I got a lot of traction for my list of my personal top 10 favorite episodes of THE SIMPSONS…and during quarantine, I have been revisiting the early seasons and despite seeing them several times over the years, I have been trying to watch them and analyze the series’ growth with the characters and how different writers shifted the styles within the show.
THE SIMPSONS is a show I grew up with. While I was too young to see, understand, or comprehend the show during its first 3 years, I started having memories of watching it around the 4th season (around the time I myself was about to turn 5). I have more vivid memories of watching seasons 6-onward as they originally aired and it was around that time that FOX began showing the first couple of seasons in Syndication.
I feel like THE SIMPSONS was a very influential part in my life growing up and to this day, these older episodes make me laugh regularly much like THE OFFICE continues to do on repeated viewings.
This is going to be a 10 part series in which essay is going to focus on one particular season. I will go into storylines, style, tone, the characters, along with ending with my top 10 episodes for each season.
So, let’s start that messy but endearing beginning.
SEASON ONE is obviously an important season because it is where the show began…to an extent. After having been a beloved featured segment on the truly fantastic FOX variety series THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW for nearly 4 years, these characters were certainly known…but animation in primetime was not really a common genre. It had been nearly 25+ years since the heyday of THE FLINTSTONES and coming off of the 1980s, sitcoms had become a beloved, though very saccharine and hokey, commodity.
Shows like THE COSBY SHOW, GROWING PAINS, FULL HOUSE, and WHO’S THE BOSS were certainly popular…but they were, as SIMPSONS creator Matt Groening put it, representations of “the zombification of the American Family.
THE SIMPSONS would be one of three shows that became very popular that basically flipped the idea of the perfect family on its ear, FOX’s MARRIED…WITH CHILDREN and ABC’s ROSEANNE.
I personally never took to ROSEANNE (I know I am in the minority there…but I do acknowledge that stellar ensemble) and I would say MARRIED…WITH CHILDREN hasn’t held up over the years.
THE SIMPSONS may seem tame now but it was seen as the true epitome of counter-culture and, as expected, the religious and conservative types who thrived in the 80s took an instant dislike to it. President Bush Sr. famously said he hopped for more families to “be more like THE WALTONS and a lot less like THE SIMPSONS”.
Gee…leave it to the Republicans to be a constant source of wet blankets in our society.
Season One of THE SIMPSONS was interesting to revisit and it also has a weird place in the show’s history. Many fans often overlook it due to its rougher nature and view it as being a show that hasn’t quite found its way. I never hated the season by any means but I also, for whatever reason, never really sought to rewatch it. A couple of months ago, in the early stages of the quarantine, I watched the season and was watching a lot of these episodes for the first time in close to TWENTY YEARS…if not maybe even a little more.
The first season is famous for being rather….sloppy, as I have said. The animation quality is definitely nowhere near the quality it would grow to have…even if it was an improvement over how the segments looked on TRACEY ULLMAN.
The attention to detail is not readily apparent and even though you can see the quality improve over the season, you won’t see the show looking more like the show you remember until the second season.
The theme sequence is particularly noticeable in terms of the animation quality, even though moments like Marge at the grocery store or part of Lisa in band practice, are still reused the following season with slight touch-ups.
The creative forces behind the first two seasons of THE SIMPSONS were Matt Groening, who basically created the framework; James L. Brooks, the famous writer/director/producer who was a consultant who always sought to provide heart to the show; and most importantly, Sam Simon, a veteran writer of such shows as TAXI and CHEERS who would be the official headwriter and many credit him as being the true voice of the show that future writers would aspire to match.
There are 13 episodes in the first season…which seems more in line with the abbreviated seasons we have for shows today, but this was back when most shows had 22-30 episodes in a season, but THE SIMPSONS was a mid-season replacement that premiered with the famous Christmas episode “Simpsons Roasting on an Opening Fire and then followed with the rest of the season in early 1990.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed watching these 13 episodes, though it was definitely crazy to see how much the show would evolve from this point. The show wasted no time giving us storylines that centered squarely on Bart and/or Homer. Even though Marge and Lisa are around, they only truly get one episode apiece in terms of a true featured showcase.
The season also doesn’t really tap into the other citizens of Springfield as strongly as it eventually would but that does make sense as they are trying to develop the family dynamic…although the final produced episode of the season would do such a thing and that was “Krusty Gets Busted”, which sets up what will be one of the series’ longest serving storylines: Sideshow Bob seeking revenge on Bart for foiling his plan to frame Krusty the Klown of a Kwik-E-Mart robbery…and this episode is actually the season’s biggest success and best looking/produced episode. It clearly showed the path that the series was heading towards for season 2.
However, the last episode to AIR for season 1 was technically the first to be produced. The reason it took so long to air was because the animation quality was so inferior that the network had them go back to re-animate most of the episode…and even the final product still looked incredibly rough when compared to that of “Krusty Gets Busted”.
This first episode was “Some Enchanted Evening” and while the episode is a little all over the place in terms of focus, it is actually a very interesting episode in showing just how different this show was going to be from any other sitcom as a creepy babysitter, voiced by the late Penny Marshall, turns out to be a wanted felon who ties up Bart and Lisa until Maggie frees them. Upon the arrival of Homer and Marge, they see the babysitter now tied up and free her thinking the kids were being very bad…and then the cops show up and Homer realizes he just freed a wanted criminal.
The seeds are there for a lot of the character dynamics but the amazing thing about this first season is how truly DARK it is.
In addition to the babysitter storyline or how Sideshow Bob framed Krusty, we also get episodes that truly test the stability of the marriage between Homer and Marge…and to even deepen that, Homer responds to being fired and unable to find a new job by planning to attempt suicide.
I found myself both intrigued and slightly put off by the tone of these episodes…but nevertheless, you can see the promise there…even if that may be in hindsight.
Having said all of this, I am going to be doing lists of top 10 episodes for each of the first 10 seasons (I would argue the show truly dipped in quality in seasons 11-12 only to find better footing for another few years before crashing around season 20).
With only 13 episodes and with erratic results, this will be a little bit of a harder list to concoct in some ways:
#10-THE CALL OF THE SIMPSONS (Written by John Swartzwelder)
#9-HOMER’S ODYSSEY (Written by Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky)
#8-THE CREPES OF WRATH (Written by George Meyer, Sam Simon, John Swartzwelder & Jon Vitti)
#7-BART THE GENERAL (Written by John Swartzwelder)
#6-SOME ENCHANTED EVENING (Written by Matt Groening & Sam Simon)
#4-LIFE ON THE FAST LANE (Written by John Swartzwelder)
#3-SIMPSONS ROASTING ON AN OPEN FIRE (Written by Mimi Pond)
#2-MOANING LISA (Written by Al Jean & Mike Reiss)
#1-KRUSTY GETS BUSTED (Written by Jay Kogen & Wallace Wolodarsky)