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ISSUE 116 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 2/28/2003

D'oh! Look who's celebrating 300 episodes

By Molly Bayrd
Executive Editor

Friday, February 28, 2003

The phrase “"Don'’t have a cow, man”," may never have reached its intended popularity among America'’s television lovers, but FOX’s animated series “"The Simpsons”" has nevertheless achieved countless other successes since its debut in 1990.

What began as Matt Groening’s crudely-scrawled animated short – first aired on the variety series “The Tracy Ullman Show” in 1987 – has evolved into the television series of a generation.

Notoriously unorthodox in its humor and content, the show has become a relatable model to families across America; to every modern family there is at least one Bart or Homer, and to every home one Marge or Lisa.

The show, which has run for a record 14 seasons, has raked in a fair number of Emmy awards, including 10 in the Outstanding Animated Program category. The show won its first Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program in 1990 and, after a brief respite, has garnered the trophy every year since 1996. Clearly, “"The Simpsons”" is prime-time television at its best.

The Voices Behind the Characters

The actors are equally as impressive. For the average episode, Harry Shearer, Dan Castellaneta, and Hank Azaria each lend their vocal talents to ten staple characters, or “regulars.” Add to those 10 a typical 12 miscellaneous characters per episode, and you’ll begin to have an inkling of the depth and prowess that these actors possess.

Castellaneta began his fortunate run as Homer alongside Julie Kavner’'s Marge on “The Tracy Ullman Show;” both were regulars on the series (yes, even its live-action segments). Ultimately, actresses Nancy Cartwright and Yeardley Smith rounded out the Simpson family, lending their voices to Bart and Lisa, respectively.

Controversial Popularity

America'’s funniest family has not been exempt from its fair share of censure, however. Scandal has inevitably followed wherever Homer, and Bart, have gone. From citizens of Rio de Janeiro to those of Australia, a myriad viewers have voiced their strong dissatisfaction with Homer’s less-than-saintly behavior and shoddy patriarchal etiquette.

Most have learned to take the farcical antics of “"The Simpsons"” with a grain of salt. The show has become one of the most popular series in TV history, and the creators of the risqué series have evaded any serious entanglements with the law.

Through the seasons, “"The Simpsons"” production team has touched upon extremely controversial topics without infuriating the politically correct conscious minorities, and has still managed to place a happily, if not morally, resounding ending on most episodes. Everything from homosexuality (in the blatantly-closeted character of Waylon Smithers) to death (when poor Maude Flanders was lost to Homer'’s t-shirt-shooting gun) has been covered; still, the Simpson family will remain perpetually unaffected, blissful, and resolute.

Seriously Funny

The secret to the success of “"The Simpsons" seems to lie in the fact that the FOX network, and all of its employees, are not afraid to poke fun at anyone,— including themselves. The once-unknown network has learned from their unexpected success that tact is highly overrated anyway.

Rather than deferring attention from the show, it is “"The Simpsons’”" lack of tact and tastefulness that draws people in. Hundreds of celebrities have guest-starred on the series, either appearing as themselves or providing the voices for supporting characters.

Anniversary Episode

Last Sunday’'s 90-minute special, which celebrated “The Simpsons’” 300th episode, was no exception. The first episode of three, which was a memorable rerun in which Homer attends “Rock 'n’ Roll School,” featured no fewer than six celebrity guest-voices, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Tom Petty. The 300th epidsode featured two stars, famed pro-skateboarding, Tony Hawk and musical guest Blink 182. Blink aired as the eighth musical guest of the 14th season.

Aside from lacking (slightly) in celebrity guests, the 300th episode kept up the never-not-funny Simpsons' reputation, though it was not an exceptional installment in the series.

The plot was, like any other of the show’s previous motifs, one that focused on the temporary disruption of the Simpson family’'s “functionally dysfunctional” dynamic. Angry that Homer had squandered the royalties he had earned in a brief childhood-acting stint as “Baby Stinky Breath,” fourth-grader Bart decided to divorce his parents and move out on his own.

After moving into a posh loft in downtown Springfield, Bart realized that although he seemed to fit in with the hip tenants in the upstairs apartment (Tony Hawk as himself), his life was empty without his loving (though odd) family. Sure, it took a rat-infested apartment and an acrobatic effort by Homer on a skateboard to win back Bart’'s affections, but “Simpsons” viewers would not have had it any other way.

In another year, “The Simpsons” will surpass “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” and become the longest-running sitcom of all time. The series has already signed for a minimum of two more seasons, and rumors suspect it will continue for even longer. Who knows, perhaps the family that put the “fun” in dysfunctional will be with us for another thirteen years.

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