The decade of the 1980s was drawing to a close on December 17, 1989, but on TV it would end with a bang. It was the day when The Simpsons debuted on the Fox Network, and it would begin its run with controversy and criticism. It’s still running to this day with its 26th season.
A Little Background
The Simpsons actually made its TV debut as an animated short film in the Tracy Ullman Show for the new Fox Network. Its actual first episode lasted just 2 minutes. Some of the distinguishing features of the characters were already in place. Some of its aspects would be changed, including the crudity of the drawings and personalities of the characters. Here is the short clip below:
The Simpsons were the brainchild of cartoonist Matt Groening, who created the “Life in Hell” comic strips. The Simpsons were featured in the first 3 seasons of The Tracey Ullman Show. Then The Simpsons were adapted into a half hour series for Fox, and a crucial provision in the contract kept Fox from interfering with the content of the show.
The episode’s title was “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”, but it was also known as The Simpsons Christmas Special. This was the only full-length episode from the series that was shown during the 1980s.
In the episode, Homer has no money to buy Christmas presents, because there was no bonus from the company he was working for and he spent his money getting his son Bart’s tattoo removed. He works in secret as a mall Santa, but even that was not enough. So he and Bart go to the dog track hoping they will win, but they just end up with an abandoned greyhound instead. Here is a clip from the first episode:
Critics lauded the episode, and in fact it was even nominated for 2 Emmy Awards. It was also viewed in 13.4 million homes, and it was the 2nd-highest rated show on the Fox Network at the time.
The Simpson proved not only that an animated show was viable, but that it would also be watched by many adults, not just kids. It was full of inside jokes and satirical digs that only adults could understand. The personalities were also diametrically opposite of what was expected in other mainstream shows.
Homer as a dad was a striking example of how different the show was from the Huxtables. The Huxtables were the family characters of The Cosby Show, which was one of the most popular shows of the era. The Huxtables were smart and caring people.
In contrast, Homer worked for a nuclear plant, and he seems to spend his days eating donuts. In one episode, he even sold his soul for a donut. He also strangles his son Bart on a regular basis.
Bart is also a problem for conservatives. He is a classic underachiever, and proud of it. He keeps on breaking the rules, but he usually goes unpunished.
As a result, many conservative politicians have derided the series, and some schools had even tried to ban TS shirts featuring the characters. Yet The Simpsons live on. They keep on preserving their relevance, as each episode is a smart and funny commentary on the idiosyncrasies (and the idiocies) of the American culture.