20 years of classics
As America's favourite family turns 20, self-confessed Simpsons nut David Gordon reflects on how a 60-second short turned into a global phenomenon that's heading into its 22nd series
Published 31/12/2009 | 08:00
It's quite something for a cartoon to be acclaimed as one of the best TV shows of all time. The Simpsons gets listed alongside the likes of The Sopranos, The Wire and The West Wing as among the finest offerings ever viewed on the small screen.
It's a well deserved accolade too.
But describing the lasting appeal of the programme to the uninitiated is not that easy a task. The best advice to someone trying to work out what all the fuss is about is simply to watch it for a few weeks.
To start with the obvious, The Simpsons is funny. Many people will tell you it's not as funny as it used to be.
They may or may not have a point.
But the recent success of its spin- off movie showed that its appeal - and humour - is far from flagging.
Even the best shows can have off days and this one is no different.
The much-hyped episode of earlier this year, when Homer and Co visited Ireland, was a real stinker. Even a cameo appearance by our very own Giant's Causeway did not help.
But never mind, there'll be a better episode along in a minute or two. And you can be guaranteed a much higher ratio of laughs per half hour than any current TV sitcom you can name.
One of its many strengths comes from its array of supporting characters. Mr Burns, police chief Wiggum, Rev Lovejoy, school principal Skinner and Comic Book Guy are each worthy of a particular mention here.
Another reason for the show's continued success is its cross-family appeal. There are not many other programmes that middle-aged parents can enjoy with their teenage children - apart from those inescapable Simon Cowell Saturday night shows.
The Simpsons probably also reflects family life more than most of us would care to admit. Certainly, 40-something dads across the world wince at their similarities with the tubby, boozy lazy Homer. And their wives and children can enjoy making the comparisons.
When US President George Bush Senior said American families should become more like the Waltons than The Simpsons, it showed just how out of touch he had become. (And for all his faults, Homer never had a son like George W.)
The Simpsons is also very clever. Smart cultural references abound in the shows - to famous film scenes, politics, the economy and showbiz.
Bruce Springsteen once wrote the lyric: "We learned more from a three minute record baby than we ever learned in school." He had a point.
Nowadays, you can learn a lot about the USA from The Simpsons - certainly more than from a dull documentary series where a British celeb travels about the States meeting 'interesting' characters.
Another great strength of The Simpsons is its irreverence. It can poke fun at itself, its Fox Network paymaster and even Fox's big boss Rupert Murdoch.
The viewers don't escape either.
The Simpsons movie began with Homer in a cinema bemoaning the idea of 'paying to see something we get on TV for free'. He added: "If you ask me, everybody in this theatre is a giant sucker."