Animated Sitcom Essay

Pages: 5 (1508 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature


The Death of the Family Narrative

I vividly remember the first time I watched an episode of The Simpsons. I was sitting in a hospital bed, I was five years old and I had just had vesicoureteral reflux surgery. In the room with me were my father and my sister, who was also sitting in a hospital bed after having the same surgery. My sister and I were in the midst of convalescing and needed something to lighten the mood so my father turned on the small television set in the corner of the sterile room and put on this new animated sitcom that none of us had ever heard of called The Simpsons.

Half way through the episode my father had to turn it off because my sister and I were in pain from laughing so hard. He was worried we were going to bust the stitches on our abdomens (in hindsight, a bit of an overreaction). It was December 17, 1989, the day in which the series premiered. And from that day on, my family and I watched The Simpsons religiously. For better or worse my siblings and I were raised on The Simpsons.

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I bring up this personal anecdote because I cannot discuss The Simpsons without thinking of my family first. Consequently, in thinking of The Simpsons as a show, I can't help but to think of it as falling into the framework of a family show. And it's clear that early on this is what it was, a satirical show about the family experience in America -- that one's whole family could watch and enjoy together. But overtime, as the show evolved and hit the mainstream, the show became less about the family experience and more about the cheap and easy laugh. That is to say, that the family-centered narrative and themes of the early episodes and seasons were eventually overshadowed, if not overshadowed than fully replaced, by an attempt to deliver a more incisively comedic show. It is the purpose of this paper to document and investigate this transition.

TOPIC: Essay on Animated Sitcom Assignment

As mentioned, the first full-length episode to air on television was on December 17, 1989, and it was aptly referred to as "The Simpsons Christmas Special" or as it was actually titled, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire." The episode deals with economic hardship around the holidays. A serious issue that many families deal with, not only back then, but today as well. (On a side note, it should be acknowledged that this is indeed one of the differences between earlier episodes and the later episodes, the earlier shows have a universal, almost eternal, quality to them, they're as good today as they were back then. However, the later episodes are more ephemeral and tied to a specific fleeting cultural or societal flashpoint).

In the episode Marge has to spend all the family's Christmas money to get Bart's tattoo removed and, to make matters worse, Homer finds out that he will not receive his Christmas bonus. To ensure his family has a good Christmas, Homer takes a job as a mall Santa to make ends meet. Yet, to his dismay it still isn't enough money to buy presents for his family. So, along with Bart, he takes the $13 bucks he's earned as a Santa to the dog track to see if he can turn $13 into a "Christmas miracle."

Bart says to Homer, "Aw, come on Dad. This could be the miracle that saves the Simpsons' Christmas. If TV has taught me anything, it's that miracles always happen to poor kids at Christmas. It happened to Tiny Tim, it happened to Charlie Brown, it happened to the Smurfs, and it going to happen to us."

The dog they bet on, Santa's Little Helper loses and they walk away with zero dollars. However, they get to keep the dog and it becomes the present that the family could have hoped for, "This is the best gift of all, Homer," Marge exclaims.

This episode is classic early Simpsons. The jokes and comedic asides are well placed, woven seamlessly into the dialogue and, most importantly, do not hijack the family narrative (as they tend to do in later seasons). Homer is a rather selfless and somewhat responsible father. This is well before he devolves into a self-centered halfwit. The themes of this episode are family unity and togetherness, ameliorated by a satirical look at the real world (The tattoo removal shop is next door to the tattoo shop, the fees Homer has to pay for becoming a mall Santa: Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, Santa Training, Costume Purchase, Beard Rental, Christmas Club, etc.).

In looking at later episodes it's evident that the writers and producers have abandoned the family narrative that gave the show its early charm. Perhaps the best way to describe this transition is to say that early episodes were carefully structured family narratives accented by humor and satire. Whereas in recent years the show has become more of a joke-centered expose cobbled together by a loosely wrought narrative. Simply put, early on The Simpsons was a story with jokes, later on the show became jokes with a story.

In researching the history of the show and trying to pinpoint exactly when this transition took place I found this description from a Simpsons fan site, "Season Nine (1997-1998) brought us a new Executive Producer, Mike Scully, who has been referred to, as "the guy who started The Simpsons' decline." Bitter sentiments of Internet fans aside, there was undeniably a change in style from this Season. Episodes feel very sitcom-like, almost as if there was supposed to be a laugh track in the background."

While the imprint of Mick Scully can be debated, the 'sitcom-like' observation is a by-product of what I'm referring too in describing the shift from family-centric to joke-centric. Another example of this is the fact that over the years the show has lost its originality.

The aforementioned scene where Bart tells Homer they are do for a Christmas Miracle is important because it positions the Simpsons within the canon of television cartoons and animation. In a sort of post-modern way, by pointing out the Christmas miracle conceit Bart is exposing the uniqueness of the show. The viewer gets a sense that this is not a traditional animated Christmas special, this is something unique. This observation is made all the more poignant toward the end of the episode when Bart exclaims, after Santa's little helper loses the race, "It doesn't seem possible, but I guess TV has betrayed me." This confirms what the viewer has suspected, a break in the mold, a departure from the mundane and the ordinary, that The Simpsons is something new and different.

But later episodes lack this separation from other animated television series. Instead of holding onto that uniqueness, The Simspsons got parody fever. Instead of developing new stories that consciously broke free from traditional models, they betrayed the viewer by creating episodes that were dedicated to parodying popular movies, TV shows, and other pop-culture phenomena. The tropes used were hackneyed and often repeated by competing animation series. For example, consider South Park and Family Guy which both grew out of The Simpsons tradition. However, watching the episodes now, one could make a case that it was the other way around; that The Simpsons grew out of the tradition of South Park, a series known for its ability to parody hot-button issues, topics, and pop culture, and Family Guy, a series characterized by discursive asides, comedic cut-aways, and flashbacks that have only tangential relevance to the main story (which is often based off a parody itself).

The Simpsons of today seems to embrace all aspects of Family Guy and South Park to a fault. It's no longer unique. And… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Animated Sitcom" Essay in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Animated Sitcom.  (2011, November 15).  Retrieved August 4, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Animated Sitcom."  15 November 2011.  Web.  4 August 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Animated Sitcom."  November 15, 2011.  Accessed August 4, 2021.