Seeing the above image attached to Todd Vanderwerff's list of his five favorite Simpsons episodes (which unaccountably fails to include "Homer Vs. The Eighteenth Amendment") reminded me of this Peter Suderman remark from last week:
... unlike, say, The Sopranos, The Simpsons loves its subjects--ordinary Americans of all stripes--anyway. And after all the attention and success the country has lavished on the show, it ought to. After 18 years and more than 400 episodes, the show has risen to become more than just a whip-smart pop pastiche, but a cultural paradigm, almost certainly the most comprehensive representation of American life in the last three decades. It's not much of a stretch to say we're all Simpsons now.
The Sopranos and The Simpsons are vastly different, all right - but they're different in the sense of being opposite sides of the same coin, or tragic and comic masks placed over the same face. As a result, their similarities are legion: Both depict families - and particularly patriarchs - who are at once dysfunctional and enormously appealing; both begin with the domestic sphere and then open outward into a panorama of American society; both use what seem like egregious stereotypes in the service of a social realism that few other shows can match. Then there are the endless cracked-mirror plotlines: Compare Grandpa Simpson's nursing home experience to Livia Soprano's, say, or Homer's lesson in tolerance to Tony's reckoning with Vito's homosexuality, or Sideshow Bob's attempts to reintegrate into mainstream society to Tony Blundetto's post-prison experience, or Feech La Manna's. When cultural historians look back on the turn-of-the-century America, these are the first two shows they should watch. It's all there - first as tragedy, and then as farce.