Woohoo! Simpsons World Will Transform the Show Into Delicious, Delicious Data

The new website and app will make all 552 episodes of the series searchable. 
Fox

It is basically, if you are a Simpsons fan, like finding a coupon for a hundred free Krusty Burgers, and then finding out that they'll be served to you by Krusty himself. It's like getting a personal concert from Bleeding Gums Murphy. Or riding your skateboard, successfully, over Springfield Gorge. Or finding out that Mr. Burns returns your affection. Or ... well, if you are a Simpsons fan, you get the idea. If you were Homer, you'd probably give it a loud "Woohoo!"

The "it" is Simpsons World—a project that will be, from the sound of things, like the ultimate DVD box set for the sitcom that has been the longest-running in American history (and that, as Wikipedia helpfully reminds us, "parodies American culturesociety, television, and many aspects of the human condition"). Simpsons World won't be a DVD set, though. It will be a continuation, basically, of the 12 days' worth of Simpsons programming that the FXX network, which has exclusive cable rights to the show, will air at the end of August. It will be fully digital.

Simpsons WorldVox's Todd VanDerWerff reports from a presentation at the Television Critics Association conference today, will be a website. It will be an app. It will be, he declares, "one of the greatest feats of engineering in human history." 

It won't, but if you are a Simpsons fan, the project will actually be pretty close. (Woohoo!) Here's what it will feature, according to VanDerWerff: 

  • All 552 episodes of the show that have aired to date, which can be watched in any order at any time
  • Clips of episodes 
  • A feature sharing Groening's commentary on certain scenes and elements 
  • A feature that points out movie and other references in the show
  • Archival shorts, possibly, from The Tracey Ullman Show that gave rise to The Simpsons
  • Complete scripts of the show, scrolling alongside the episode as it plays
  • The ability to share lines from those scripts on Twitter or Facebook or other social media platforms
  • An episode database 
  • A character database that allows users to cross-reference characters with other characters and locations 
  • The ability to sort episodes according to particular themes, topics, and characters
Of all of these, it might be the last three—arguably the nerdiest three—that are the most interesting. Because those last three are the databases. (Mmmm, Homer might saydelicious, delicious data.) What Simpsons World seems to be promising is not just the complete series in one place, in its 552-episode entirety, but also a way for viewers to break down that series into its constituent elements: characters, themes, plots, places. Through its interface, fans will be able to break the show down and build it up again, mixing and remixing its repeating gags. They'll be able to analyze it. They'll be able to categorize it. They'll be able to take its genius and turn it into data. And vice versa. 
 
Which is a fairly small thing, but a fairly big one, too. The archival approach to TV shows, after all, has generally made a point of selling the summative. Like The Wire? Buy "the complete fifth season." Like Friday Night Lights? Buy "the complete series." Even in digital form, on Amazon and iTunes and such, the assumption of the power of completeness has taken hold, a kind of conceptual skeuomorphism that has been based on the promises and the premises of the VHS and the DVD. While, sure, you may get the occasional deleted scenes and blooper reel and director's commentary in those sets, the real thing you're buying is a sense of compilation and comprehension. You are, literally, having it all.
 
Simpsons World, on the other hand, is taking the basics of that whole transaction and flipping them. The site-and-app is promising completeness only as a starting point. It is also promising ... well, the opposite of completeness. It is promising elementalism. It is breaking down the show—Springfield, and its wacky stories and people and places—into its component parts. It is outlining itself. It is taking what is usually the extremely nerdy work of extremely devoted fans (take this amazing specimen of Arrested Development appreciation) and doing that work itself.
 
What, actually, is a TV show? What can it be? Though the series that, maybe better than any other, "parodies American culture, society, television, and many aspects of the human condition," we might be about to find out. Woohoo!
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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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