minor ones; it has spawned entire genres of animation, and had more books written about it than all but a handful of American Presidents.  Even its minor characters have become iconic, and the titular family is recognizable in almost every corner of the planet.  It is a definitive and truly global cultural phenomenon, perhaps the biggest of the television age.

As of this writing, if you flip on FOX at 8pm on Sundays, you will see a program that bills itself as The Simpsons.  It is not The Simpsons.  That show, the landmark piece of American culture that debuted on 17 December 1989, went off the air more than a decade ago.  The replacement is a hopelessly mediocre imitation that bears only a superficial resemblance to the original.  It is the unwanted sequel, the stale spinoff, the creative dry hole that is kept pumping in the endless search for more money.  It is Zombie Simpsons.

“Zombie Simpsons: How the Best Show Ever Became the Broadcasting Undead” is a 22,000 word mini-book that attempts to explain two things:

  1. How The Simpsons became the unprecedentedly awesome show it was.
  2. Why it declined into the bland and formulaic thing that still airs on Sundays at 8pm on FOX.

Part I – Putting the Spring in Springfield
1 – What Is Zombie Simpsons? (<- Click this to start reading the book.)
2 – The Terrible World of 1980s Television
3 – The Most Anti-Authority Show Ever
4 – You’re Watching FOX, Shame on You

Part II – Show Business Is a Hideous Bitch Goddess
5 – The Retirements
6 – The Deaths

Part III – Stories of Degradation and Humiliation
Season 7 – A Very Special Episode
Season 8 – Frank Grimes and the Phony Kidnapping
Season 9 – Armin Tamzarian and the Death of Story
Season 10 – Jerkass Homer Gets a Job
Season 11 – The Destruction of Springfield
Season 12 and Beyond – Zombie Simpsons

Appendices
Appendix A – A Note on the Term “Zombie Simpsons”
Appendix B – Episode Numbers vs. Production Numbers
Appendix C – December 17th: Simpsons Day
Appendix D – A Defense of Mike Scully
Appendix E – Yeah, It Was That Good (1,000,000 A.D.)

– – –

Other mini-books by Charlie Sweatpants:
Tapped In (<- Simpsons Tapped Out players, click here)
J.J. Abrams Is Bad at Movies (<- Star Wars & Star Trek fans, click here)

– – –

A brief note on footnotes and citations: Footnotes with Arabic numerals (3, 5, etc.) are asides or further explanations that are meant to be read with the text. Notes with Roman numerals (iv, ix, etc.) are citations of individual source data intended for reference purposes.  You should be able to click either kind, read it, and then get back to your place in the text with your “back” button. My apologies for not having a better way to do this, but this is very simple HTML.

The entire book is available for free on the linked pages above.  However, if you enjoy it or feel like supporting this site, you can purchase a DRM-free copy for your Kindle or Kindle enabled device for $2.99 at Amazon.  Why $2.99?  Because that’s the minimum price Amazon demands for only taking 30% of the gross instead of 65%.

Purchase from Amazon

The book is available both for free and for a minimal price on the theory that some people (especially the kind of people with the disposable income to own Kindles, iPads, and the like) are willing and able to pay for words if the price is reasonable and the payment is easy to make.  At the same time, restricting the book to only those people would be self defeating and stupid.  Many fewer people would read it, and trying to use digital rights management and other convoluted anti-“piracy” measures to police the internet is a fool’s errand.  Therefore, the only sensible thing to do is make it easy for people to purchase andeasy to get for free.

One final note, I am not the least bit above making revisions should any of you fine Simpsons fans out there discover that I’ve made any factual errors.  My sources are all stated plainly, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t made an unfounded assumption somewhere or screwed up some part of the history of the show.  If you (yes, you!) come across something where I’m just flat out wrong and you can point me to some credible evidence of my wrongness, please tell me.  It’s the only way I’ll learn.

People Whose Time and Labor Are Non-Monetarily Appreciated

“It’s a little thin, but that’s okay.  It could be a check.  Alright, there’s no check, just a card.  But don’t panic, I’m sure it tells us what we’re getting and where we can pick it up.” – Homer Simpson

Thanks go first and foremost to my blogging partners Dave and Mad Jon. Jebus only knows how many hours you two put into our site, but it was a lot. And without the site, this little mini-book would never have existed.

For indispensable help in keeping my grammatical embarrassments to a minimum, I am deeply grateful to my Dad and my friend Liz. Thank you for paying attention in English class.

Enormous thanks are also due to anyone who ever started or maintained a Simpsons website. Dead Homer Society would never have gotten anywhere if sites like snpp.com, nohomers.net, and all the rest hadn’t endured years of sub-par episodes and countless attacks from the legal locusts at News Corp’s command.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has ever landed at Dead Homer Society (especially those of you who pointed out errors in this book). Whether you’re a regular commenter or one of the vastly more numerous people who just read the site, your continuing interest in The Simpsons, even after all these years, is a testament to how good it was. Thank you.

Tell Aaronson and Zykowski:

There was a time when The Simpsons wasn’t just the best thing on television, it was the best thing in life. At its zenith (which, as any true fan will know, was seasons one to eight during the 90s) the animated working-class residents of working-class US town Springfield had the power to make you feel everything there was to feel in less than half an hour. In its golden age, The Simpsons was silly, sweet, deep, fiercely political, absurd, sharp, sad and, above all, hilarious. Nothing before or since has matched its capacity to be at once so profoundly clever and so unbelievably stupid.

The joy begins with Danny Elfman’s retro theme tune and all the tiny variations in the opening sequences – from Bart’s chalkboard gags to Lisa’s sax solos – that never grow old or tired. A classic episode might be stuffed with a note-perfect cameo by Leonard Nimoy, a sophisticated plot, a song that – 20 years on – resides in my head as the most companionable of earworms, and more cultural references than JJ Abrams’s entire back catalogue. Yes, Marge Vs The Monorail (season four, episode 12), I’m looking at you.

The Simpsons has now been going for a whopping 28 seasons and more than 600 episodes. It is the longest-running US sitcom in history, is regularly voted the best, and even has the brilliantly Springfieldian dubious honour of having predicted the ascent of President Trump more than 16 years ago.

The problem is that its longevity has become its achilles heel. How, after all, could a series about a family that, according to the unwritten law of animation, never ages, changes, or learns from its mistakes, keep going for nearly 30 years? That’s a lot of Homer strangling Bart, Marge being a goddess, Bart making prank calls, Lisa being ignored and Maggie almost getting killed.

The Simpsons probably jumped the shark about 400 episodes ago. Like the souring of any major relationship, it’s hard to pinpoint the precise moment when its yellow sweetness began to pale. When Homer was no longer a flawed but essentially lovable everyman but what he had always threatened to be: a lazy, selfish, cowardly, Duff-swilling oaf? When it became criminally unfair that Lisa, the proto-Hermione whose intellect is forever overshadowed by her idiot brother, was still being ignored? When the exceptional cast of supporting characters, from Comic Book Guy to Groundskeeper Willie, flattened into their own caricatures?

By the time that 2014’s annual Treehouse of Horror Halloween special came around and the Simpsons were confronted with doubles of themselves in a satirical swipe at the series’ own repetitiveness, it had long been all over. But that’s the nature of great satire: it ends up gorging on itself.

Nevertheless, The Simpsons’ 90s heyday remains a generation’s first experience of binge-watching. This meant many of us consumed a lot of the show’s famed cultural references back to front, which in itself is a kind of Simpsonian postmodern joke. I saw A Streetcar Named Marge (season four, episode two) long before I encountered A Streetcar Named Desire. Decades later, thanks to the big-hearted brilliance of The Simpsons, I’m still a bit miffed that Tennessee Williams’s masterpiece doesn’t end with a jolly musical number called You Can Always Depend on the Kindness of Strangers.

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