Thursday, May 28, 2009

When is Too Much "The Simpsons" Too Much? A Stupid Question, I Know...Answer: Never

In my last semester of college I took a course on music in film. It was what we students referred to as a "joke course." This meant that you could sit in a large lecture hall as an anonymous shadow under a baseball hat and for two days a week zone out for 50 minutes. Then before the test you could study for 30 minutes and still pull off an A. The course was actually designed so you couldn't get less than an A-. That's no joke. The professor was teaching in his last year before retirement and he had already checked out.

Towards the end of the semester we started analyzing the scores from classic cartoons such as "Bugs Bunny" and "Road Runner." I remember thinking of a "Simpsons" episode when Lisa sneaked into the local university and was studying the symbolism of their own cartoon, "Itchy and Scratchy." The humor was supposed to be showing what a joke college courses have become. As I sat in my own class, I couldn't help but think the same thing. But still, as I took notes about the 1930s goons getting toyed with by Bugs Bunny, I had to enjoy the fact that I was there, rather than in a math class, potentially learning something. God forbid. And now the ironic thing is that I'm going to be giving my own lecture on a cartoon.

So as I've written before, I get a ton of down time. As a result I've acquired a large stack of DVDs, including most of the first ten seasons of one of my favorite shows, "The Simpsons." The other seasons went along smoothly, but this week I've been busy working on season 2. I don't know why it is, but I've been noticing patterns that I felt the need to share with the general public. After all, it's been a long time since this season came out in its entirety, and it's worth refreshing common knowledge.

Here are just some of the things that I have noticed thus far:

1. Smithers is a jerk...That's right. Though he loosened up in later years, in the second season Wayland Smithers was just a big jerk. And for some reason he always had it out for Homer. Something would happen at the Nuclear Power Plant, Mr. Burns would ask Smithers who "that man was," and he would reply with something like, "Homer Simpson, one of your drones from Sector 7G." Then Mr. Burns would comment about remembering his name (which he obviously never did) and Smithers would groan angrily. But he would also take pleasure in Homer's failures. I have noticed, however, that as the season progresses, he eases up on the hatred of our bald hero.

2. Mr. Burns is a star character...Keeping with the theme of the power plant, let's discuss Mr. Burns' role. Though he was later eased out into more of a supporting role, in the second season we find that Mr. Burns was a pivotal character, involved in plots like hitting Bart with his car, needing a blood transfusion from Bart, and running for governor of the state that Springfield is in (forever unknown.) His evil ways are built up, yet we usually see a softer side that shows humility and regret, something less seen in later seasons.

3. Homer is mean to Flanders...Maybe this is an obvious statement, but Homer's attitude towards his neighbor, Ned Flanders, is just unforgivable. Homer goes out of his way to actually hurt poor old Flanders, and he takes pleasure in serious problems that his neighbor faces. In later years his hatred was toned down to just be non-committal, "Get lost, Flanders" comments. I guess the neighborly disdain was just too much for primetime TV.

4. Lisa takes a stand...Lisa has always been the Simpson who sticks out as intellectually superior and morally conscious. But in the second season she really hits her stride and starts on a path separating her from the rest of her family. A classic example comes from the episode when Homer gets pirated cable, and feeling uncomfortable about breaking the 8th Commandment, Lisa guilts the family into missing out on the big fight on cable. In terms of what Lisa has now evolved into, this is pretty tame.

5. Homer was still a regular dude...Well, not quite regular. But let's just say he was more in touch with the common man in this season. Back before he was beating up former President Bush (the first) and flying in Outer Space, back before he could withstand vicious beatings and get into impossible situations yet come out squeaky clean, Homer was just a regular dude who liked beer and food. Always eating pork chops, he represented an average, middle class American. He had his spot on the couch and TV. By no means was he a model citizen, but he was kept at bay by human limitations. Though he had faults and was a bad person from time to time, he still showed love for his family and tried to do right in the end. Of course, that's not to say that he doesn't continue to do that in current seasons, but it's clear that his intelligence has gone down as the seasons have added up.

These are just some of the more noticeable points from the second season. Like I said, there's so much time that I would have to get into something like this, otherwise I'd go crazy or potentially do something creative and write something more interesting than this. But the next time you're watching "The Simpsons," think about the themes and how they all relate to a common trend.

No comments: