Honestly, I doubt that The Simpsons even needs an introduction at this point. It’s hard not to know of this series. With fifteen separate dubs and nearly thirty subs, The Simpsons stands right up there with some of the most prolific shows of our modern age. When it comes to worldwide appeal in the animation space, this series is something of an enigma.
Plenty of cartoons are, sure enough, but The Simpsons wasn’t exactly intended for children and it sits within an odd middle ground. It isn’t a Japanese anime, it’s not your average American cartoon, either.
Rather I should say that it didn’t used to be an average one. Back in the day, the series wasn’t directed at family friendly viewing. It just wasn’t so egregious that you need to slam the television off the moment a small child walked into the room. It’s no Family Guy or South Park in that way. It just wasn’t intended for children and appeared on a network and time slot that children wouldn’t gravitate towards.
The Simpsons got a start on the Tracy Ullman Show back in 1989, when the Fox Network wanted to appeal to young adults in the late teens and early twenties. My memories don’t actually include that, it’s just hard to be a Simpsons fan and not know that crucial little detail. I was also born in 1989. As you can probably guess my earliest memories of the show happened during my early childhood in the 90’s.
I remember The Simpsons as its own separate series. I grew up with it because my family watched it, thus I did too. I’d suspect many of you out there are the same as me.
In 1990, it began airing regularly as its own separate television show. The first season is about as messy as you can get. It was a new thing back then. Animation of the era, particularly american cartoons were sometimes questionable at best in terms of art style and quality. The Simpsons as a show wasn’t really any different.
Matt Groening, the cartoonist and creator of The Simpsons deserves his own separate blog post, but the key thing to note is that he wanted to put a lampshade on what a real american family was at the time. With his finger on the pulse he managed to do just that.
I don’t think any Simpsons fan would disagree that season one has a strange feel to it. It’s both a classic to television history, just as it is a complete and total mess by today’s standards. As a series in its infancy though, it was very well-liked and highly regarded. The distinctive feel of the early concepts we know and love today were just beginning.
These days if you were to look at the first season without context, it would be like walking into a bizarre world.
Waylon Smithers doesn’t look like this anymore. He’s yellow, like a large majority of The Simpson cast. I think it just goes to show how much the series was still in its infancy.
It’s funny, because when a lot of fans are “purists” about something, they’re usually referencing the earliest seasons. However, when it comes to fan of The Simpsons the idea of a “purist” usually refers to slightly later seasons, when characters began to feel fleshed out and the animation quality became stable.
Generally speaking, you either love or hate The Simpsons in the first season, or you just don’t remember the first season at all. Really though, I just can’t fault anyone for that. This animated series had a lot of bumps and bruises along the way to being the cultural icon as we know it today.
High Concept, Low Execution
The Simpsons was closer to a sitcom rather than it was a children’s cartoon, and that was by design. The colors were chosen to be bright and catch the attention of channel surfers, but despite the brightly colored characters, this was never meant to be for kids.
The characters themselves were generally down to earth when they needed to be, however the animation was experimental and occasionally that resulted in a total mess. While real character focused stories often took center stage, the scenes with a lot of characters on screen at once made for something of an eyesore.
If you look closely at almost every crowd shot within season one, you’re going to find a goofy little thing or two. It’s good for a small chuckle, I’ll give it that. This particular moment of unintentional hilarity comes from the episode Homer’s Odyssey. If you look carefully, you’ll see that it looks like two guys are either joined at the skull or they’ve freakishly snapped their necks.
I’m not sure if the creators intended it that way, or if it was just an accident. Either way, the first season of the Simpsons is absolutely bursting with moments like this. This is honestly one of my favorite ones to point to because it’s just so goofy that I easily remember it.
However, it wasn’t the animation that kept us viewers glued to our seats. The show almost always had something interesting to say. You see the thing is, The Simpsons portrayed a typical American family. At the time shows didn’t like to display families that were dysfunctional at best and absolutely downright awful at worst. The Simpsons refused to shy away from dysfunction. In fact, nine times out of ten, real and direct family dysfunction was the centerpiece.
The usual concentric focus of family related sitcoms get put under a looking glass where temptation and personal character failings demand attention too. While Homer and Marge do have a loving relationship, and arguably a more stable one, the failings of the romance still shows through plainly.
They can discuss marital issues, such as Homer going to a stag party and make notes of objectifying women with an earnest bent. The theme of the episode aside, in Homer’s Night Out the series still maintains the close family bonds that the family struggles to keep close at hand. The party itself is one thing. However the deeper theme is about how this impacts Bart’s view of women and Homer’s ability as a father to correct that.
Every episode is handled with similar attention paid to family drama and muddling their way through life. The same holds true for all the characters, although here in the first season we get more Homer or Bart related stories than anything else. They monopolize half of the episodes to stories centered around at least one of them.
Since the first season is only 13 episodes long, that’s a pretty large monopoly of screen time for these two characters. Although, I have to admit, that was probably a solid decision. These two characters certainly add a larger measure of flair to the family dysfunction.
We shouldn’t overlook the fact that the other family characters still get a large portion of screen time too within these focused stories. There’s a lot to be said about Lisa and Marge getting great early character development because of the stories that were told.
There’s a real sort of emotional focus upon the actions these characters take, and what impact it has on the family unit. We can have moments of Bart and Lisa arguing about who loves their father more, only to then have the joke subverting our expectations.
That’s not to say every episode hits it out of the park, or even manages to flawlessly get its point across. Many times, The Simpsons isn’t able to do that. What it can and does do flawlessly is leave the viewer with a loose ethos of what the series tried to represent. It asks you to either take it or leave it, and it doesn’t particularly care what you do with it.
The show is full of parody and satire culture, along with hot button issues of the era. You didn’t have to like the show back then, you just had to take notice of it. The series wasn’t trying to be a mindless popcorn viewing for the masses. Even though you could do that and enjoy the show just fine as it was, The Simpsons refused to be ignored either.
It gracelessly showcased the often questionable cultural identity of the white American family when “proper” sitcoms of the day hesitated to do strictly that. Homer was not the perfect father figure or husband, Marge while supportive was often short sighted, and the children were merely that; children. Bart was the wayward hell-raiser, and Lisa was the intelligent, if mischievous little artist. Maggie was the baby back then, clearly a very smart one, but she hadn’t come into her own as a character just yet.
There was a lot to unpack if you cared to, and many people did. The series was relatable, and that meant a lot.
Does The Simpsons Season 1 Hold Up?
Yes… surprisingly so, actually.
The Simpsons still continues on today, even though many fans often think the series has been milked for all it can be worth at this point. It lives on anyway. Perhaps it is a bit geriatric these days, lacking the more pin-point accurate depiction of what a microcosm of America should look like. However, you can look back on the first season of The Simpsons and find a relevancy there that hasn’t quite gone away.
Yeah, it looks dated, sure it does. The animation is a bit goofy looking sometimes. The series is over thirty years old, give it a little bit of slack there. It might not be perfect, in fact I’d say the show is very flawed. In a way though, that was the point.
The Simpsons should feel flawed. It should feel off kilter and askew while still feeling entirely relatable, and that’s exactly how season one feels even to this very day. Be it school yard woes and the topic of bullying, or martial problems and the struggles of faithfulness, there’s downright honesty to be found here.
It is satire, meaning it’s never too dark, or too gritty. There’s a humor and a light to be had at the end of the darkest moments. However that darkness pervades a little too. At the end of the day, the series has a lot of heart and soul embedded deep within every episode of this first season.
It can be funny and it can be dumb on occasion. No matter what though, it will always be astoundingly honest with you, the viewer. The Simpsons has a first season that doesn’t quite know what it is, and its beginnings are as humble as they are unsteady… but, well… we wouldn’t have so many seasons of the show, if it hadn’t started someplace.
If the series is a cash cow still to this day, then we only have these early seasons to thank for it, this first one most of all. That start really isn’t half bad even nowadays, either.
It truly is worth the watch. Even if you’ve already seen it, go back to the very start and get yourself a good dose of nostalgia. Enjoying the good old days every now and then really isn’t as much of a sin as we all make it out to be.
This has been Kernook of The Demented Ferrets, where stupidity is at its finest and level grinds are par for the course. I’ll see you next time.
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