The Simpsons Folder
For Homer, Bart and the rest, a great run honored
KRT February 20, 2003
Watching Fox honor the 300th episode of “The Simpsons” Sunday night was like watching the American Film Institute honor Jack Nicholson in 1994 for lifetime achievement.
Both celebrations were heartfelt, to an extent, but both also were heavy with the implication that careers were entering a twilight, that a prime had been passed, and that a look backward was better than a glance into the beyond.
In 1994, Nicholson accepted his combination honor-and-hook with trademark self-deprecation and devil-may-care composure – then promptly went on to win two more Golden Globes for best actor.
Here’s hoping America’s favorite family finds an equally delicious way to show the world it has at least a few more kicks left in its gelatinous yellow body. (Mmmm … Jell-O.)
Not that “The Simpsons” has much to prove. The 14-year-old series surpassed “The Flintstones” as longest-running prime-time animated show back in 1997, and, with a contract extension to 2005, looks as if it will unseat “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” as television’s longest-running comedy. Along the way, “The Simpsons” has picked up a Golden Globe nomination, 38 Emmy nominations, and 18 Emmy awards.
In 1999, Time magazine named it “the best show in the history of television.”
During its initial years, “The Simpsons” almost single-handedly established Fox as a network, raised the bar on television writing, and upset the then-untouchable ratings king, “The Cosby Show,” when the show briefly ran on Thursday nights.
“The Simpsons” introduced a new generation to the art of satire, and filled its mouth with an entire language of catch-phrases, some of which would, by 2001, make their way into the Oxford English Dictionary. (“D’oh: expressing frustration at the realizations that things have turned out badly.”)
Three hundred and two episodes after its debut, the series is showing signs of wear. Some find the show’s plots boring. Others say the episodes have become too dependent on guest stars. Others skewer “The Simpsons” for becoming too cartooney and self-referential. Still others long for the days of elaborate 30-minute homages to Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles.
These carps aside, let’s just admit it: No other show that has run as long as “The Simpsons” has produced work of such consistent quality. It has set the bar very high; maybe that’s why its viewers expect so much. “The Simpsons” has shown that two-dimensional cartoon characters can deliver performances that are simultaneously smart, sensitive and side-splitting.
As with Jack Nicholson, it is also easy to look excellence right in the face and not recognize it _ especially when it appears wearing a sweater instead of a straitjacket, or carrying plastic silverware instead of an ax. Likewise, the genius of “The Simpsons” didn’t disappear once Bart Simpson stopped saying, “Eat my shorts.” It just took on a new form. Honor “The Simpsons” for what it has done – and stay tuned for more surprises, in whatever shape they may come.