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Published:March 2nd, 2009 15:39 EST
The Simpsons

The Simpsons: Best TV Show In US

By Christopher HIllenbrand

On Thursday, television executives from Fox announced that they have green lighted Matt Groening and company to continue animating America`s favorite family for the next two seasons.

 The Simpsons


The Simpsons  became the longest running animated prime-time series when they surpassed The Flintstones  in longevity way back on February 9th 1997,. After the 2009 season however, the show will eclipse Gunsmoke  as the longest running American prime-time series ever.


The Simpsons  are currently in their 20th season which ties the series with Gunsmoke  as the longest prime-time series in the U.S. Gunsmoke  was cancelled following the 1975 television season after 20 years on the small screen.


Gunsmoke : a western in the spaghetti tradition of its era, began in black and white back in 1955. The show revolved around the exploits of the pious marshal Matt Dillon, portrayed by the actor James Arness, in the Old West circa 1880. By the time the show became colorized in the early 60`s, the show spawned a slew of imitators including Bonanza  which was a television success in its own right. The western was a launch pad for the director Sam Peckinpah, who later went on to direct several Western full feature films including The Wild Bunch in 1969.


But the seminal sitcom depicting small-city life in Springfield, Vermont isn`t alone in going for a new record in longevity. NBC`s Law & Order  first aired in 1990, and despite many cast changes over the years, is set to languish into their 20th season next year.


Since its debut in 1989, The Simpsons  have consistently been among critics` and viewers` favorites every year. Matt Groening, the show`s creator, and the topflight writers and animators that have come through the sitcom`s ranks over the years, have garnered 24 Emmy awards the last 20 years. The show was even rated the 8th greatest sitcom on TV Guide`s list of the 100 Greatest Sitcoms of All Time. But even those accolades only skim the top of the pool of praise of which the show deserves.


As a farcical archetype of the not-so-great American family, The Simpsons showcases the daily lives of the Simpsons and the other denizens of Springfield, often to hilarious results. Everyone in the Springfield universe is depicted as yellow, having irregular hair, and usually caricatures of their personality type. Marge Simpson`s most recognizable physical trait is her three-foot tall frock of blue hair, while the Simpsons` children have yellow daggers of hair poking out from all corners of their heads.


Homer Simpson, the obtuse and obnoxious patriarch of the Simpson clan, is frequently on the short end of the show`s punch lines. Homer is a fat, bald middle-aged peon always somehow employed at Springfield`s Nuclear Power Plant, though he`s not qualified in the slightest. From the show`s opening sequence, TV viewers are aware of how Homer will shirk any kind of responsibility including his job as nuclear safety monitor. Much like the character Archie Bunker from All In The Family fame, Homer is not to be respected for his ignorance, but sympathized for his many pratfalls and shortcomings as a father to Lisa, Bart, and Maggie, and as a husband to Marge. A portrait of contradictions, he is lovable for his innocent child-like mind and yet loathed for his willful incompetence at life in general, at the same time. He consistently eschews his family and their affections in the pursuit of food, leisure, and an escape from his dreary suburban life. Amongst many of his brightest blunders towards his family and the city of Springfield is when he derailed the town`s monorail, almost caused a nuclear holocaust, and ruined countless family outings with his buffoonery. TV Guide rated Homer Simpson as the 2nd greatest cartoon character of all time on its list of The 100 Greatest Cartoon Character of All Time. His famous catchphrase D`oh  was recently adopted by the Oxford English Dictionary as a recognized expression of disapproval or disgust.


Marge, Homer`s doting wife, is the constant pessimist and the sensible foil to her husband`s stupidity. In hindsight, they`re perfect in being perfectly mismatched: Homer is a fatuous and disgusting oaf while Marge is a resourceful and beautiful homemaker always attending to her family`s basic needs. Though she is always ignored and cast aside by a husband undeserving of her, she tolerates his negligence and abuse and comes to forgive him by the end of each week`s episode. Her spoiled children don`t assume the emotional workload either, provoking her to bite her tongue and moan in bitter concession. Marge Simpson is a dead-on example of the typically suppressed woman with ambitions that are never fulfilled due to the unappreciative family thwarting her aspirations. In the 20 years of the show`s run, Marge has been an advocate against cartoon violence, a police woman, and a Frenchman`s object of affection amongst many other roles.


Bart, Marge and Homer`s son, is the adorable scamp of the bunch, always getting into scrapes and demonstrating why he is the resident bad boy  of television-dom. Like his age, and everyone else`s on the show that stays the same, he never seems to grow in wisdom from his mistakes but conniving his way out of punishments does the job just as admirably. As a perpetual fourth-grader at Springfield Elementary, Bart routinely goads Principal Skinner with the gags and mishaps he wreaks at the school`s expense and to the stuffy administrator`s chagrin. And in the classroom, he`s celebrated by his classmates for his tomfoolery. The town at large isn`t spared from Bart`s devilish id as it has tried to lynch him amongst other punishments for what problems he incurred in the community. But unlike his poor role model of a father, Bart does show compassion and remorse for the damage his mischief creates. Besides his weekly hi-jinx that vividly contrasts the humdrum goings-on in his hometown, Bart is more often than not admired as the rebellious misunderstood brat given his circumstances. During the last 20 years of his existence in the American television lexicon, Bart is credited for some of the show`s many highlights including beheading the statue of Springfield`s founder, rescuing the town`s beloved lemon tree, and single-handedly destroying Springfield Elementary.


Lisa is the brightest, most talented member of the Simpson family as Marge and Homer`s 8-year-old daughter. Though she is a straight-A student, a virtuosic saxophone player for her age, and a kind spirit, she habitually pays for her lack of common sense. She`s also the most socially-conscious member of the family and has involved the family and the American viewing public in her tree hugging, protests against animal cruelty, and opposition towards right-wing politics. Of all the Simpson kids (though one still can`t speak), Lisa is often the most compassionate towards her mother`s plight and is the most outspoken in berating Homer`s terrible parenting and marital skills. As a child prodigy, she often confounds her parents and her teachers at Springfield Elementary School with her exceptional logic and vocabulary. Like most intellectuals, she`s shunned by her peers for being a nerd and is considered a blowhard by Homer and her instructors. Lisa`s adventures and misadventures in the show are usually the most poignant and emotional as she has bid farewell to a departed saxophone legend, said goodbye to a substitute teacher she was enamored with, and broken a mentally challenged child`s heart.


Maggie is the youngest of the Simpsons` offspring and is an eternal infant. Her trademark of continually having a pacifier in her mouth is often utilized as a joke enhancer during episodes. Though she suffers (or is gifted) from not aging, several episodes feature her as a precocious teenager in episodes taking place in the future, as well as the other main characters from the sitcom.


Abe Simpson, Homer`s dad, is portrayed as a demented finicky codger who ironically thinks the whole Simpsons family is crazy though he`s the one living under lock and key in a retirement home. When the family visits him, he`s regularly a third wheel that interferes with their daily lives and becomes an unbearable nuisance in his own charming, pomaded way. Grandpa finds himself the subject of many tearful moments like when he and his son reconcile as Homer`s boyhood home burns down, when his sweetheart Bea dies unexpectedly, and when his ex-wife (Homer`s mother) dies as a bookend to a part of Homer`s history.


Ned Flanders is the homely, saintly, right-wing Christian neighborino to the Simpson family. Homer`s antics are usually disregarded by the stoically calm and collected family man, but on occasion they`ve unraveled Ned`s composure.


Charles Montgomery Burns, the evil curmudgeon that owns the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, is often the show`s antagonist as many episodes entail his dastardly plots against Springfield and its citizens. Homer is habitually a forgotten worker of his, although the D`oh`-spouting simian is typically the cause of the Power Plant`s woes. His death was captured to great acclaim in the two-part saga Who Killed Mr. Burns?  when the killer was later revealed as Maggie Simpson.  


Naturally there are many ancillary characters with pivotal roles within the series. Patty and Selma Bouvier (Marge`s sisters) are a pair of spinsters just past middle age who are frequently cast into jokes, mostly by Homer, that they`re ugly and terrible human beings and that`s why they`ll remain alone in life. Marge`s mother is a hoarse fastidious old woman whom Marge can never please. Other auxiliary characters include Otto the bus driver, Abu Nahasapeemapetilon, Chief Wiggum, Moe the barkeep, Barney Gumbel and Milhouse who have also been integral players in the microcosm that is Springfield.


But none of the magic would`ve been possible without the magic of voice talents and great comedy writers. Those providing the voices for many of the show characters include Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, Nancy Cartwright, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer. Comedy writers like Conan O`Brien and John Swartzwelder have come through the script writer rosters through the years the show began airing in 1989. Swartwelder is the most prolific writer that the show has ever had: 55 entire episodes are credited to him alone while he contributed to 4 others.


I could`ve continued describing the famed residents of the most famous cartoon city as well the most famous illustrated family in television history, but I`ve outlined the gist of the depth of the main characters as well as some of the most significant situations in which they`ve been involved.


Hats off to The Simpsons, a show I`ve been watching, admiring, and learning valuable life lessons from since I was 4 years old. May the show go on until Springfield`s cherished family shows its age: oh, wait!