What is the Appeal of The Simpsons?

Don’t mistake me by the title of this post: I love The Simpsons, I have done

Lisa is my favourite character :) (picture credit: http://www.simpsoncrazy.com)
Lisa is my favourite character 🙂 (picture credit: http://www.simpsoncrazy.com)

since I was a girl, since I grew up with them.

It’s just that, sometimes, I get thinking. One is a critiquer for so long that it bleeds into everyday life. And, when it comes to seeing an episode for the second, third, or even fourth time, one starts to look at things differently. Especially with the amount of repeats we get on channel four here.

And I’m a writer. That comes almost as a precedence against ever other part of me. Sitting there, watching and contemplating an episode, I have started to realise how ridiculous the plots are. Not the storylines themselves, but the arcs of the plots and the pacing (which is only added by having an ad. break in the middle).

Take last night’s episode, for instance, where Marge becomes the sole driver and gets so stressed that she eventually drives into Homer as he is walking and admits “I hate you”. This leads up to an almost pointless ten minutes in which Homer and Marge go to a counsellor who suggests to Homer that he create a romantic dinner for Marge, and their relationship is saved in the last five minutes.

Normality is returned. After every episode*. I don’t like it.

(*I’m not counting the ‘major’ episodes, such as when Maude Flanders dies, or when we find out that Patty is a lesbian.)

Dare I mention the infamous gorge jumping…?
Dare I mention the infamous gorge jumping…?

I mean, it’s not the inconsistencies of characters (In ‘Please Homer Don’t Hammer ‘Em’, Bart is revealed allergic to shrimp. Who knew?) or the amount of injuries sustained over the years that are never mentioned. The writers probably do this to mock one thing or another, as is often good about The Simpsons.

It’s the fact that, as writers, it promotes flimsy plotting and a ‘happy ending’ that real life cannot give. It gives watchers the wrong idea that something can be fixed like that *clicks fingers* and gives non-writers the idea that all stories must end on a high note.

But enough of the complaining! It amuses me that I notice these things sometimes. So, what is the appeal of The Simpsons as a long running American cartoon comedy? For me, it may not be the plotting in 30 mins (I have issues with other sitcoms doing this), but I reckon it’s the humour.

Whilst unassuming at first, it works on so many levels: to mock the posh, the poor, the rich, the raw, and everyone, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion. In that way, it’s quite crude…strangely this works. It’s the Simpsons touch!


6 thoughts on “What is the Appeal of The Simpsons?

  1. The Simpsons is brilliant. There are so many episodes where they mock themselves and all the flaws of the show. Plus they are chocked full of pop culture references of all types, low-brow to high brow. It’s a show written to appeal to all members of the human race, if they’ll give it a chance. I do think some people refuse to watch it because they see it as a personal character flaw. But if they could get over themselves for a half a minute, they’d realize how crazy awesome that show is.

    How else would a show that’s done everything there is to do survive as long as it has? They can do anything they want in terms of plot and generally it works. I think among my favorite episodes is the “Behind the Laughter” a mock of VH1’s “Behind the Music.” They address a lot of the ridiculousness of the show and in doing so excuse it.

    It’s much harder to write an episode of the Simpsons than one thinks. They usually start in one place and end up in a place you never expected it would go. I’ve often thought I should write a Simpsons episode for good practice. You’ve got to appeal to multiple audiences all at once and wrap it up neatly within a half hour. That’s tough stuff!

    Yeah, I love the Simpsons. Haven’t watched them as much lately. The downside of no cable. 😉

    1. Sorry to be continuing beating an ancient horse, but I’ve always found the “classic” episodes are actually fantastic examples of plotting, and even a bit inspiring. You should watch a single digit season’s episode with that same eye!

      For example, the last one I’ve seen is “Bart Gets Famous.” The plot runs at an absolute breakneck speed without the viewer realizing it.

      Bart manages to go from sneaks out of the box factory, works at a job he hates, becomes a star, revels in his fame, then becomes weary of it within ten minutes. AND IT NEVER FEELS RUSHED.

      With the other 12 minutes, The Simpsons was able to lavish extra time for the beginning and conclusion, giving us a detailed explanation on why Bart escaped the trip, and the reaction (“My boy’s a box!”), so the unrealistic premise is much easier to swallow.

      Also, the end’s worth noting. Although the blow’s softened by Marge’s comforting, Bart pretty much fails the second he’s re-inspired. And, somehow, they finish with a minute-long non sequitur without detracting from the story.

      No other show could tell a story so masterfully.

      1. It’s true, the earlier episodes were much more composed. Sometimes I feel that lack of ideas leads writers to push a plot out that is strung together by tangents (granted, this does happen to every long-running – or perhaps not even so long – show).

        I agree that when one realises that time is passing slowly whilst watching a program, then something must be going wrong. Of course, the objective of television is, like any piece of entertainment, to involve one with the characters realistically. If that doesn’t happen…. As I said in the body of my post, with the recent episode I watched, I felt there was too much emphasis on premise and not enough on sorting it out. When a plot goes from beginning to middle to end more flawlessly, it’s definitely easy not to notice any bigger issues (if there are any).

        Thanks for your thoughtful comment and a great example to go with it!

    2. ‘It’s a show written to appeal to all members of the human race’. I love that you’ve said that, because it’s so true. I fondly remember times when I’ve sat with either of my parents or any of my friends and we’ve equally appreciated comic moments of episodes regardless of our differing own knowledge. I don’t think there are many people who don’t like The Simpsons (at least, not in my acquaintances).

      Of course, the writers do stoop to clip-show levels, but only on occasions. I did enjoy the ‘Behind the Laughter’ one because of its change of set-up. Sometimes, TV shows need to provide us with a fresh take on a scene. That’s what I lean in wait for the Hallowe’en specials, don’t you? Writers still manage to weave in pop-references there.
      I’m still standing by my issue that the show can get samey. This doesn’t mean that I enjopy it much less (but I wish the UK would get on with playing the newer seasons!)

      ‘They usually start in one place and end up in a place you never expected it would go’. So, like normal writing, then? xD It’s true, I can imagine that writing a humorous sit-com type programme has to be hard work. Besides, I enjoy the way writers purposely grasp the tangent of the first scene, or include a beginning that completely misleads the expectations of the viewers. I think it’s the time-limit that gets me (and not just because half an hour is not enough Simpsons for one day!); I definitely enjoyed the movie more because of the sustained feeling in the plot. It’s not that I don’t think plot is totally lost in half an hour’s worth, but I think that it could be better kept at times.

      To be fair, I could never write an episode myself.

      Thanks for commenting, Jae. Great to see we have another like in common!

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