The Simpsons at 500

Many who know me, and many who read my work know that I am not a fan of television. I am loyal to a handful of shows that have made me laugh over the years such as Family  Guy, Kevin Spencer and Cheers. The Simpsons remains my absolute favourite sitcom. It is attached to many positive memories of my youth.

I’ll never forget it. A cold Friday night in downtown New Glasgow and this kid in my Martial Arts class was talking about this animated show and how brilliant it was. “A cartoon on a Friday night?”, was my reaction. “Yep” said this other kid who happened to shared the last name as the beloved animated family.

It may have been that very Friday night, or the Friday night a week later when I saw my first episode, “Bart The General”. It rang out to me especially as a victim of bullying. In this classic piece of American television, Bart teams up with his grandfather, local military antique dealer Herman and other neighbourhood kids to rail against bully Nelson Muntz.

In the following few Fridays I would see several more episodes of Season 1. I was hooked and entertained. The Simpsons were at the beginning of something really amazing. This was a revolutionary show that would push the edges of humour to a whole new level. Shirts started turning up in stores along with other merchandise.

You could only imagine my disappointment when suddenly the show was not on a channel we could get at the time. My theory is that the CBC received a ton of complaints from parents and religious nuts who completely failed at realizing it was comedy, so they yanked any airing of the show completely.

It would be quite a few years before anyone in Nova Scotia (and perhaps Canada) without a satellite dish could see more episodes. What a great time it was once we could see them! Once a few seasons were in the can, we could see more of them running in syndication every night of the weekday. Usually about an hour after supper I was able to catch up on the show. Eventually I was able to catch new episodes as they aired.

The Simpsons still are a great lesson in the ups and downs of a television series. I could go through different seasons and point out where I thought the writing was weak and attempts at humour were weak or even misguided. Season 2 remains my absolute favourite of the entire lot. Most of the episodes are absolute gems. Season 2 has the best written material and contained some of the most memorable moments in the shows history. When I re-visit an episode from this season sometimes I still find a new brilliant discovery within the dialogue, despite knowing much of it from memory.

When I ended up with a collection of episodes on VHS I was finally able to catch some of the initial shorts of The Simpsons which were on the Tracey Ullman Show. Anyone who has seen these (most fans now have) gets insight into the early introduction of the characters and the type of humour audiences would see.

No one really knows how much longer the show will be on the air. When it wraps, it will no doubt run in syndication for many decades to come.

Although this is not really in any particular order beyond my number 1 all-time favourite, here are my five favourite episodes in the show’s history.

5. “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson”. Home has to go to New York after Barney borrows his car and, well, leaves it there. the amount of amazing detail that went into capturing the City in this episode was nothing short of remarkable.

4. “Simpson and Delilah”. Homer bills the Power Plant Medical Insurance for a baldness cure. Harvey Fierstein appears in this episode as Karl, the motivating personal assistant to Homer who ends up throwing himself under the bus and taking the fall for the fraud.

3. “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”. Mr. Burns runs for Governor, and his campaign is ultimately thwarted by Marge’s serving of a fish that suffered from radiation poisoning. Burns’s rambling drunk dialogue near the beginning of the episode is worth the weight in funny alone. This episode is arguably one of the greatest political satires ever written.

2. “Blood Feud”. Mr. Burns falls gravely ill but his life is rejuvenated by a donation of O-Negative blood from Bart. Home expects some great reward but is met with disappointment. At the end, Burns sends a rather expensive piece of art as a gift. All this after reading a rather cantankerous letter from Homer expressing his frustration at just getting a card.

1. “The Way We Was”. Homer and Marge recall the days of how they first met. After all these years this episode still remains my personal favourite. We get to see what Marge’s Dad was like, and get insight into “solid C student” Homer. This episode has wit, wisdom and whimsy.

The Simpsons has now captured the imaginations of a generation and is being introduced to new younger fans. Although the show will likely come to an eventual end, most fans would like to see the show eclipse Gunsmoke’s record of 635 episodes. It is true that The Simpsons has been on longer, but Gunsmoke shot more shows in a shorter period of time.

This Sunday, I shall raise a glass to my favourite show that still makes me laugh after all these years, and 500 episodes in.

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