In 2004, a book named Planet Simpson by Chris Turner gave Fox’s show The Simpsons a huge complement by calling it a ‘cartoon masterpiece that defined a generation’.
Although, many argue that such a statement for a television show is a bit of an exaggeration, no one can deny that the cartoon series has reigned on television as a pop-culture phenomenon for more than just one generation.
A Pop-Culture Phenomenon
But The Simpsons isn’t just a pop-culture phenomenon anymore. This weekend, the show made history yet again by becoming the longest-running television show ever. The Fox series aired its 636th episode on Sunday night, breaking the record set by Gunsmoke which previously held the title of longest running show in the history with 635 episodes.
The last episode of the CBS phenomenon was aired in 1975 but the show never managed to make the same mark in its genre as The Simpsons, an animated comedy series that revolves around a wacky American family, which raised the bar for all cartoon series to come.
So, how has The Simpsons managed to maintain its popularity over the past three decades? The show’s success has a lot to do with the creative team under the leadership of screenwriter and producer Al Jean who has used the show as tool for poking fun at an endless army of politicians, celebrities and modern American culture.
Despite the ever-changing orbit of characters in the series, its main focus for the past three decades has been on Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart, and little Maggie, the five members of Simpson family.
The Record-Setting Episode
Al Jean is one of the oldest crew members on the iconic show started by producer James L. Brooks and cartoonist Matt Groening. In an interview with the Vindicator, he discussed his role as show’s original writer which helped it break many popularity and longevity records in the past. Jean said that no other series will be able to achieve the same prestige in pop culture as The Simpsons ever again.
The Sunday’s record-breaking episode called Left Behind focuses on Homer’s childhood and reintroduces Glenn Close to play his mother’s character. In the episode, Homer decision to get his friend Flanders a job at his plant turns into instant regret after Flanders starts changing the work rules around the office and asking Homer to perform better at his job. At the same time, Marge and Homer seem to have troubles in their marriage and both of them feel that their relationship has lost its spark.
An Impossible Feat
Jeans said that even though the plot for the latest episode isn’t as extraordinary as its record-breaking milestone, the team has worked hard on it and is extremely proud of their work. When asked if anyone from the crew ever anticipated that the show would make history one day, the screenwriter said that he had not expected such a big achievement when The Simpsons had just started.
Even in 2001, Jean said that he and the crew had often joked about it and said that it would be impossible to beat the 635-episode record set by Gunsmoke. But around 2011, Jean started to believe that maybe beating the record wasn’t that impossible after all.
‘No Ending in Sight’
Jean admitted that with a cartoon series like The Simpsons, animation is much more difficult than working with the actors. The show only makes 22 episodes every year because of the amount of visual content that needs to be created for every frame. The slow and meticulous animation process is also one of the reasons why it took The Simpsons 27 years to achieve the same number of episodes as Gunsmoke did in just 20 years.
Even with 22 episodes a year, the show is able to create more content than some of its popular competitors like Family Guy and South Park. In 2007, The Simpsons also made a mark in the film industry through The Simpsons Movie and now Jean has hinted that another sequel of the blockbuster film might be in the works. Jean says that the crew is still talking about the making the next Simpson Movie but in order for that to happen, they must create a phenomenal script that sets the movie apart from the series.
Jean says that he doesn’t see The Simpsons ending anytime soon, and even after he retires from his screenwriting role, the baton will be picked up by other talented writers who will continue the show’s legacy as the highest-rated Fox show.