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‘The Simpsons’ is the greatest television programme of all time. Better than ‘The Wire’, ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Supermarket Sweep’ combined, and here’s why:
‘The Simpsons’ started as an examination of the nuclear family but it quickly evolved into a comedic portrait of American society as a whole. All life is represented in Springfield: corrupt politicians, unscrupulous business men and dudes dressed in bumblebee suits. There are personal stories about family relationships, but the show also takes aim at the institutions that run our society. And dudes dressed in bumblebee suits.
The writing is incredible. Jokes are heat-packed into dense, 22-minute episodes, and there is a plethora of sight gags and asides that reward repeat viewings. The style has influenced so many great comedies, from ‘Father Ted’, to ‘Arrested Development’. It also opened the door for a new kind of animation, both in television – see ‘South Park’ and ‘Family Guy’ – and in cinema. Did you know that Pixar’s ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Ratatouille’ were both directed by Brad Bird, a consultant on the first eight seasons of ‘The Simpsons’? You didn’t? Probably because you were busy being cool at school and doing loads of kissing. Who’s the real loser now? It’s me.
The best episodes haven’t dated. ‘Homer Badman’ is as relevant now as a satire of misguided media hysteria and witch-hunts as it was 20 years ago. Depressingly, ‘Much Apu About Nothing’ is still an astute parody of misinformation about immigration – I implore you to track it down and see how pertinent it is in the face of Farage and his nonsense jamboree.
There’s the perfect mix of cerebral and idiotic. References to political figures, philosophers and Japanese cinema mingle freely with slapstick and joyous stupidity. ‘Cape Feare’ features homages to Scorsese and Gilbert & Sullivan, but also has a four-minute sequence of a man walking into a series of rakes. Something for everyone.
At the show’s heart is the fab five: a loving family who occasionally want to strangle each other. The sentiment and sweetness puts some people off, but for me it’s the reason I’ve never fallen out of love with ‘The Simpsons’, and suspect I never will, even if I live to be as old as Jasper. It feels strange, then, that George HW Bush decried the show as an attack on family values, saying he wanted Americans to be ‘a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons’. Bart retorted: ‘We’re just like the Waltons. We’re waiting for an end to the Depression too.’ Ouch, George – zinged by a fictional boy!
This one needs absolutely no explanation. If you agree, congratulations, you are an excellent human being. If you disagree, I respect your right to be fundamentally wrong in every way. That’s subjectivity for you.
Listen to ‘The Monorail Song’
New episodes of ‘The Simpsons’ are shown on Sky 1 and Sky 1 HD, Sundays at 6pm.