As you may or may not have heard by now, FXX is running a Simpsons marathon. Like many on this here Internet, I spent much of Thursday watching the show’s first two seasons. The characters would all eventually end up a bit different as the program’s writers hit their groove around Season 3, but these are my thoughts based on what aired yesterday:
1. Many of the conflicts in the early episodes arrive from the family’s collective inability to keep up appearances. Because everybody around them looks to have it all together, Marge and Homer are constantly self-conscious about their status. Even more than money, though that’s certainly an issue, other families look like they’re so much more mutually affectionate.
In “There’s No Disgrace Like Home,” Bart and Lisa can’t behave themselves at Mr. Burns’ company picnic, and Marge gets drunk. Another family there appears to be so happy and devoted that Homer sees them with halos on top of their heads; Homer thinks he sees the same enviable characteristics when he spies on neighborhood families through their windows.
Of course, those families aren’t actually perfect, because nobody is in reality. They’re more adept than the Simpsons at making other people think their lives are so wonderful, but Homer, Marge, and we have no clue what everything is like when nobody is looking.
However, their social grace — and purported superiority — is probably accompanied by a lack of character depth, because that’s the way these things tend to go with that specific breed of envied social climbers. The Simpsons are more sincere and interesting people, and the show’s writers allow us to see that even if the family doesn’t always realize it.
2. Nevertheless, it’s completely understandable why Homer resents Ned Flanders. In the first two seasons especially, Flanders is perpetually flaunting his expensive material purchases, whether it’s a riding mower, fancy sneakers, or his rumpus room equipped with several gaming tables and snooty imported beer on tap.
Flanders’ humility alternates between genuine and contrived, and only Homer is able to perceive the latter, which makes him even more irate. Flanders isn’t entirely terrible, but you can see why Homer would be bitter about others’ comparative perceptions of the two in society’s metaphorical competition. Again, though, Flanders’ outward sublimity is not everything it’s cracked up to be — his relentless anxiety drives habitual phone calls to Reverend Lovejoy in the middle of the night.
Maude was attractive and perky, and she’d never embarrass Ned, but she also won’t ever think or say anything original or profound, as Marge is wont to do. Rod and Todd might become boring middle managers at a Fortune 500 company, or they might go bonkers when they go away for college and get hooked on designer drugs. Their ceiling is obviously lower than Lisa’s, and I’d wager Bart will ultimately lead a more fulfilling and stimulating life than they do — even if, like Homer versus Ned, it may not be viewed as more successful through a conventional, superficial lens.
3. Bart would probably be over-medicated in 2014, prescribed to eight different pills that would combine to mold him into a boring or veritably insane person. (Bart would take the equivalent of Ritalin in “Brother’s Little Helper,” which aired in the 11th season in 1999, and he became paranoid — rightfully as it turned out — of an elaborate conspiracy orchestrated by MLB.)
While Bart can of course be a little hellion, he’s far from irredeemable. Homer and Marge don’t quite know the exact right buttons to push, but he means well and could be steered towards areas that optimize his talents by the right mentors. There’s almost a prevailing belief that Bart will grow up to be a big loser — perpetuated by “Bart to the Future” — but I think he could leverage his charisma and curiosity and figure something out, even if that doesn’t happen until his thirties.
4. There was a commercial for an ambulance chasing law firm that aired during “Bart Gets Hit By a Car,” where Homer, Lionel Hutz, and Dr. Nick Riviera tried to bilk Mr. Burns. That cracked me up.
5. As it turns out, the outrage brigade existed before Twitter and other social media. In “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge,” Marge leads a crusade against the cartoon, whose producers received trucks and trucks of hate mail. Marge finds herself marginalized in a cynical cable news debate that resembled a lot of the absurdities we see today. Outrage might take a lot less effort to muster and disseminate these days, but the LIBERAL AGENDA has always been pesky for politically incorrect stakeholders.
6. Also, we’re not the first generation to be staring at our screens all day. They’re just different screens. In “The Way We Was,” the TV stopped working, and that shit was catastrophic for a minute.
7. As my fellow Chicagoan Sean Highkin pointed out, there was so much marital strife in the first couple seasons. Much of it stemmed from Homer’s self-absorption, and the fact that his outward self wasn’t exactly something to aspire for — this was magnified when he and Marge were bickering. However, his self-awareness would always eventually kick in, and he’d atone. For all of his faults, his stubbornness never endured past the point of no return.