Having been a part of primetime TV for 27 years, The Simpsons has given viewers one of the biggest character ensembles in all of fiction, and many of Springfield's natives are just as important and memorable as the titular family. Take Bart's best friend and put-upon cohort Milhouse Van Houten, a Simpsons fan favorite who apparently wasn't even created for The Simpsons at all. (To the lemon tree!) Here's the real story behind the bespectacled goober's origin, as shared by longtime show animator and director David Silverman.
This is actually a two-tiered reveal for anyone who wasn't already familiar with the story. But first, is there anything in the world less surprising than Milhouse's debut in the Simpsons universe being coupled with someone telling him he's going to die? Such is the life of a Van Houten male, where even cheap candy bars are always just outside of a pleasurable reach.
In any case, Milhouse's introduction in The Simpsons' 1989 series premiere "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" likely wasn't the first time that Fox viewers had laid eyes on him, since he was hocking snacks to sweet-toothed kids a full year earlier, in 1988. I do recall hearing on one of the DVD sets that the Butterfinger commercial was Milhouse's true debut, and I do remember the commercial actually airing all those years ago. (Which doesn't date me at all.) But if was also shared at the time that Milhouse was designed for a completely different Matt Groening project, I did not retain that info.
In his Facebook post, David Silverman points out that even before the Butterfinger ad, the Milhouse design was created not specifically for Fox and Tracey Ullman's approval, but for an undisclosed NBC animated series. I'm not sure of any TV projects that Matt Groening was working on before The Tracey Ullman Show, though his comic Life is Hell would certainly have led. The Simpsons was the rare animated evening fare at the time, but the mid-1980s were big for Saturday morning cartoons, so perhaps there's an alternate universe out there where Milhouse's face is a part of Kissyfur or Camp Candy.
Everything is coming up Milhouse for Simpsons fans,though, since everything worked out in a way that we got this face as part of our lives forever.
With never quite enough of the Van Houten family's awkward dysfunctions on display, The Simpsons continues its record-breaking climb Sunday nights on Fox. The next episode will see Homer getting severely injured at work, which leaves him in a litigious mood. Suing Mr. Burns could afford someone a TON of candy. While waiting for the episode to get here, check out that very first Milhouse appearance on the next page.