Editorial: ‘The Simpsons’ could roll on forever

Published 2:56 pm Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010

Like “Saturday Night Live” and its 35 seasons, “The Simpsons” – TV’s longest-running scripted nighttime series ever at 20 years – could air forever.

It’s not like there will ever be a shortage of things in our culture to lampoon.

“The Simpsons,” which ironically helped put Fox on the map when you consider its news channel is best known for conservative commentary, followed its 450th episode, “Once Upon a Time in Springfield,” Sunday night with an hour-long documentary by Morgan Spurlock of “Super Size Me” and “30 Days” fame.

The documentary was appropriately called “The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special in 3-D on Ice.”

“I wish I could say that we inspired an awful lot of funny, smart, irreverent, acerbic shows that took a lacerating view of the institutions of society. But I don’t think we have,” SNL alum Harry Shearer, 66, who voices Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Ned Flanders, the Rev. Lovejoy, Kent Brockman, Dr. Hibbert and Principal Skinner, told The Associated Press.
Shearer, who also pummeled the pretensions of rock music as bassist Derek Smalls in 1984’s magnificent mockumentary “This is Spinal Tap,” said satire doesn’t change anything with its scorn.

“For instance,” he said, “after 20 years and 450 episodes, I don’t really think ‘The Simpsons’ has increased the country’s skepticism about nuclear power,” which employs the bumbling Homer as a safety inspector.

Yet there wouldn’t be a “Family Guy” without “The Simpsons.”

What Simpsons fan doesn’t look forward to Halloween and its fanciful Treehouse of Terror installments?

If you’ve watched The Simpsons since they broke out of Tracey Ullman’s shadow, the show has changed as it developed its own universe of characters and memorable guest voices.

Once, Boy Gone Wild Bart Simpson was the marketing darling and the source of catchphrases such as “Ay caramba!” even though they were said by a female, Nancy Cartwright.

As time marched on, Dan Castellaneta’s Buzz Beer-swilling, doughnut-loving Do’h dullard Homer (Class of ’74) became the center of the show, his devotion to blue-haired Marge usually rock solid. Probably no one remembers Julie Kavner anymore as the sister of “Rhoda.”

Yeardley Smith brings to life smartypants saxophonist Lisa.

As much a part of the mix as Shearer is Hank Azaria, who played Mitch Albom in the 1999 TV movie “Tuesdays with Morrie.”

Azaria voices Police Chief Wiggum, the comic book guy and Apu the convenience store owner.

One secret to The Simpsons’ durability is that creator Matt Groening has a soft spot for families and faith and targets authority and institutions with his satire to cut huge hypocrites who threaten the little guy down to size.

“The Simpsons”  will continue to succeed because its humanizing humor values families more than most hollow Fox commentary with more heart than “Family Guy.”