My Life, My Springfield

Reflections on growing up alongside “The Simpsons.”

The Simpsons Movie” opens on Friday, but I’ve been looking forward to it for months now. A lot of Simpsons fans complain that the show’s quality has declined in recent years, but I’m still eager to see my favorite nuclear family on the big screen. After all, Homer, Bart, and the rest of Springfield’s residents have been around for most of my life. Here’s a handy timeline:

1987

  • The Simpsons family premieres in a series of cartoon shorts on “The Tracey Ullman Show.” The art and animation are crude, bordering on gruesome.
  • At the age of five, I am experiencing growing pains of my own. Lowlights include a bout of chicken pox, a broken right arm, and a near-death choking incident with a Peppermint Patty.

1990

  • The Simpsons,” now a half-hour prime time series, takes the world by storm and outrages many with its provocative language and dysfunctional characters.
  • Fortunately, my parents are not reactionary types; I begin to watch the show in relative peace.
  • Despite the groundbreaking nature of the show, the character voices are rough, the animation and coloring sloppy, and the jokes somewhat simple.
  • I am likewise trying to find my own way, hounded by a new, strict second-grade teacher who makes me cry by threatening to take away recess for my whole class.

1993-1995

  • “The Simpsons” creators hit their stride, regularly producing such character-rich, multi-layered masterpieces as “Cape Feare” and “Rosebud.”
  • Sadly, I am suffering the ravages of puberty at this time. (I’ve often wondered what I would tell my parents when they discovered that all of the family pictures from this era had mysteriously vanished.) During these lonely, confusing years I become a true Simpsons fanatic, committing quotes and gags to memory through the wonders of syndicated reruns. Of course, this only ostracizes me further from my peers, who mock me for my incessant chattering about my favorite show.
  • Middle school children are rotten little creatures.

1996-1997

  • Having mastered their craft, the crew of “The Simpsons” begins experimenting. We see Homer’s hallucinogenic journey in “El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer,” which utilizes live-action footage, 3-D animation, and computerized manipulation of vocals. The show also becomes increasingly self-referential with tongue-in-cheek exercises such as “The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase.”
  • Meanwhile, to cope with the often-aggressive atmosphere at my all-boys high school, my own sense of humor becomes more self-deprecating. I stretch the boundaries of my school’s shirt-and-tie dress code by matching a bright orange shirt with a lime-green necktie from a thrift store.

1999-2000

  • After a decade of keeping Bart in fourth grade, the colorful cast of characters in Springfield starts undergoing some lasting changes. Milhouse’s parents divorce. Apu marries and starts a family. Most shockingly, Maude Flanders is killed in a bizarre accident at the auto racing track.
  • As high school draws to a close, I am a nervous wreck over the prospect of my own life changes — especially leaving my friends and family to go away to college.

2001-2002

  • Unlucky Season 13 is downright terrible, at least compared with previous years’ episodes. Between meandering plots and an increased reliance on gross-out humor, it just falls flat.
  • My sophomore year in college is probably my worst, scholastically speaking. It turns out that spending most of the week drinking beer and playing video games might directly correlate to a failure to turn in papers on time.

2004-2007

  • “The Simpsons” weathers a few hit-or-miss seasons and keeps charging along. Ratings are still strong, people are buying the increasingly ubiquitous merchandise, and ultimately, the show is still entertaining. It’s not the same show it once was, but it’s a lot better than most other shows on television.
  • I make it through college and then spend three years figuring out what the hell I should do with my life. I don’t have any of the answers as yet, but at least I have something to watch on Sunday nights — just as I always have.
Article © 2007 by Kevin Brotzman