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‘The Simpsons’ Starts 30th Season With Its Power Undiminished



Newsday
Sunday, September 30, 2018

Andy Bernstein of Commack, N.Y., is a third-grade teacher in the Patchogue Medford school district by day, and by night, or weekends, or any other time he can grab, a Simpsons fan. A devoted fan. A true-blue fan. A Simpsons-or-bust fan.

OK, Bernstein is not quite the superfan he once was, but then who is? Those obsessives who watched and re-watched every episode, then accessorized their devotion with Simpsons paraphernalia like T-shirts, skateboards, keychains, Duff beer mugs, lunch pails, tote bags, Homer Pez dispensers, calendars and — what collection would be complete without one! — Drooling Kang Alien bobbleheads.

Bernstein, 48, is, after all, an adult and a father of two. Like most original fans, he left the tchotchke phase of his reverence behind decades ago. But the core love remains. He’s watched almost every episode (639 for those keeping count) and in the early years collected the full-season DVD sets, for those late nights when nothing other than a Simpsons repeat would do.

“I started at its inception and, fast-forward to 20, now 30 years later, I still watch,” he says. “The show is still topical, it’s current and it’s comical. It’s got an amazing ensemble cast, which is really key, and you grow to love those characters. I started when I was 18, and back then I was belly laughing from the humor, and to this day, it can still get me to laugh.”

Yup, it still can, which is the answer behind Door No. 1, marked, “Why has The Simpsons endured 30 years?” The show kicked off Season 30 on Sunday at 8 p.m. on Fox.

Thirty years. Let that scary number sink in, while its ramifications present themselves. Nearly 30 years ago, on the night of Dec. 17, 1989, the first full Simpsons episode premiered, yielding one of the most quoted TV lines in history: “I’m Bart Simpson. Who the hell are you?”

But what the hell was The Simpsons?

Thirty years of impiety, snark, subversion, caricatures, travesties, parodies and persiflage. Thirty years of “d’oh.” The Simpsons didn’t change culture — nothing so harmless as that — but instead revolutionized it. There would be no South Park without The Simpsons, no Rick and Morty, either. The Simpsons lampooned God and celebrated, or bemoaned, that Indifferent Universe which currently occupies almost every series on TV.

And then, it circled back on itself and its own favorite target: There is a God, after all. This God, the Simpsons one, just happens to have a sense of humor.

Which brings us to Door No. 2, labeled, “No, really. Why 30 years?”

Sunday’s 30th season opener, “Bart’s Not Dead,” offers a fuller explanation. Forgoing a couch gag, the opening seconds are a supercut of 30 sometimes glorious years, as literally our TV lives flash before our eyes. Then the episode gets down to business. Bart takes a dare and nearly kills himself in the process, then needs to concoct a fast lie to explain himself. The resulting one is a dream, he claims, in which he goes to heaven, sees Jesus and learns that “lies are true in Heaven!”

Of course it’s standard Bart flimflammery, but Homer sees in this the stuff that Hollywood dreams are made of. Christian film producers converge on the Simpsons household, and a movie treatment is worked up, with Homer as executive producer. (“Like most of America, I know the movie business, and I’m not thanking the Georgia Film Commission, no matter what.”)

The resulting film, Bart’s Not Dead, stars some big names, like Gal Gadot, playing Lisa. It’s also a hit, until Bart’s lie is uncovered because as Lisa foretold, “Lies lead to punishment (and) it’s not the original lie that gets people. It’s the cover-up.”

Like so many episodes over these past 30 years, the moral of this story is clarified by Lisa, and can be interpreted on various levels.

Leading, finally, to Door No. 3, labeled, “Will there be a 40th season?”

As long as there’s a God in The Simpsons heaven, and smart writers to divine His or Her will, and especially fans like Andy Bernstein to continue cherishing this vital, and still amusing, cultural treasure, then sure. Why not? At the very least, don’t bet against it.