So it seems The Simpsons — the show that FOX executives will cite as they plead with Satan to be spared from hellfire — has been renewed for two more seasons. One more renewal, and The Simpsons will become the longest-running primetime TV series in history.
The Simpsons is one of the few examples of something that’s known to everyone, even though it profoundly deserves to be. (The other examples that spring to mind are Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Internet.) To call it the best TV show of all time is like calling Huck Finn the best adventure novel set on the Mississippi. The Simpsons is what justifies the existence of television as a medium.
(I read a wonderful story about this in William Poundstone’s biography of Carl Sagan. Apparently Sagan disapproved of his teenage daughter watching The Simpsons, seeing the show as a symptom of the educational decline that he’d been fighting in his books and speeches. His daughter challenged him: “You say reason and empiricism are so important, so how can you condemn The Simpsons without ever having watched it?” Shamed, Sagan agreed to watch an episode. He quickly became a fan, and watched it regularly in his last years of life.)
Of course, like Einstein in his Princeton period, The Simpsons has lost much of its power with age. In my opinion, both South Park and the much-mourned Futurama surpassed The Simpsons years ago in terms of vrc/s (viewer ribcage convulsions per second). But that’s hardly a discredit to the mighty trunk of which South Park and Futurama are the branches.
Popular perception of The Simpsons underwent an interesting evolution. For the first few seasons, everyone seemed to think the show was “about” Bart: the proud underachiever, scandalizing parents by telling them to eat his shorts. (Man, I feel like a fogey.) By the mid-90’s that was already history, the focus having shifted to Homer: the fat, beer-swilling symbol of America itself.
But the longer I watched, the clearer it became to me that the central character is Lisa. Dan Castallaneta, who does Homer’s voice, also does Grandpa, Groundskeeper Willy, Barney, Krusty, and several others. Nancy Cartwright, who does Bart, also does Nelson, Ralph Wiggum, and Todd Flanders. But Yeardley Smith, who does Lisa, only does Lisa. Born into a world of cartoon yellow doofuses, Lisa is the solitary champion of reason and principle — even if she is tempted to abandon her principles for a pony. In a cacophony of hundreds of voices, hers is the only soliloquy.
But the simplest proof of The Simpsons’ Shakesperian greatness is the number of secondary characters who are richer, more vivid, than the lead characters of all but the very best novels. Mr. Burns. Smithers. Apu. Skinner. Mrs. Krabappel. Flanders. Uncle Herb. Abe. Patty and Selma. Moe. Barney. Artie Ziff. Nelson. Krusty. Sideshow Bob. Every one of them has a story, what literary types might call “interiority.” Every one, for better or worse, will be seared in my memory for as long as I live.
Come to think of it, that’s probably even true of the ones who don’t have much interiority: Comic Book Guy, Frink, Duff Man, the Sea Captain, Disco Stu, Cletus, Kang and Kodos…
But enough of this. It’s time for the hard (but necessary) part of the post: my personal selection of Simpsons moments. If you have work to do, I advise you to stop reading right now.
Still with me? Yeah, I thought so.
Homer: The Internet? Is that thing still around?
Lisa: What is the sound of one hand clapping?
Bart: Piece of cake. [claps his fingers against his palm]
Lisa: If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around, does it make a sound?
Bart: Absolutely! “Eeeewww-PLUNK!”
Selma: Oh, we promise we won’t tell [that Marge is pregnant].
[Back at their apartment, Patty and Selma open the phone book to the first page.]
Patty: [dials] Hello, is this A. Aaronson? It might interest you to know that Marge Simpson is pregnant again.
Patty: Just thought you’d like to know, Mr. Zykowski. [hangs up, sighs] There. Aaronson and Zykowski are the two biggest gossips in town. In an hour, everyone will know.
Can you name the truck with four wheel drive,
Smells like a steak, and seats thirty five?
Well, it goes real slow with the hammer down
It’s the country-fried truck endorsed by a clown
Twelve yards long, two lanes wide,
Sixty five tons of American pride!
Top of the line in utility sports,
Unexplained fires are a matter for the courts!
She blinds everybody with her super high beams
She’s a squirrel-squashin’, deer-smackin’ drivin’ machine
Canyonero! Canyonero! Canyonero!
Whoa, Canyonero! Whoa!
Talking toilet in Japan: Welcome! I am honored to accept your wastes.
Bart: And I think I’ve finally found what I was put on this earth to do — knife goes in, guts come out, knife goes in, guts come out… [pulls out a talking fish]
Fish: Spare my life and I will grant you three —
Bart: [guts the talking fish] Knife goes in, guts come out.
Chinese Dragons: [singing in falsetto voices] American jerks are going home… Now we sleep for a thousand years… When we wake the world will end…
“USA A-OK,” the award-winning speech by Trong Van Din:
When my family arrived in this country four months ago, we spoke no English and had no money in our pockets. Today, we own a nationwide chain of wheel-balancing centers. Where else but in America, or possibly Canada, could our family find such opportunity? That’s why, whenever I see the Stars and Stripes, I will always be reminded of that wonderful word: flag!
Bart and Greta watch Itchy & Scratchy on DVD. They then go to the bonus features, and choose the running audio commentary. Scratchy starts to discuss the filming of the episode, but then Itchy slices his head off within the commentary box
Homer: Marge, anyone could miss Canada, all tucked away down there.
Campaign commercial for Sideshow Bob:
[scene shows prisoners going in and out a revolving door]
Voice: Mayor Quimby supports revolving door prisons. Mayor Quimby even released Sideshow Bob — a man twice convicted of attempted murder. Can you trust a man like Mayor Quimby? Vote Sideshow Bob for mayor.
Skinner: [on the phone] I know Weinstein’s parents were upset, uh, superintendent, but, but — but I was sure it was a phony excuse. I mean, it sounds so made up: “Yahm Kip-Pur”?
On a ship in international waters, a man wearing a tuxedo is shown marrying a cow. The cow then smashes a glass with its hoof (in keeping with Jewish wedding tradition).
[Homer is being attacked by a mobster]
Mark Hamill (aka Luke Skywalker): Homer! Use the for…
Homer: The Force?
Hamill: The forks! Use the forks!
[Homer jabs his assailant with a fork]
[At Sideshow Bob’s parole hearing]
Lawyer: But what about that tattoo on your chest? Doesn’t it say “Die Bart, Die?”
Bob: No, that’s German for “The Bart, The.”
[The spectators laugh, understanding]
Mrs. Lovejoy: No one who speaks German could be an evil man!
Lisa: Dad, as intelligence goes up, happiness often goes down. In fact, I made a graph. [She holds up a concave decreasing graph on axes marked “intelligence” and “happiness”]
Lisa: [sadly] I make a lot of graphs.
Marge: Homer, that’s not God. That’s just a waffle that Bart tossed up there.
[Marge scrapes it off into Homer’s hands]
Homer: I know I shouldn’t eat thee, but — [bites] Mmm, sacrilicious!
Lisa: Well, where’s my dad?
Frink: Well, it should be obvious to even the most dimwitted individual who holds an advanced degree in hyperbolic topology, n’gee, that Homer Simpson has stumbled into…[the lights go off] the third dimension.
Lisa: [flips the light switch back] Sorry.
Frink: [drawing on a blackboard] Here is an ordinary square….
Wiggum: Whoa, whoa – slow down, egghead!
Frink: … but suppose we extend the square beyond the two dimensions of our universe, along the hypothetical z-axis, there.
Frink: This forms a three-dimensional object known as a “cube,” or a “Frinkahedron” in honor of its discoverer, n’hey, n’hey.
[Lisa wonders why a bully attacks only nerds]
Lisa: Why does she only go after the smart ones?
Nelson: That’s like asking the square root of a million! No one will ever know.
Krusty: [asked to say grace at dinner] Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.
Homer: Hee hee hee hee hee! He’s talking funny-talk!
Lisa: No Dad, that’s Hebrew! Krusty must be Jewish.
Homer: A Jewish entertainer? Get out of here!
Principal Skinner: Do you kids want to be like the real UN, or do you want to squabble and waste time?
Bruno the Australian: This is an outrage! I’m going to take this all the way to the Prime Minister! [Yells out window] Hey Mr. Prime Minister! Andy!
Scientist: This can’t be right. This man has 104% body fat! [turns to Homer] Hey, no eating in the tank!
Homer: [eating a chicken drumstick] Go to hell.
Frink: You’ve got to listen to me. Elementary chaos theory tells us that all robots will eventually turn against their masters and run amok in an orgy of blood and kicking and the biting with the metal teeth and the hurting and shoving.
Repairman: How much time do we have, professor?
Frink [checks clipboard]: Well, according to my calculations, the robots won’t go berserk for at least 24 hours.
[A robot grabs a man by the throat]
Oh, I forgot to, er, carry the one.
Homer [at Renaissance Fair]: I’ve eaten eight different meats. I’m a true renaissance man!
Fortune Teller to Lisa: [concentrating] It’s coming to me…yes, I see an eastern university in the year 2010. The world has become a very different place.
[in the future, a line of robots clatters past]
[they walk past a sign saying “Wizard of Oz auditions today”]
[these are followed by a scarecrow and a lion]
At the rigged spelling bee:
George: Okay, your word is “whether.”
Girl: Um, which one? Could you use it in a sentence?
George: Certainly. “I don’t know whether the weather will improve.”
Homer: Your old meat made me sick!
Apu: Oh, I’m so sorry. [gets a pail of shrimp] Please accept five pounds of frozen shrimp.
Homer: [holds one up, sniffs it] This shrimp isn’t frozen! And it smells funny.
Apu: OK, ten pounds.
Homer: Woo hoo!
Bob: You wanted to be Krusty’s sidekick since you were five! What about the buffoon lessons? The four years at Clown College?
Cecil: I’ll thank you not to refer to Princeton that way.
Burns: Well, did you meet Larry?
Man from Yale: Oh, yes. He made light of my weight problem, then suggested my motto be “semper fudge.” At that point, he told me to [making quotes with fingers] relax.
Burns: How were his test scores?
Woman from Yale: Let’s just say this: he spelled “Yale” with a six.
Burns: I see. Well, I — ooh, you know, I just remembered, it’s time for my annual donation. [brings out checkbook and pen] I wonder how much I should give.
Man: Well, frankly, test scores like Larry’s would call for a very generous contribution. [opens book] For example, a score of 400 would require a donation of new football uniforms, 300, a new dormitory, and in Larry’s case, we would need an international airport.
Woman: Yale could use an international airport, Mr. Burns.
Mrs. Krabappel: Now whose calculator can tell me what 7 times 8 is?
Milhouse: Oh! Oh! Oh! “Low battery?”
Nelson: Psst, Lisa! Check it out. [He shows her a piece of paper.] Tomorrow’s fraction’s quiz: I’ll give you the numerators free, but the denominators are gonna cost you.
Lisa: I don’t want your dirty denominators!
Prof. Frink: Scientists … Scientists, please! I’m looking for some order. Some order, please, with the eyes forward and the hands neatly folded and the paying of attention. Pi is exactly three!
Frink: Very sorry that it had to come to that, but now that I have your attention, we have some exciting new research from young Lisa Simpson.
Adil: How can you defend a country where five percent of the people control ninety-five percent of the wealth?
Lisa: I’m defending a country where people can think and act and worship any way they want.
Lisa: Can too!
Lisa: Can too!
Homer: Please, please, kids, stop fighting. Maybe Lisa’s right about America being the land of opportunity, and maybe Adil’s got a point about the machinery of capitalism being oiled with the blood of the workers.
Bart says Krusty couldn’t have committed a robbery, since he’s illiterate, but the videotape shows the culprit picking up the Springfield Review of Books.
Sideshow Bob: The fact is, you don’t have to be able to read to enjoy the Springfield Review of Books. Just look at these amusing caricatures of Gore Vidal and Susan Sontag!
Skinner: We can buy real periodic tables instead of these promotional ones from Oscar Meyer.
Krabappel: Who can tell me the atomic weight of bolognium?
Martin: Ooh … delicious?
Krabappel: Correct. I would also accept snacktacular.
Lisa: A rose by any other name smells as sweet.
Bart: Not if you call them stench blossoms.
Grandpa: My Homer is not a communist. He may be a liar, a pig, an idiot, a communist, but he is not a porn star.
Scully: Homer, we’re going to ask you a few simple yes or no questions. Do you understand?
Homer: Yes. [lie dectector explodes]
Homer: Got any of that beer that has candy floating in it? You know, Skittlebrau?
Apu: Such a beer does not exist, sir. I think you must have dreamed it.
Homer: Oh. Well, then just give me a six-pack and a couple of bags of Skittles.
Homer: Oh, so they have the Internet on computers now?
Marge: I really think this is a bad idea.
Homer: Marge, I agree with you — in theory. In theory, communism works. In theory.
Mr. Burns: What good is money if it can’t inspire terror in your fellow man?
Bart: Christmas is a time when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ.
Homer: [stuffing his face] Stop being such babies. You can’t be afraid to try new things. For instance, tonight I’m using a … Apu, what do you call this thing again?
Apu: A “napkin.”
Homer: Ha ha ha ha! Outrageous!
Skinner: Our next budget item: $12 for doorknob repair.
[Groundskeeper Willy, who is on fire, tries to escape, but the doorknob falls off]
Skinner: Recharge fire extinguishers? Now, this is a, uh, free service of the fire department —
[Willy tries to use the fire extinguisher, but it’s empty]
[Still engulfed in flames, he breaks out and runs into the classroom]
Willy: Help! Please help me!
Skinner: Willy, please! Mr. Van Houten has the floor.
Lisa: I like you too, Milhouse, but not in that way. You’re like a big sister.
Milhouse: No, I’m not! Why does everybody keep saying that?
Lisa: Would you do me a favor? When you get back to class, just give him this note … please?
Milhouse: [thinking] When she sees you’ll do anything she says, she’s bound to respect you!
Bart: Can you give us the rabbi’s address?
Reverend Lovejoy: Oh, sure thing. Let me just check my non-Christian rolodex…
Dolph: Oh, man! You kissed a girl!
Jimbo: That is so gay!
Jimbo: [sings] Gonna dig me a hole…
Dolph & Kearney: Gonna dig me a hole…
Jimbo: Gonna put a nerd in it…
Dolph & Kearney: Gonna put a nerd in it…
Lisa: Dad, it’s not fair to claim this thing’s an angel. There’s no proof of that.
Homer: No one’s calling it an angel, Lisa. If you look carefully I never once used the word angel.
Lisa: What’s that sign over there? [It says “Angel” in big letters.]
Homer: That’s a typo.