Simpsons: Season 20
In the history of television most series only mange a few seasons before the unrelenting blade of cancellation ends their run. A few may last five years or so and a rarefied fortunate few may past the monumental decade mark. When you exclude soap operas and late night faire such as ‘Saturday Night Live’ looking only at the all important prime time the number of series passing their twentieth year are exceptionally rare. The longevity champion has always been the ultimate TV western ‘Gunsmoke’ with the same actors playing the leads for twenty years. This year a couple of other series reach this milestone. The original ‘Law & Order’ is entering its twentieth season but they revised their cast on a fairly regular basis. There is the show under consideration here, the grandfather on animation. ‘The Simpsons’. Okay, it has a lot of advantages other shows aren’t afforded. As an animated series the producers don’t have to worry about their characters aging or jumping off to other projects. The primary voice talents have built lucrative careers without having to worry about such things as getting up early for hair, make-up and wardrobe. This series set the stage for the current batch of popular show such as ‘South Park’ and ‘Family Guy’. Dedicated fans most likely have the complete series thus far on DVD although it would take a bookcase to hold them all. The twentieth season is now available on standard DVD and for those that need to see every frame in super clarity there is also a Blu-rat version. It contains all the episodes plus as an extra The 20th Anniversary Special Sneak Peek by Morgan Spurlock. Even if you don’t have the rest of the series this is a piece of television history and highly entertaining to boot.
The series was created by Matt Groening originally as between skit cartoons for ‘the the Tracey Ullman Show’. The animation was primitive by the current standards but it wound up being far more popular than the hosting series. Then in 1989 Fox was trying to become established as the four national network and they were searching for series to fill their programming. They were targeting the working class with their flagship live action series ‘Married with Children’ so a similar premise taking working class parody to hysterical extremes. The show has gone far beyond just being known for its longevity. It has become firmly ensconced in the popular culture adding several phrases to our collective lexicon and elevated to iconic images known around the globe. This brightly yellow family of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie has been entertaining millions on a weekly basis with their combination of satire and pop culture references. There are certain elements that have become American traditions. Each episode must have the family gathering in some form and fashion on the couch, Bart writing some comical phrase on the blackboard during detention and of course, the annual (since season five) Halloween tree house of Horror
This season starts out with violence breaking out at the Springfield St. Patrick’s Day parade. When factions from Nor tans South Ireland mix it is green versus orange with even ‘The Hulk’ and the ‘Fantastic Four’s ‘The Thing’ getting into the action. Homer winds up arrested and Homer winds up needing a bail bondsman. After an animated cameo by ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’, Homer and his neighbor, Ned Flanders, become bounty hunters. It naturally goes poorly but Homer managers to survive. A long time running gag is the jobs Homer takes on while fired from the Burn’s Nuclear power plant. During this season Homer also dabbles in becoming a professional break-up artist ending other people’s relationships for a fee. As one of the three ‘Tree house’ segments they start with a near perfect spoof of the opening graphic for the hit TV series ‘Mad Men’ in this one the advertising men discover that Homer has a real knack for killing celebrities and send him out to kill famous people than can then be used royalty free. After making a lot of money dispatching the famous Homer is living it up but up in celebrity heaven they gather and under the leadership of John Wayne come back to reclaim they images. Each other the other family members get their own time in the spot light. Marge gets a job baking sexually explicit cakes and Bart switches places with a rich kid who looks exactly like him. Lisa becomes a champion at crossword puzzles until her father bets against her making a small fortune when her opponent cheats his way to victory.
There is a certain comfort to how little have changed in Springfield over the last two decades. Over this time the inhabitants have become like old friends to the faithful audience. At this point the writers depend on this to slip in little inside jokes based on the audience being well versed in the backgrounds of each character. Of course in this strange universe the continuity of the back stories is subject to more than a little play. For example one episode features flashbacks of Homer and Marge early in their relationship where they meet Ned Flanders and is late wife. Over the years numerous initial meets have taken place.
All signs seem to indicate this show is still going strong. Now there is the first generation that has always know this animated family and looks like it won’t be the last.