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The Simpsons Enters 12th Season
Fox News © 2000 November 1, 2000

Remember the one where Sideshow Bob kept stepping on the rakes while he was trying to kill Bart? Or when Maggie shot Mr. Burns because he stole her lollipop?

Or where Homer tried to gain weight so he could go on disability?

The truly astounding thing isn’t the wide range of people who can recall those episodes of The Simpsons but the fact that there are 246 more of them to bring up.

The Simpsons has reached 250 shows.

Simpsons Reach 12 and Bart’s Still 10

When America’s longest-running sitcom starts its 12th season on the Fox television network Sunday, it will have hit a rare milestone in TV history. And nowadays, when media eggheads talk about it, they don’t rank it up there with M*A*S*H and All in the Family — they set it aside the likes of Mark Twain, James Joyce and Jonathan Swift.

Robert Thompson, head of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, for example, says that when future scholars want to examine the development of comedy in the American arts, they will have to spend much of their time with the deconstructive hilarity of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie. “It is about the best television has ever given us, in terms of comedy,” he said. “There are more funny things in a single episode of The Simpsons than there was in the three years of Suddenly Susan.”

The Simpsons also launched a trend for cartoons for grown-ups, as evidenced by Beavis and Butthead, South Park, Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist and poor Simpsons sister Futurama.

It also may have singlehandedly saved the Fox Network from being remembered as the home of Married With Children.

Birth of a Legend

True Simpsons fans know that the show that launched the blue beehive was originally a recurring segment of the short-lived Tracey Ullman Show in the mid-’80s.

It was created by perpetually cynical cartoonist Matt Groening, who first became known for the L.A. Reader’s “Life in Hell” comic strip. Life in Hell took a harshly pessimistic look at life and featured two rabbits named Binky and Sheba, as well as Akbar and Jeff, two fez-wearing entrepreneurs who are either brothers or lovers … or something.

The Simpsons debuted as a feature series in January 1990.

“It launched a gonzo attack on mainstream television with its clever writing and animation and witty take on American life,” said Allen Glover, assistant curator of the Museum of Television and Radio in New York. “It certainly became one of the most irreverent and subversive satires of the 20th century.”

“Subversive” was the operative word in the early years. Popular as it was among college students, the show was considered morals-threatening trash by the guardians of public virtue, including PTA groups who wanted Simpsons paraphernalia banned from schools. Among its critics was President George Bush, who used the brood on Evergreen Terrace as an example of everything wrong with modern American families.

The Simpsons got back at Bush after he was voted out of office, though. In a send-up of “Dennis the Menace,” Bush was portrayed as a cranky old neighbor who brawls with Homer in a sewer.

A Motley Cast and Crew

The first immediate star of the show was Bart, the perennially 10-year-old anarchist whose wisecracks made it straight from the small screen to T-shirts and bumper stickers across America: “Don’t have a cow, man” or “Eat my shorts.”

But then the series tightened up and gained a cartoon version of a soul when it focused increasingly on Bart’s dad, Homer, the gluttonous and dimwitted-but-lovable loser who’s the patriarch of the family and whom Groening named after his own dad.

Then there’s sensible mom Marge, with her blue tower of hair and constant, barely repressed groans of frustration. And socially conscious 8-year-old Lisa, a spiky-haired, overachieving genius. Finally there’s baby Maggie, whose only spoken line was uttered by Elizabeth Taylor. Each is named after a member of Groening’s own family.

Groening’s alter ego Bart, of course, is an anagram for “brat.”

But as the years passed, the family was sometimes overshadowed by the entire town of Springfield, U.S.A, easily the richest collection of supporting characters in TV.

Dan Saltzstein, television editor for, the New York Times’ lifestyle Web site, said the show became a perfect satire of modern American life, all based around the age-old formula of the sitcom family.

“The whole idea of The Simpsons is that it’s a parody of the classic American stereotype — Homer’s stupid and lazy and fat, Bart’s an underachiever,” he said. “The Simpsons is the great satire of the last 10 years, better than any book that I’ve read or film that I’ve seen. And, if nothing else, it’s had a tremendous effect on people of (the thirties-and-under) generation.”

Finally, there are the guest appearances — more than 200 of them, from Paul McCartney to Adam West to Johnny Carson, often appearing as themselves. British rock legend The Who a even make an appearance in the 250th episode.

The End Is Near?

Still, after more than a decade, producer Mike Scully admits there’s the danger of becoming like Happy Days in the Chachi years.

“There’s always a danger of not knowing when it’s time to leave,” he told Reuters. “Sometimes the only way to know you’ve been on too long is to stay on too long, so we’re constantly mindful of that.”

True to form, The Simpsons already addressed that possibility in its “138th Episode Spectacular,” Glover said.

“There’s a point where (pitchman character) Troy McClure is answering viewers’ questions about when the show will go off the air,” Glover said, suppressing a chuckle. “And the answer is: ‘When the show becomes unprofitable for Fox.’ I think you have your answer right there.”