Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Reentering the Earth's Blogosphere: or How a Cartoon Has Kept Me From Writing

I'm heating up, flying down through the blogosphere, cruising past space dust and satellites broadcasting the Bruins game and sharing my personal information with anyone who wants it.  Damn cloud computing.  Much has happened in the time since last posting, and covering all of it would be exhausting and an exercise in banality.  So, in brief, since late April I have: written several papers, crammed for an Art History exam, passed my classes, graduated, moved down to the coast, watched a couple games of Ultimate Frisbee, climbed some damp rock, gotten approximately 12,594 blackfly bites, spread some mulch, planted a garden, walked on the beach, gone swimming in the frigid waves, eaten mussels, hosed out moldy trash cans, walked Lucy, and read most of a book called Anthill (it's not good).  I did some other stuff too, but that's the gist of it.  It's been an interesting month and a half.  In the all the hubbub, though, there's been an activity that has grounded me and reminded me fondly of my youth.  Most days I indulge in it, and it is the focus of the rest of this post.  So read on if you like cartoons...

I've been watching The Simpsons.

I toyed with the idea of writing a post about a broader spectrum of television, especially the newer comedies that I've come to adore viewing each week.  Perhaps someday soon I will write such a post.  But why not start here, at the beginning?  This is the show that defined my early years.  I had friends that weren't allowed to watch--how I pitied them.  Every night, I'd sit down and laugh with Bart, d'oh with Homer, grimace with Marge, judge with Lisa, and make a pacifier noise with Maggie.  Well maybe not that.  

How to begin writing about this venerable program?  Here we are, a few weeks past the finale of season 22, and there's no end in sight.  I can honestly say that I've seen at least 90% of the episodes produced, if not more (seasons 1-10 I've seen completely too many times to count).  My only gaps are in the latest seasons, where quality has suffered and story lines have become trite and silly.  Flanders with Mrs. Krabappel?  Come on now, don't you remember when Ned's wife Maude dies in season 11 (rumor has it because her voice actor was tired of commuting into work), and Flanders and Edna went on a "date?"  She was only using poor Ned to make Skinner jealous, and clearly safe, pious Ned would never end up with that floozy.  She has a heart of gold though--remember when Bart dupes her with phony love letters, but at the end they walk arm in arm out into the sunshine? Perfection.  But I digress.

There's just so much material to talk about when it comes to The Simpsons, that I don't know where to begin.  For the readers that aren't well versed in this masterpiece of television, I'll make a couple general points that are probably old hat to the true fans.

Springfield, the city with no state, is filled with literally hundreds of recognizable cast members.  At any given moment, Krusty could be walking through the background, or Lenny and Carl could pop in for a visit.  Police Chief Wiggum is always after Snake, and Snake is always robbing the Kwik-E-Mart and its shopkeep, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.  While that goes on, Jimbo Jones et al stuff candy and dirty magazines into their pockets while Bart looks on in awe.  Then he cuts the head off of Jebediah Springfield, town founder and ursine executor.  Phew.  I get carried away sometimes.  My point is this--the cast of the show is absolutely huge, but so well crafted that each character has their own tics and special moments.  There are innumerable people that can carry an entire episode, and most of them have.  It's not unusual to see Mayor Quimby standing next to Cletus in a crowd, and the Sea Captain is never far behind.  I just wish Bleeding Gums Murphy was still around.

On to my next point.  As I said, there are a huge number of episodes--22 seasons, over 400 individual episodes, and a feature length movie.  I'm not sure if that counts some of the early stuff (shorts on The Tracy Ullman Show), and to be honest, the episode count might be over 500, but I'd like to think I'm savvy enough to not miss that milestone, no matter how crummy the plots have become.  I think there is a general consensus, and I'm making some bold assumptions here, about what certain eras entail.  Here are my thoughts:

Seasons 1-3: Crude at moments, but often emotionally wrenching and more focused on family life.  Marital issues, life lessons, birthdays.  The cast is smaller, so obviously the Simpson family gets most of the screen time.  For the true connoisseur.  (watch "Stark Raving Dad")
Seasons 4-10: Here it is, the tenderloin.  The story lines lighten up a bit, things get zany, references get smarter, the cast has grown, genius ensues.  If you think of a classic episode, it probably came from this era.  (Sooo hard to pick one.  Check out "Homer the Great")
11-14: Watch out, we're headed towards the dark side.  There are still some gems here, but overall, quality has slipped.  Pick and choose... (solid: "Skinner's Sense of Snow"  Who doesn't want a Ranch dressing hose?)
15-19:  Dear lord, make it stop.  This is a lot of years, and it's not all bad, but the majority is pretty weak.  A sad time.  (How many times can this plot be revisited?)
20-22:  Some claim that things are on an upswing.  I'll believe it when I see it.  As with other eras, there are a couple memorable moments, but surely nothing I'd call classic.  Oh well, maybe season 23 will blow me away. One can dream.  (I watched this one more for the duo from Sprooklyn)

So, there are two broad ideas to appreciate and ponder.  Next time you watch, think about all those crazy Springfieldians and what year the episode is from.  Think about how much this show has achieved after all these years, and think about how much I laugh when I watch it.  It might further your enjoyment, or, alternatively, it could ruin the show for you as you realize it's season 19 and Bart has a cow.  Literally.

Postscript:  To watch, check out   If that doesn't work, googling an episode's title will usually bring up a good megavideo link fairly quickly.  Enjoy.

Edit: on further investigation, the episode count is about 14 shy of 500


  1. Ben this makes me so excited to watch some Simpsons. Mostly excited to think about how much you laugh when you watch it. Can't wait to watch Homer the Great!