Life-in-hell

John Williams reviews The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History by John Ortved:

Disclaimer: Like many people born in 1974, I’m incapable of writing a purely objective review of anything related to The Simpsons. The 1990s may have been a decade of peace and prosperity in the U.S., but it left much to be desired on the pop-culture front. The 1960s had the British Invasion, the 1970s had the golden age of American film, the 1980s even had its goofy-but-inimitable mix of MTV, early Letterman, and John Hughes movies. By comparison, Soundgarden and Singles seemed like a raw deal. But my generation in its youth had The Simpsons in its youth, and more than just the best thing ever made for TV (Homer’s clan was practically redeeming the existence of the entire medium when The Wire was but a twinkle in David Simon’s eye), the show’s glory days look more and more like the last gasp of eloquent mischief.

A few fascinating bits of Simpsons history after the jump:

[Producer James] Brooks’ reputation allowed the show to operate with an unusually low amount of flak from the suits, and it helped that the biggest suit of all Rupert Murdoch was a fan of the show. Wanting to establish his young network’s bona fides, he even moved The Simpsons to run opposite The Cosby Show on Thursday nights. “Cosby must be coming to the end of his run,” Murdoch boldly and accurately predicted. “[H]e’s been there forever.” (Simon, peeved at his show being put in such a tough spot, created the vacuous and vaguely Cosbyesque character of Dr. Hibbert to vent a little.)

Ortved is a perceptive enough devotee that he understood the need for Conan O’Brien to have his own chapter; not just because O’Brien is the show’s most famous alumnus, but because he most perfectly represents a certain pivotal strand of its DNA. [...] Former staff writer Brent Forrester said, “Conan’s monorail episode was surreal, and the jokes were so good that it became irresistible for all the other writers to write that kind of comedy. And that’s when the tone of the show really took a rapid shift in the direction of the surreal.” Episodes credited to O’Brien managed this surrealism brilliantly, but they also planted the seeds for crasser, zanier shows like Family Guy and South Park to emerge and for The Simpsons to become weakened, in turn, by the influence of its spawn.

Image from Matt Groening's cartoon strip, "Life In Hell," created in 1977. More background here.

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