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The Bart Show: When 'The Simpsons' Were Almost Much Worse

With all this jibber-jabber about The Simpsons not being as good as it was when the writer was 12 (see: The Saturday Night Live Effect), it’s easy to forget that there was an early period in the show’s popularity when it was ready to take a turn for the much worse. Catchphrase-filled bumper stickers, key chains, video games, and music albums all pointed in one direction: The Simpsons was becoming the “Bart Show.”

For the record, I like Bart Simpson as a character. He is in many ways the show’s least cynical character. Despite all the parent group protestations that he was a negative role model for children, his [...]

Eight Times The Simpsons Have Made Me Cry

The Simpsons is the funniest show of all time, but it’s also one of the most tragic. Think about it: Homer is an overweight drunk who hates his job; Marge gave up her dreams for her husband; Bart is “underachiever and proud of it,” meaning he’s already stopped trying, even in elementary school; Lisa is a clinically depressed eight-year-old; and Maggie is only a toddler and she’s already shot someone. And that’s not to mention the lives of Milhouse, Hans Moleman, Martin Prince, Nelson Muntz, and so on.

But there’s a difference between tragic, which can often be funny, and depressing. Allow me to present to you eight [...]

Meat and You: Partners in Freedom, or How "Lisa The Vegetarian" Convinced Me to Give Up Meat at 11

The Simpsons have been running their game for 21 years this December, since I was in kindergarten. So it was really only a matter of time before this show, the second most important constant in my life (after my parents, and just barely) revealed exactly how it has influenced my development as a human being. For me, that moment was when the episode "Lisa the Vegetarian" (Season 7, Episode 5) converted my 11-year-old self to vegetarianism.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the episode (first of all, thanks for even reading this article), Lisa The Veg takes the Simpsons to nearby StoryTown Village (fun for ages 1 to 7 [...]

Phil Hartman's 'Simpsons' Legacy

Later episodes of The Simpsons tend to unfold like Radiohead songs, starting off one way before taking an abrupt left turn. In stark contrast to this style, the plot of Season 2 gem “Bart Gets Hit By a Car” is thrust into motion within its first minute… when Bart gets hit by a car. Immediately afterward, the boy’s soul sheds its mortal shell and ascends the escalator to heaven, guided by a voice that is both pleasant and firm. It’s the kind of voice designed to convey trust during a commercial, and also the kind used during a fake commercial to mock such naked appeals for trust, perhaps on [...]

How We Wrote Classic Simpsons Episodes

Bill Oakley was a writer at The Simpsons from seasons 4-6 and an executive producer/showrunner with his writing partner Josh Weinstein from seasons 7-8. I talked to him at length about his experiences in that famous writer's room. This is a transcription of part of that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Twice a year, from at least season three 'til season eight, there'd be these story retreats where everybody would come and present their ideas for episodes. We'd get a big conference room in a hotel about a hundred yards from the office, and we'd go around and everybody would tell their ideas, one by one. It [...]

(Some of) Our All-Time Favorite Simpsons Episodes

It's pretty much impossible to pick one favorite Simpsons episode. Try it! You'll think of one, but then immediately a half-dozen others will spring to mind that you can't imagine not putting in that top spot. There are just so many classic episodes!

And this feature says a lot about that. I asked a number of Splitsider friends and contributors to write a bit about their all-time favorite episode. I asked them to let me know which episode they picked so I could keep track and make sure there were no duplicates. Amazingly enough, every single person picked a different episode. No two people picked the same one. And [...]

Watching The Simpsons From Its Tracey Ullman Beginning

Long before every kid I knew wore “Don’t have a cow man!” or “Eat my shorts!” t-shirts –- the unofficial grade school uniform years 1989-1993 that would cause a great ruckus within PTAs nationwide — my parents had already introduced me to The Simpsons, back when the cartoon was no more than a series of 30-second sketches during The Tracey Ullman Show.

On one hand, it’s impossible for me to wrap my head around The Simpsons’ success, even having seen it from the literal beginning. On the other, there’s a 5-year-old inside me shouting to the world, “Eat my shorts! I told you so!” The Simspons was special [...]

Every Commercial That Aired During the First Simpsons Episode

The Simpsons have been around for a very long time, but it can be sometimes hard to place those early episodes in their time periods. Sure, there are references to politicians, celebrities and events from the early 90's that date it a bit, but on the whole, it's aged incredibly well. So much so that watching this compilation of every commercial that ran alongside the premiere of the show is almost shocking. I mean, look at how old this stuff is! It's amazing to see how dated the rest of American culture looks to us now when compared to how relevant those Simpsons episodes continue to be. That's one [...]

The Lost Jokes and Story Arcs of "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song"

Bill Oakley was a writer at The Simpsons from seasons 4-6 and an executive producer/showrunner with his writing partner Josh Weinstein from seasons 7-8. They wrote such episodes as "Who Shot Mr. Burns?," "$pringfield," “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy,” and "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song." This last one was the 100th episode of the show, and it went through some pretty serious revisions from pitch to final draft. This is a transcription of a conversation about that specific episode, edited for length and clarity. Also included are the original Story Pitch, Final Outline and First Draft from the writing process (which you can find explained [...]

Welcome to Classic Simpsons Week on Splitsider

The first ten or so seasons of The Simpsons are almost mythical among comedy nerds. Say what you will about the more recent seasons of the show, which seems like it'll go on forever at this point, but those early seasons seem to be the closest thing to comedy perfection ever created. The show was most obviously groundbreaking for being the first real cartoon for adults, but what made it a classic was the writing. Striking the perfect balance between highbrow humor, goofy gags, winking meta references and heartfelt emotion, every episode is like a masterclass in comedy.

People can argue all they want over which episodes or seasons [...]

The Eras of The Simpsons, By the Numbers

The most common thing you hear about the lasting Simpsons franchise is that the show has “lost its touch,” that while it remains popular, viewers continue to tune in only because of nostalgia for the series’ “golden years” (which most fans place between seasons 3 and 8). Granted, Bart evading Sideshow Bob for the umpteenth time, Homer and Marge re-writing their romantic history, and the Simpson family traveling to Tokyo just feels a little exhausting when we remember the days Bart sold his soul and Homer “did it for her.”

Has the show gotten any less funny, though? Any less edgy, witty, silly, surprising, or relevant? For some [...]

Why Are There So Many Simpsons Video Games?

As fans of comedy, we often forget — or try to forget — that The Simpsons is a franchise as much as it is a source of humor. Bart dolls that say, “Eat my shorts!” don’t really explore the human condition and the Simpsons comforter I had on my bed under my Spider-Man pillow was less early postmodernism and more childhood commercialism.

Which is why it’s so hard to discuss The Simpsons video games: they exist somewhere between licensed toy and expansion on the humor of the series. They represent the nexus of the duality of The Simpsons franchise. Are they cheap knockoffs or unique interactive episodes?

George Meyer's 'Army Man' and the Birth of 'The Simpsons'

If you follow the stories about the beginnings of The Simpsons, chances are you're heard of Army Man. But just as likely, chances are you haven't read it. Army Man exists mainly in lore, a rare, brilliant, short-lived moment of a magazine that, as one of the show's former producers called it, was "the father of The Simpsons."

Army Man was started by George Meyer in 1988. At the time, Meyer was a 32-year-old former writer for Letterman and SNL who had grown tired of New York and television and fled to Boulder, Colorado. He wrote the first issue mostly himself, with help from some college friends. He typed [...]

I Survived Junior High Because of The Simpsons

Back when I was a skinny, orthodontically fortified knot of sprouting-limbs in the junior-high hallways of the Newburgh City School District, making friends wasn't hard. It was worse than hard: it was never even an option. The very idea of making friends was contrary to my 8th-grade survival instincts. The daily goal for someone in my social standing was not to make friends but the opposite: to go unnoticed. Notoriety in junior high was a very bad thing, unless it was for making JV lacrosse (not likely in my case). For me, notoriety meant your mid-pubescent voice cracked while delivering a civics presentation or you were spotted playing [...]