Whether you like the show or not, twenty years is a monumental achievement. FOX is celebrating this Sunday with an hour-long documentary looking back at the show's influence over the decades, and they've timed it perfectly to coincide with their 450th episode. They sent both along to see what I would think -- because FOX and I are tight.
As a fan of animation, I've always enjoyed the opportunity to see the voice actors in person. We get so used to hearing them do their voices, that many people have no idea what they even look like. So it's a special treat that Morgan Spurlock (Super-Size Me, 30 Days), who directed the special, has plenty of interviews with the cast of characters.
As much as I know it drives many of them crazy to hear "Do this character!" or "Do that character!" but still, we can't help it. I wanted to hear them bust out some of their great characters. At least with Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson) she's basically always doing the voice, or at least damn near it.
The documentary itself turned out very well. It was a great tribute to the lasting global success and importance of The Simpsons. I was glad to see them talking with Tracey Ullman about it -- it did start as interstitial shorts on her sketch show all those years ago, after all. As an on-again off-again fan of The Simpsons for the past twenty years, it was a great reminder of why I fell in love with the show in the first place.
I think, as with all long-running shows, we do take The Simpsons a bit for granted now. We don't see it as something groundbreaking, innovative or special anymore, but when it premiered it really was, in so many ways, and Spurlock touches on a lot of those aspects. He also tracks down superfans around the world, including one of the most astonishing collections of memorabilia I've ever seen for any single subject matter (and I'm a comic geek).
I wasn't quite as impressed with the episode itself, even though it did have some nice moments. As a Krusty the Clown showcase it was fine, but I guess I wanted something with a little more gravitas for this monumental episode. Originally it wasn't going to air in conjunction with the anniversary special, so I can forgive them a little for that. In fact, one of the best bits probably won't even make air because it now is coupled with the special.
At the end of the screener episode I got, they threw up text on the screen: "Thanks for twenty years. Now stay tuned for three Seth MacFarlane shows." Unfortunately, only The Cleveland Show is airing this Sunday, Jan. 10, after The Simpsons and the anniversary special, so the joke is dead. But it was a funny nod, considering that MacFarlane wouldn't even have one show on the air were it not for The Simpsons blazing the trail.
The Krusty episode did feature Anne Hathaway in an impressive voice-over performance. Even though I knew it was her, I still didn't recognize her for the accent. I like the character of Princess Penelope, and she turned out to be a great antithesis for Krusty. They even left her character in such a state that a return appearance isn't particularly out of the question, though I can't imagine the revamped Krusty Show retaining her influence for long.
The B-plot involved Homer and the guys reactions when Mr. Burns put the kebosh on the free donuts at work. Considering Homer is fueled almost completely by donuts, you can imagine his response. But my greatest thrill came in seeing Mr. Burns finally get some screen-time this season. Long one of my favorite characters in the massive Simpsons catalog, another thing Spurlock touches on, he's been woefully under-utilized this season.
After many years away, I did start watching The Simpsons again this year, in honor of their anniversary, and while it doesn't feel the same as it did to me twenty years ago, I think it's as much a reaction to the changing times around us and the fact that I'm not the same person I was two decades ago either. The Simpsons is still about family and this amazing town of crazy characters. It still can make me smile, and I have no problem with it celebrating thirty years in 2020.