Lacking TV reception, I have no idea when the official anniversary show airs — and, of course, they started out as shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show — but today marks the actual twentieth anniversary of the first real, half-hour (Christmas-themed) episode of The Simpsons, explaining how they got Santa’s Little Helper from the racetrack.
Little did we know then that we’d come to value the Halloween episodes far more than the Christmas ones, but it was all revolutionary and hilarious — even though I almost stopped watching around episode 3 because I hated the “Dancing Homer” baseball episode so much (I still recall my friend Paul Taylor saying the same thing at the time, but we both stuck with it for at least several more seasons, thank goodness).
By contrast, I think my favorites have been “Homer in Space,” the Conan O’Brien-penned “Monorail” episode, and perhaps “Kamp Krusty.” Speaking of Krusty, I think the show marked an important break between the decades of American comedy dominated by a Vaudeville feel and — though Vaudeville’s influence will long resonate — an era more dominated by postmodernism and “college” humor. Alan King and Seth MacFarlane seem to belong to somewhat different worlds.
And nerds should be grateful simply for the sci-fi-like level of strangeness and randomness that The Simpsons has helped make acceptable on mainstream television — chaos of a kind that only the Marx Brothers, Monty Python, and moments of early Woody Allen had previously achieved but which now seemingly permeates not just several sitcoms but virtually every animated kids’ show, albeit in a more frenetic, more snarky, and far less creative form. By contrast with today’s toons, I recall when I could hardly believe my eyes when I stumbled across rare hip animated shows like The Tick, Ren and Stimpy, and the earlier, tragically overlooked New Adventures of Mighty Mouse (featuring such fitting yet absurd characters as Bat Bat, who drove a fleshtone “Manmobile” with gangly human feet instead of wheels).
What more can I say? Perhaps only: “Excellent.” And “D’oh!” And “I don’t believe in nothin’ no more — I’m going ta law school!” And “Batman’s a scientist.” And “I’m the one with stigmata.” And of course “Well, judging by his outlandish attire, he’s some sort of free-thinking anarchist.” And…
P.S. On a perhaps less historic TV note, you should be able to glimpse me silently sitting in the audience on tonight’s 8pm Eastern Stossel episode (on healthcare) on Fox Business Network (alas, without former NY lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey as my companion, since she had to cancel). And at some point, you’ll see the episode about Rand in which I actually ask a (skeptical) question, then with luck future episodes in which I answer questions, and then I conquer the world.