Did you watch FXX’s marathon of every The Simpsons episode ever? It lasted for 12 days and reminded everyone why the famed yellow-skinned, four-fingered family and residents of Springfield were as beloved as they once were. Having grown up with the show, it’s genuinely hard to imagine watching the early seasons for the first time like many younger audience members would have done. The Simpsons was once genuinely hilarious, subversive, touching and had the best good-to-bad episode ratio of nearly any show before or since for a good eight or nine seasons.
I tried watching the marathon as much as humanly possible, especially in the early seasons, and remembered many things I had clearly forgotten.
1. Waylon Smithers used to be… black? I’m not quite sure, but in his first appearance as Mr. Burns’ (at least initially) sexually ambiguous assistant, he has a significantly darker skin tone than the bright yellow we know today. Gay and black was surely just too much for America to handle at the time.
2. Principal Skinner is Don Draper. In the much-maligned season nine episode “The Principal and the Pauper,” the character of Principal Skinner was revealed to have been an imposter whose troubled childhood led to him taking over the identity of a sergeant in the Vietnam War when returning home. The episode aired a whole ten years before the character of Don Draper from Mad Men appeared with an almost identical backstory.
3. George Bush was wrong. The President of the USA once said the American people should be less like The Simpsons and more like The Waltons, but what he didn’t seem to realize was that these characters are raised Christian, go to church often and deal with ethical quandaries more than any other sitcom on television. They almost always did the right thing when push came to shove and were ultimately more inclusive of others and would always take in a friend if they needed help.
4. Furthermore, despite The Simpsons’ rebellious nature, the show was always at its best when it was about the family. When Bart and Lisa worked together as brother and sister, when Homer and Marge actually appeared to be a functioning couple. When Homer and Lisa bonded. It’s easy to forget how nice these characters can be to one another, and after 550+ episodes, it’s nice to be reminded. Take for instance season six’s “And Maggie Makes Three,” in which Homer admits to plastering his workplace with pictures of Maggie to remind him to “do it for her” or in season seven’s “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodly,” when all three Simpson children realize their family may be unconventional, but it is their unconventional family and nobody is going to take that away.
5. Milhouse once had black hair. Despite the show’s obvious lack of relation to the real world, Milhouse’s blue hair was once a far more normal black.
6. They were sometimes actually kinda racist. The Simpsons went to other countries many times and they were usually rather off-color (pun intended). Worst of all is season 16’s “Goo Goo Gai Pain,” wherein the family visits China to allow Selma to adopt a baby. Cue 22 minutes of unfortunate stereotypical Chinese humor and clichéd gags. Unsurprisingly, China banned the episode. As an Australian, I wish my home country would do the same for season six’s “Bart vs Australia.”
7. They were scarily predictive. In season’s one’s “The Crepes of Wrath,” for instance, an exchange student staying with the family asks, “How can you defend a country where 5% of the population controls 95% of the wealth,” predicting the Occupy movement two decades early. Furthermore, it brought issues like global warming, pollution, animal cruelty (remember Mr Burns’ “See My Vest” musical number?), school nutrition debate, race, class and gay issues to a greater audience.
8. The best celebrity voices are the ones you don’t expect. Who would have thought the man behind Frasier Crane would make such a compelling evil genius? Or that Meryl Streep was the perfect choice to play Bart’s girlfriend? John Waters as a novelty salesman who helps save Christmas? Dustin Hoffman as a teacher Lisa has a crush on? Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny playing surprisingly comical takes on Mulder and Scully from The X-Files? When the likes of Justin Beiber, Ray Romano, Lady GaGa and Ryan Seacrest play boring versions of themselves the results are almost always disappointing.
9. This is still perhaps the funniest thing ever put on television. In fact, Sideshow Bob may just be the best character the show ever created.
10. Lisa Simpson, the show’s most underused character, has remained a vegetarian ever since episode five of season seven, “Lisa the Vegetarian.” This was something that episode guest star Paul McCartney requested in order to appear on the show. Her vegetarianism is mentioned frequently after the episode and remains one of very few moments of genuine continuity.
11. The cross-over between The Simpsons and Family Guy looks terrible. As befitting a latter-day episode of the show, this episode that has been advertised ad nauseum during the marathon, it’s filled with stale jokes that feel left over from 12 years ago.
12. “[Sideshow Bob] has tried to kill me so many times it’s not funny anymore.” This quote from season 14’s “The Great Louse Detective” at least proves that sometimes they have a sense of humor about not being particularly funny anymore. The Simpsons got really, really bad, folks, but this joke? Kudos. I guess.