According to the Internet (which, as we know, is never wrong), if you were to watch all 552 episodes of The Simpsons, it would cost you 12,144 minutes of your life. Or, put another way, 202 hours and 24 minutes. Or, put a third day, eight-and-a-half days.
And that statistic was calculated in 2014. Tonight (April 29), The Simpsons airs episode no. 636, making it the longest running scripted series in TV history, eclipsing the western series Gunsmoke. So, if you watched all 636 episodes of The Simpsons, that would come to … well, you do the math. Seriously, I’m lousy at math.
I am reasonably sure that I have seen all or at least part of every one of those 635 episodes. I’ll watch tonight’s record breaking episode, but I’ll watch it with little enthusiasm. In its prime, The Simpsons was must watch TV. Now it’s just … there. It fills a half-hour on the Fox schedule. It has occasional moments where a viewer might laugh, but generally the most you can hope for is a chuckle. Hell, you can sit through an episode of The Simpsons in stone silence today. I’ve seen some episodes that were so boring and unfunny that I didn’t even finish them, which is why I can’t claim to have seen every minute of all 635 shows.
While I sometimes can’t finish current episodes, I will happily watch vintage Simpsons.
Much Music (which, to my surprise, is still around, just like The Simpsons) shows vintage Simpsons episodes every day. And when I say vintage, I mean all the way back to the very beginning in 1990. I’ve seen every one of them, not once, not twice, but thrice (to quote Mr. Burns), and probably more. I can watch these ancient episodes, with their barely passable animation, changing voices and personalities, and still laugh out loud. And I know pretty much EVERY LINE OF EVERY EPISODE.
And yet, I watch. And watch. And watch.
I can’t help it. The Simpsons at its best is simply the best thing TV has ever produced. That’s not an original thought (if you’re looking for original thoughts, you’ve come to the wrong place), but it’s true. Vintage Simpsons stands up to repeated viewings. Even when you know every moment of every episode, you can still find something new and hilarious. Or even old and hilarious.
Right now, I’m watching Season 4 episodes, which are now more than 25 years old. Consider some of the episodes from that season. (If you’re not a Simpsons fan, just look away.) There’s the Kamp Krusty episode, followed by the brilliance of A Streetcar Named Marge. Then it was Home the Heretic, where Homer stopped going to church, easily one of the top 10 episodes ever. Then it’s Lisa the Beauty Queen. Then the Itchy and Scratch Movie, featuring pitch-perfect parodies of early cartoons. Then Marge Gets A Job, where she is harassed by Mr. Burns (an episode years ahead of its time). And Mr. Plow, another contender for the top 10. The brilliant, Conan O’Brien-written episode Marge vs. the Monorail is also from Season 4. The season ended with Krusty Gets Kancelled, the show at its pop culture savvy best.
If you’re a Simpsons fans, you’re probably nodding your head and even laughing at the mere mention of these episodes. And they were from just one season – there are dozens more brilliant episodes in the previous seasons and the seasons after. You could easily make a list of the 50 best Simpsons episodes, and still leave some good ones out.
One of the keys to the genius of The Simpsons was that it was multi-layered. You could laugh at it at face value, or laugh at it thanks to its countless pop culture and news references. Take Homer’s Barbershop Quartet, for example. It was an especially parody-heavy episode (the whole episode told the story of The Beatles in 22 minutes), but the references came at you like bullets. I counted more than 40 bits in that one episode that referenced the real world and/or pop culture. Some were overt (the Japanese conceptual artist who dates Barney is clearly a reference to Yoko Ono), some remarkably subtle (a record producer tells The B-Sharps “Gentlemen, you have just made your first number 1,” which is exactly what Beatles producer George Martin told The Beatles when they recorded Please, Please Me). This is why you can watch an episode as a child, and later as an adult, and get an entirely new appreciation of it.
Today’s Simpsons are nothing like that. It’s exhausted, running on fumes and profits. Last week’s episode sent the family to New Orleans, and a lengthy segment featured Homer eating at multiple famous New Orleans restaurants. It was probably the least amusing 2 minutes in Simpsons history. I couldn’t help comparing that episode to the show’s hilarious take on New Orleans in the A Streetcar Names Marge episode. Remember the song?
Long before the Superdome
Where the Saints of football play…
Lived a city that the damned call home
Hear their hellish rondelet…
Home of pirates, drunks and whores
Tacky overpriced souvenir stores
If you want to go to hell you should take a trip
To the Sodom and Gomorrah on the Mississip’
- Stinky, rotten, vomiting, vile,
- New Orleans,
- Putrid, brackish, maggoty, foul.
- New Orleans,
- Crummy, lousy, rancid, and rank,
- New Orleans.
Check out the words to this song. Where else would you find words like brackish and rondelet (I had to look up rondelet; it’s a form of French poetry). That’s a sign of a show with sophisticated writers that assumes its audience is pretty smart, too.
The city of New Orleans was outraged by that song. But last week’s episode was a gooey love song to the city, an illustration of just how bankrupt the show it today.
Nonetheless, congratulations to The Simpsons for thousands of hours of brilliant comedy. And shame on you for soiling your legacy with thousand of other “crummy, lousy, rancid and rank” episodes.