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Simpsons, The

Entry updated 23 October 2023. Tagged: TV.

US animated tv series (1989-current). Gracie Films, 20th Television (later, 20th Television Animation). Created by Matt Groening. Developed by James L Brooks, Matt Groening and Sam Simon. Directors include Mike B Anderson, Wesley Archer, Susie Dietter, Mark Kirkland, Rich Moore, Steven Dean Moore, Jim Reardon and David Silverman. Writers include David X Cohen, John Frink, Al Jean, Tim Long, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, Bill Oakley, Bill Odenkirk, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti and Josh Weinstein. Voice cast includes Hank Azaria, Nancy Cartwright, Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Harry Shearer and Yeardley Smith. 750 episodes of circa 22 minutes duration as of the close of season 34 (2022-2023). Colour.

A long-running animated comedy (see Humour) series centred on the Simpson family – husband Homer (Castellaneta), wife Marge (Kavner), with their children Bart (Cartwright), Lisa (Smith) and the baby Maggie – in the town of Springfield. Frequently Satirical and Absurdist, it is one of the greatest comedy shows of all time, largely due to the exceptional era of seasons 3-8 (1992-1997), made under showrunners Al Jean/Mike Reiss (seasons 3 & 4), David Mirkin (5 & 6) and Bill Oakley/Josh Weinstein (7 & 8); there was also much notable work during seasons 1-2 and 9-10. Many of the subsequent seasons were good, with strong episodes, but the milking of the same format as year after year rolled by inevitably had diminishing returns, often resorting to Clichés and tired parodies. This entry largely focuses on the series' heyday.

The main source of sf content is the series' annual (since season 2) Treehouse of Horror episode, initially inspired by EC Comics (from which the title comes) and 1950/1960s B-movies. Each of these contain three non-canonical tales, usually drawing on supernatural Horror, sf and Fantasy tropes. The Aliens Kang (Shearer) and Kodos (Castellaneta) appear in every episode (though usually as cameos): green, tentacled, drooling and travelling in a flying saucer (see UFOs), they first appeared in a story influenced by Damon Knight's "To Serve Man" (November 1950 Galaxy). Subsequent tales include them Shapeshifting into presidential candidates; Marge being impregnated by Kang – with Maggie their offspring (see Exogamy); Kodos as E.T. from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – but here planning to conquer Earth – and a sendup of Avatar (2009).

The non-Kang and Kodos Treehouse of Horror stories usually parody other media, for example: Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" (February 1845 The American Review); Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life" (in Star Science Fiction Stories 2, anth 1953, ed Frederik Pohl); Frankenstein movies; Theodore Sturgeon's "Microcosmic God" (April 1941 Astounding); King Kong (1933); various Zombie movies; Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" (28 June 1952 Collier's) – where Homer Time Travels, killing a prehistoric mosquito, thus changing the present – he repeatedly returns to the past to correct the problem, creating various bizarre Springfields until he finds one "close enough" to the original; Richard Matheson's "Little Girl Lost" (October/November 1953 Amazing) – here Homer enters the third Dimension rather than the fourth; The Omega Man (1971); The Fly (1958); H G Wells's The Island of Dr Moreau (1896) and Fantastic Voyage (1966). Written inspirations are often via television and film adaptions, particularly The Twilight Zone.

Of the normal Simpsons episodes, the most overtly sf is the sixth of Season 26, "Simpsorama" (2014), a Simpsons/Futurama crossover, with Bender sent to the present to kill Homer: later he is joined by Professor Farnsworth, Leela, and Fry; then the Simpsons journey to the future. Other episodes with prominent sf elements include season six's "Itchy & Scratchy Land" (1994): when the family visit a Disneyland-like (see The Walt Disney Company) amusement park based on the titular in-series cartoon characters, the animatronic Robots there turn homicidal (there is also a futuristic laboratory beneath the park). Season six's "Who Shot Mr Burns (part one)" (1995) has Mr Burns (Shearer), owner of Springfield's nuclear power plant (see Nuclear Energy), building a machine (see Technology) that blocks out the Sun, to profit from the town's increased energy consumption (asserting "since the dawn of time man has yearned to destroy the Sun"). Season five's "Rosebud" (1993) ends with a scene set in 1,000,000 CE (see Far Future) – with apes in charge, presumably Cloned Homers used for slave labour and Mr Burns as a Cyborg. Also in season five, "Deep Space Homer" (1994) has NASA attempting to boost its popularity by sending a "blue-collar slob" into space: Homer is selected. Aside from the parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), we discover that all the chimpanzees sent into space come back superintelligent, however – though we see one of them speak – this is a throwaway joke (see "rubber-band reality" below). Additionally the Spaceship's ant colony escapes, with camera distortion causing news reporter Kent Brockman (Shearer) to mistake them for "a master-race of giant space ants ... there is no stopping them, the ants will soon be here [pause] and I for one welcome our new insect overlords" (see Invasion). The Simpsons Movie (2007) has many elements of Fantastika.

One of the secondary characters is Scientist Professor Frink (Azaria), based on Jerry Lewis's character in The Nutty Professor (1963), his Inventions – aside from a Death Ray for which he was unable to attain funding – include robots, a flying motorcycle, a Time Machine and, in season sixteen's "Future-Drama" (2008), a Time Viewer, with most of the episode being spent showing the world of 2016 (see Near Future). Matt Groening used the term "rubber-band reality" to describe jokes that briefly stretched the show out of its mundane format before promptly retracting back to the norm, to be subsequently ignored. Many of these have been sf-related: aside from robots and the aforementioned talking chimp, they have included a Martian (see Mars) as a member of a secret society (with Atlantis also implied to be real) and a Vampire (resembling Count Orlok rather than Dracula) as a member of the local Republican Party. The Simpsons' success started the 1990s US animation boom and enabled Matt Groening and The Simpsons writer and sf fan David X Cohen to create the excellent Futurama (1999-2003; 2010-2013; 2023-current). [SP]


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